By: Evan Brunelle
9. Which Non-Power Five Teams will Make the Most Noise?
In the five year history of the College Football Playoff, every selected team has come from a Power-Five conference except for FBS Independent Notre Dame last year.
However, each and every year there seems to be a team from a Group Five Conference (AAC, C-USA, Mountain West, Sun Belt, and MAC) that claims that they deserve consideration for the four-team field.
In the past couple of years, this team has been the University of Central Florida Golden Knights. After an undefeated 13-0 season in 2017-2018 that concluded with a victory over SEC opponent Auburn in the Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl, UCF even went as far as to crown themselves National Champions due to their unblemished record, despite Alabama’s victory over Georgia in the 2017 CFP Final. UCF followed up their undefeated season in 2017 with a successful 2018 campaign. The Golden Knights went on to win the AAC Championship Game over foe Memphis 56-41, before losing to 11th ranked LSU in the Fiesta Bowl and finishing with a record of 12-1.
In 2016, the biggest non-Power Five storyline was Western Michigan. In P.J. Fleck‘s final year as head coach before his move to Minnesota, the Broncos posted a perfect regular season record and won the MAC championship game before ultimately losing to the 8th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers in the Cotton Bowl.
For this upcoming season, here is the non-P5 team to watch for that could make a lot of noise and perhaps even earn a New Year’s Six bowl berth.
The Fresno State Bulldogs
Coming off of a historic season in which Fresno State went 12-2, won a Mountain West Championship, and was ranked as high as 18 in the Coaches Poll, look for the Bulldogs see some success once again this season.
While Fresno is going to have to endure multiple losses on the offensive side of the ball, including quarterback Marcus McMaryion, projected starter Jorge Reyna should be well-suited to replace him after spending two seasons as his understudy. The Bulldogs also return a solid backfield in Ronnie Rivers (743 rushing yards and 10 TDs in 2018) and Jordan Mims (436 yards and 6 TDs in 2018). Productive tight end Jared Rice will also return, giving Reyna an experienced target.
The Bulldog defense that ranked 17th in the nation last season returns their entire defensive line and six starters overall, which should allow them to once again have an elite defense.
What gives Fresno State a leg up on many other Group of Five teams is their scheduling, particularly early in the season. They play their first two games against historic powerhouse USC on the road, and then return home to play a Minnesota team that has improved drastically ever since Fleck’s arrival. While these are going to be hard games to win, their defense can cause problems for an offense of any caliber. Should Fresno win one, or both of their opening two games and survive conference rivals Boise State and Air Force to repeat as Mountain West Champs, do not be surprised to see the Bulldogs ranked in the top 15 at year’s end and perhaps even play in a New Year’s Six bowl.
Cover photo via: USA Today
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