Group of Five Week One Preview
College football is back! The four words that make so many football fans giddy. It means the NFL is right around the corner, fantasy leagues go from drafts to reality and our favourite football teams return to the field. Check out below the four Group of Five games that are must see matchups and should get you ready for college football in Week One!
Group of Five Game of the Week:
American Athletic Conference/Mountain West Conference:
Boise State vs. UCF
No in-conference games in either division match the hype that surrounds these two teams and their new coaches heading into 2021. UCF and Gus Malzahn have been the talk of the AAC this offseason. Despite Cincinnati’s fierce use of the transfer portal and effective recruitment. Andy Avalos comes in as a defensive minded Head Coach for Boise State. Who are looking to take back control of the Mountain West.
With more consistent quarterback play and ground game, Boise State has an offense that should be able to outproduce 2020’s 54th ranked passing offense and 130th ranked rushing offense. Consistency is key here. Hopefully new Offensive Coordinator Tim Plough and his high-octane passing game will help both the above areas of concern. While nine starters return on defense, Avalos should have plenty to work with to improve the defensive side of the ball. A win against a UCF team that ranked 2nd in total yards per game last season would be a major confidence boost for Avalos’ defense and a new look offense.
Any type of slow start would feel like a disappointment at this point for Malzahn. He is taking over an offense that ranked #2 in total yards, #2 in passing yards and 29th in rushing yards in 2020. Eight starters return for this group, including dual threat QB Dillon Gabriel and speedster wide receiver Jaylon Robinson. Buckle up! The game changer needs to be the defense, which struggled last season. The defense ranked 92nd in points against and gave up the 5th most total yards in the country. There are nine starters returning, but massive improvements need to be made to support the offense even just a little. Malzahn needs this win to start out on the right foot and beating a top tier Mountain West team is an early resume booster.
Louisiana Tech vs. Mississippi State
C-USA doesn’t have any major in-conference games to peak early season interest. However, Mike Leach’s high-speed offense is a formidable opponent for Louisiana Tech. Yes, Mississippi State only won two games in 2020. But that opening game against LSU where the offense churned out 623 yards is an indication of what this team could more consistently become. Things could get very fun!
Louisiana Tech struggled offensively last season, ranking 81st in the passing game and 134th in the run game. This needs to change and Mississippi State gives them a defense that will certainly test them. The Louisiana Tech defense couldn’t apply any sort of pressure in 2020, and now the defensive line is down their top pass rusher Milton Williams. Louisiana Tech certainly has a chance at taking the West C-USA, but UAB and UTSA are superior teams. Proving capable of taking down an offense like Mississippi State is a good way to say, “you aren’t winning it that easily”. If Louisiana Tech’s defense can create some pressure and turnovers and put Leach’s offense on their heels like SEC teams did in 2020, they just might be able to pull off the early season upset.
Kent State vs. Texas A&M (#6)
Kent State had the #1 offense in yard production and point production in the Covid shortened 2020 season, with over 600 yards and over 50 points per game. QB Dustin Crum and the majority of the 2020 offense are back to set the country ablaze once again. Unfortunately, the defense allowed 38 points per game. Despite returning the majority of starters again, a date with Texas A&M may not exactly be a fun start to the year for them.
Will Kent State be able to beat Texas A&M? Likely not, considering across four games last season their toughest opponent was Buffalo and they got beat. A&M brings in a three headed beast at the running back position, which could lead to Kent State’s offense watching from the sideline more than they would like. However, if Crum and the offense can produce significantly while on the field against the #1 defense in the SEC last season, it could be a tone setting game. This is their toughest opponent for the season. The MAC East is potentially theirs for the taking in 2021, with Buffalo as their steepest competition.
Sun Belt Conference:
Louisiana (#23) vs. Texas (#21)
I was struggling to wrap my head around putting this game or Boise vs. UCF as my game of the week. Ultimately I had to choose two of the top dueling Group of Five schools. Despite that dilemma, Louisiana versus Texas is going to be fun as two late 20 ranked preseason AP teams face off!
The Steve Sarkisian era begins in Texas and the battle to start at quarterback rages on. It’s between Casey Thompson and Hudson Card to take the keys to an offense that was a juggernaut in 2020. The defense struggled last season and may, as they transition to their new coaches and scheme, stumble early in the season. Louisiana could take advantage of that defensive situation. With super Senior quarterback Levi Lewis returning at quarterback with an equally experienced receiving corps.
The Ragin’ Cajuns offense put up 34 points per game and 423 yards last season and they could be and should be better in 2021. The defense was great against the pass, only allowing 171 yards per game and intercepting 16 passes, while the run defense struggled a bit; however, the sheer amount of returning talent may be what it takes to help the run defense take steps forward. This would be a huge start to the season for Louisiana to come away with a win in Sarkisian’s first game at Texas. But the Longhorns certainly will test every aspect of the Ragin’ Cajuns offensive and defensive game.