Coaching carousel shakes up Group of 5 pecking order
The coaching carousel could have an impact on which teams from outside the five major conferences have the most success this season.
Western Michigan of the Mid-American Conference had an undefeated regular season in 2016, while Houston won the American Athletic Conference and upset Florida State in the Peach Bowl two years ago. Both teams are breaking in new coaches now that P.J. Fleck went from Western Michigan to Minnesota , and Texas hired Tom Herman away from Houston .
Herman replaces Charlie Strong, who was fired from Texas but landed at South Florida and now runs perhaps the nation’s strongest ”Group of Five” team.
Strong inherits a veteran roster that went 11-2 last season.
”They know how to work and they come out here with the (right) mindset,” Strong said. ”After winning 11 games, that even helps more because now they understand what the target is and they understand they need to come out each and every day and just go to work.”
The Group of Five refers to conferences that aren’t part of the Power Five (the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference). It includes Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt, as well as the American Athletic Conference.
A closer look at some of the top Group of Five teams heading into the season:
The Mountaineers have gone a combined 21-5 the last two seasons and won bowl games each of those years. Appalachian State returns Jalin Moore, who rushed for 1,402 yards last season and was named the Sun Belt’s offensive player of the year. The Mountaineers also have an experienced quarterback in Taylor Lamb. After taking Tennessee to overtime in its 2016 season opener , Appalachian State kicks off this season by visiting Georgia.
The Broncos probably rank below defending league champion San Diego State in the Mountain West pecking order heading into the season, but the return of quarterback Brett Rypien should assure the Broncos remain competitive. Rypien threw for 3,646 yards with 24 touchdown passes and eight interceptions last season. Nose tackle David Moa is coming off an 8 +-sack season.
Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller give Memphis one of the nation’s most dynamic pass-catch combinations. Ferguson threw a school-record 32 touchdown passes last year, while Miller had 95 catches for 1,434 yards. Memphis went a combined 12-48 from 2009-13 but now has posted three straight winning seasons and enters 2017 as the favorite in the American Athletic Conference West Division. A Sept. 16 home game with UCLA should provide a good measuring stick.
SAN DIEGO STATE
Each of the last two seasons, San Diego State has gone 11-3 while winning a bowl game and the Mountain West title. The Aztecs are favored to win a third straight conference championship this year. San Diego State has an exceptional running back and kick returner in Rashaad Penny. San Diego State visits Arizona State and hosts Stanford on consecutive September weekends.
The Bulls lost coach Willie Taggart to Oregon after going 11-2 last season, but they bring back quarterback Quinton Flowers. Last season, Flowers became the first player from any FBS program in the state of Florida to have 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in the same year. He rushed for 1,530 yards and averaged 7.7 yards per carry. USF could be favored in every game it plays this season. Its only matchup with a Power Five team is a home game with Illinois.
The Rockets certainly should have an explosive offense. Logan Woodside returns after throwing 45 touchdown passes to lead all FBS players last season. The Rockets also bring back Cody Thompson and Jon’Vea Johnson, who combined for 21 touchdown catches a year ago. They helped Toledo go 9-4 last season. Toledo’s veteran roster features 13 players who already have earned their degrees. Its schedule includes a Sept. 23 trip to Miami.
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- Appalachian State Mountaineers
- Big 12
- Boise State Broncos
- FBS (I-A)
- Memphis Tigers
- San Diego State Aztecs
- South Florida Bulls
- Sun Belt
- Texas Longhorns
- Toledo Rockets