COUNTDOWN TO KICKOFF | Top 10 most dangerous non-Power 5 teams
With one week until kickoff, we at ASN have created a list of the “Top 10 Most Dangerous Non-Power 5 Teams” for you, the fans.
These are the underdogs, darkhorses, longshots, out-of-towners — whatever you call them — to watch this season. These non-Power 5 teams are here to stun this season.
Let’s take a look at 10 of these teams who will battle for the Group of 5’s coveted spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Houston is the most talked about team outside the Power 5 right now. The Cougars finished last season with an 11-1 record. A momentous 38-24 Peach Bowl victory against Florida State carries them into this season as the preseason pick to win the American Athletic Conference.
• Players to watch: The Cougars feature one of the strongest quarterbacks in college football in Greg Ward Jr., a potential Heisman candidate. And on top of that, the Cougars now have the eligibility of a guy by the name of Duke Catalon, a Texas running back transfer, who will more than likely steal the limelight.
• Games to watch: The Coogs’ 2016 season will likely be defined by the outcome of their game against Oklahoma on Sept. 3.
• Bottom line: If they fulfill their potential they won’t be just a threat to teams in the American, but also to the best teams in the country.
• Watch them on ASN: Sept. 10 at noon vs. Lamar.
App State comes into the season having won 17 of their last 19 games. They return a lot of the keys to that success.
• Players to watch: They have a lethal offensive backfield with returning junior quarterback Taylor Lamb and an array of talented running backs, including some returners like Marcus Cox, Jalin Moore and Terrence Upshaw.
• Games to watch: The Mountaineers avoid Arkansas State and really only have to face two teams (Tennessee, Miami) outside of their conference that will give them some trouble. Note that Miami plays in Boone, N.C., so that works in ASU’s favor. The biggest conference game of their season will come against Georgia Southern on Oct. 27 in Statesboro. This rivalry game will definitely be the game to watch in the Sun Belt this season.
• Bottom line: With their offensive backfield and experienced defense, the Mountaineers can play with the best of them. Not to mention, their schedule is a huge advantage.
• Watch them on ASN: Sept. 10 at 3:30 p.m. vs. Old Dominion and 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 24 vs Akron.
We have heard the name Nick Mullens time and time again, and for good reason. This kid is the real deal. With Mullens making his return along with running back Ito Smith, the Golden Eagles bring another destructive backfield to college football.
• Games to watch: While we can't say the Golden Eagles will stun LSU on Oct. 15 in Death Valley, they should have a chance against Kentucky on Sept. 3. Also you can catch four Southern Miss games on ASN.
• Bottom line: Don’t look past this Southern Miss team. The Eagles are built to ruin some seasons.
• Watch them on ASN: Noon Oct. 8 vs. UTSA, 7 p.m. Oct. 29 vs. Marshall, 3:30 p.m. Nov. 5 vs. Charlotte and 3:30 p.m. ET Nov. 12 vs. Old Dominion.
After consecutive 8-5 seasons, Western Michigan is the preseason favorite to win the MAC.
• Players to watch: The Broncos' offense will be led by returning quarterback Zach Terrell who has huge weapons to work with on offense, including wide receiver Corey Davis. He has the ability to do some damage with Terrell tossing him the pigskin.
• Games to watch: The monkey on their back is a Northern Illinois team that has played in six consecutive MAC Championship games. Their matchup on Oct. 8 should decide the West Division champion.
• Bottom line: Western Michigan has potential to do some damage. The Broncos are a team Northwestern should not overlook when they meet on Sept. 3.
• Watch them on ASN: 3:30 p.m. Nov. 19 vs. Buffalo.
Boise State returns with a strong receiving corps and sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien.
• Players to watch: The Broncos' young defense will need to step up, but it will be hard for teams to compete with a duo like Rypien and senior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck.
• Games to watch: Boise State's 2015 season could have been much better than it was, but the few mistakes they made proved to be devastating. If this team can patch up their wounds from last year and take advantage of their experience then they should be looking at a potential double-digit win season. But will that keep that composure against Utah State?
• Bottom line: This season in the Mountain West Conference will be between San Diego State and Boise State for the championship, and BSU may have the edge.
• Watch them on ASN: Noon Sept. 3 vs. Louisiana.
As an independent, BYU has a lot to prove. But the Cougars are coming off a 2015 season when they walked away with big wins over Boise State and Nebraska and a come-from-behind win in their bowl game against Utah.
• Players to watch: The Cougars have two experienced quarterbacks, which has to be an exciting hand for new offensive coordinator Ty Detmer to play. Taysom Hill, a fifth-year senior due to injury, was recently named starter over sophomore Tanner Mangum. Hill will have a lot to work with in the backfield and a fairly experienced offensive line.
• Games to watch: The Cougars open with Arizona, Utah and UCLA and take on Michigan State on Oct. 8.
• Bottom line: BYU has a tough schedule but look for them to build on the momentum from last season.
SAN DIEGO STATE
As mentioned before, the race for the Mountain West will likely boil down to San Diego State and Boise State. Last year’s trophy rests in the hands of San Diego State and they are looking to keep it in their possession for another year under head coach Rocky Long.
• Players to watch: The Aztecs return 14 starters, including the conference Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year — senior running back Donnel Pumphrey and senior defensive back Damontae Kazee — from the team that beat Cincinnati 42-7 in the Hawai‘i Bowl.
• Games to watch: Their game against Nevada on Nov. 12 should decide the West Division champion.
• Bottom line: With a talented defense, the Aztecs could be looking at another season with double-digit wins if their passing game delivers.
South Florida has a tough draw with Florida State on the schedule, but we saw how top-ranked Houston responded to the Seminoles with a 38-24 victory in the Peach Bowl last season.
• Players to watch: The Bulls bring in some young talent on both sides of the ball this season and are led by junior running back Marlon Mack. He and quarterback Quinton Flowers are what makes this team such a dangerous one to play.
• Games to watch: The Bulls have dreaded road games against UConn, Cincinnati, and Temple on Oct. 21 is the biggest of those three. The Owls will be defending their East Division title in the American.
• Bottom line: Keep an eye out for this USF squad … they seem to have some momentum.
• Watch them on ASN: 7 p.m. Sept. 3 vs. Towson.
Can this finally be the year for Toledo in the MAC? The Rockets are fueled by running back Kareem Hunt, who has proven to be one of the best in the MAC. They also boast an offensive line with four returning starters.
• Player to watch: Quarterback Logan Woodside redshirted last season after ranking fourth in MAC in passing efficiency (142.5) and completion percentage (.625) in 2014.
• Games to watch: Their biggest matchups will be against West Division rivals NIU on Nov. 9 and Western Michigan on Nov. 25.
• Bottom line: This could be the year that Toledo finally emerges from the football shadows.
• Watch them on ASN: TBD
As mentioned before, Temple holds the American East Division title and boasted a 10-win season in 2015. The Owls are expected to battle again for the division title and berth in the conference championship game on Dec. 5.
• Players to watch: The Owls have a handful of replacements to make this season at wide receiver and on the defensive line. But their backfield, led by senior running back Jahad Thomas (1,262 yards and 17 TDs last season), makes them a threat.
• Games to watch: They tackle Penn State Sept. 17 on the road and have big October home games against Cincinnati and USF that could determine the East Division champion.
• Bottom line: The Owls need to take care of business in Philly.
• Watch them on ASN: Noon Sept. 24 vs. Charlotte.
Contributing: Doug Chapman
(All times Eastern)
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OK, fans, now it's your turn to be heard.
Above: Houston returns 11 starters including quarterback Greg Ward Jr., who rushed for 21 touchdowns and threw 17 touchdown passes last season and led the Cougars to a victory against Florida State in the Peach Bowl. (Courtesy American Athletic Conference)