Group of Five preseason power rankings have Central Florida and Army leading way
After ranking each of the Power Five conferences from its best team through its worst, USA TODAY Sports is getting ready for college football by evaluating the best of the best in the Group of Five.
It’s a landscape recently dominated by Central Florida, which has claimed back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl berths and lost just once across the past two seasons.
At least three Group of Five teams have a case for the preseason Top 25, with the Knights joined by Army and Boise State. The preseason front-runner in the Sun Belt, Appalachian State, likewise could notch double-digit wins under new coach Eli Drinkwitz.
(Each team is followed by projected regular-season record. The number in parenthesis represents the team’s place in USA TODAY Sports’ summer rankings of the Bowl Subdivision.)
1. Central Florida: 10-2 (No. 14)
The Knights get the benefit of the doubt despite losing another quarterback, Darriel Mack Jr., to what might be a season-ending injury. McKenzie Milton is already expected to miss all of 2019 with a serious knee injury. That hands the job to Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush, who will be surrounded by enough talent to lead the Knights to another conference title and the doorstep of another access bowl bid.
2. Army: 10-2 (No. 18)
There's really only one game, an early date against Michigan, that looks like a surefire loss. (Then again, the same was said heading into last year's overtime loss at Oklahoma, which Army felt and still feels it should've won.) This is a program headed for a strong follow-up to last season's breakthrough under coach Jeff Monken.
3. Boise State: 10-2 (No. 24)
The Broncos do have some major contributors to replace at quarterback and running back but are pretty loaded elsewhere, most notably in a defense that should be the best in the Mountain West and one of the best in the entire Group of Five. As always, Boise State is a major contender for a January bowl.
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4. Appalachian State: 10-2 (No. 31)
Drinkwitz is a really good fit for a team with huge expectations that returns an offense with nine starters. There's slightly less experience on defense, but there will be no dramatic schematic change from the system that paced the Sun Belt in yards allowed per play and per game by a dramatic margin a season ago.
5. San Diego State: 9-3 (No. 32)
You know what you'll get from the Aztecs: physicality at the point of attack, a ferociously productive running game and a ballhawking, aggressive defense. The same ingredients have made San Diego State one of the nation's most consistent programs for much of Rocky Long's tenure. That won't change in 2019.
6. Cincinnati: 8-4 (No. 35)
The Bearcats are a program on the rise under former Ohio State assistant Luke Fickell. This year's team is very capable of defeating UCF at home in October to win the East Division in the American Athletic, but the schedule as a whole is unkind: Cincinnati draws UCLA and Ohio State to open the season and gets Houston and Memphis in crossover games from the West Division.
7. Ohio: 9-3 (No. 37)
Ohio's the preseason favorite in the unpredictable MAC due in no small part to quarterback Nathan Rourke, who enters 2019 as one of the most overlooked dual-threat passers in the country. While the Bobcats need to find answers in the backfield and on the offensive line, this could be the year Frank Solich wins his first MAC title.
8. Memphis: 9-3 (No. 40)
There are some significant losses, notably in All-America running back Darrell Henderson, but still a very strong core of experience. That includes quarterback Brady White, a real success story since transferring from Arizona State, and standout defensive end Bryce Huff. In all, Memphis has the ability to win the American and reach the New Year's Six.
9. Fresno State: 8-4 (No. 42)
While still a factor in the Mountain West, the Bulldogs seem headed for a slight downturn as Jeff Tedford and his staff find replacements at quarterback, wide receiver, the offensive line and linebacker.
10. North Texas: 8-4 (No. 44)
The North Texas offense lost its coordinator to Southern California but will remain potent behind quarterback Mason Fine, one of the top pure passers in the Bowl Subdivision. But the Mean Green must improve in defending the pass before leaping from Conference USA favorite to New Year's Six contender.
Five just missing the cut
Toledo (No. 46), Air Force (No. 49), Houston (No. 50), Alabama-Birmingham (No. 52), Brigham Young (No. 55).