We are officially under one month to go before we kick off the 2017 season and it’s time to look at which Group of Five teams can grab a win against a Power Five opponent. For four of the five teams soon to be mentioned, they will each have something in common. They will be hosting their P5 opponent. More and more G5 teams are demanding return trips from major programs and, while this is still a growing trend, it could result in more upsets. With that being said, let’s get right into it.
Colorado State vs Oregon State
August 26th 2:30 pm est
CSU -3 ½ (Bovada)
CSU 51.1% (FPI)
The first FBS game of the season promises to be a good one as Colorado State will play in shiny new Colorado State Stadium against Pac-12 foe Oregon State. The Beavers are entering 2017 with a 5-22 conference record dating back to 2014. This will be Gary Anderson’s third year at the helm in Corvallis and he could be fielding the best Beaver squad since 2013, the last time they had a winning record. For the Rams, Mike Bobo will also be entering his third season as head coach and has expectations high after going 7-6 in each of his first two years.
The 2017 hype for the Rams stems from an offense that had a blazing end to last season. Colorado State averaged 47.8 points per game over its final six games after averaging 24.6 in the first seven games. The offense that suddenly clicked a year ago is back in bulk for 2017 with senior Nick Stevens leading the way at quarterback. The key to the Rams season lies on defense and whether or not they can stop the run. Colorado State was eight in the conference in rush defense and the four teams worse than the Rams combined for just 17 wins last year.
They’ll have their hands full with Oregon State’s backfield and its one-two combo of Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce. Not only does its top two rushers return, but Anderson has added former Oregon back Thomas Tyner and former TCU back Trevorris Johnson to the mix as well.
Each team is seeing its stock rise heading into this year but an early non-conference win would be invaluable for both. While the Beavers are expected to be much improved, the schedule is brutal and they’ll need this one if they hope to see the postseason. If the Rams don’t grab a win here, a 1-3 start could be in store before conference play opens.
Middle Tennessee State at Syracuse
September 9th 3:30 pm est
This game is by far the toughest one on the list. It is the only game in which the G5 team is playing on the road and the only one that ESPN’s FPI heavily favors the P5 team. In fact, The Blue Raiders play a slightly more winnable game the week before when it hosts Vanderbilt. But why take the easy way out? This game has upset potential as MTSU may catch the Orange sleeping in the middle of their Central Connecticut/MTSU/Central Michigan season-opening stretch before the LSU game.
Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill is one of the G5’s best quarterbacks and returns the C-USA’s best wide receiver in Richie James. Stockstill, when healthy, can sling the rock over any defense. In two road games against SEC opponents last year, Stockstill combined for 679 yards and seven touchdowns against one interception. The one thing that may hold this offense back is a re-tooled run game. I’Tavius Mathus provided head coach Rick Stockstill with over 1,500 rushing yards and an excellent complement to the passing game. With Mathers gone, and three offensive lineman, Stockstill will have to lean on sophomore Terelle West to keep defenses honest. On defense the story is similar, the pass defense is set to be a strong suit while the front seven may struggle against the run.
This is good news for the Blue Raiders, considering Syracuse coach Dino Baber’s history of developing quarterbacks. Junior quarterback Eric Dungey returns with two of his top four targets and his entire backfield. The Orange defense is also quite experienced, but it remains to seen just how talented that experience is.
We could be in for a barn burner in the Carrier Dome when two offenses that are expected to have big years collide. This very well may come down to which team can make a stop on defense late in the game.
South Florida vs Illinois
September 15th 7:00 est
Charlie Strong may have walked into the best roster of any G5 team in the country. Strong will inherit an offense that finished 11th in the country in total yards per game and has every piece back. Strong has experience with the up-tempo style, having switched to it in his final season at Texas which resulted in over 1,400 more yards than they had in 2015.
Quarterback Quinton Flowers and his 4,342 yards of offense returns with the school’s all-time leading rusher Marlon Mack in the backfield. While 2016 primary target Rodney Adams has moved on, the Bulls have a bevy of options at wide receiver with six returning players with at least 10 catches from a year ago. On defense, the front seven takes a hit with the departure of Nigel Harris but the team does return 27 sacks from a 31 sack team. The Bulls were abysmal defending against the pass but they do return a talented group of defensive backs. For Illinois, the key will be time of possession.
Head coach Lovie Smith’s team must keep South Florida’s off the field for as long as possible in order to hang around. Unfortunately, the Illini were among the worst in the Big 10 in three-and-outs in 2016. They have a talented group of running backs to use be moving on to a new quarterback in Chayce Crouch. Crouch started two games during former quarterback Wes Lunt’s injury but was injured during his second start. He showed promise in his one full game, however, completing 10 of 14 passes for 142 yards against Purdue. The Illinois defense has experience in the back-end, but are sorely lacking depth both in the secondary and front line.
If Illinois doesn’t find a way to hold onto the football and force the game into a much slower pace than South Florida would like, the Bulls are going to run past Illinois late in the game. No G5 team will be favored to beat a P5 by as much as South Florida will be in this one. As long as Strong finds a way to stabilize the defense and maintain the status quo on offense, the Bulls should take this one at home.
Boise State vs Virginia
September 22nd 8:00 est
Well, how can you not include Boise State? The G5 flower child has settled comfortably as the easily most recognizable G5 team of the last decade. The Broncos are 4-0 against P5 opponents, including a 56-14 beatdown of Virginia in 2015.
Quarterback Brett Rypien is one the nation’s top quarterbacks and will have explosive wide receiver Cedrick Wilson back. The Broncos will have to replace the production of wide out Thomas Sperbeck and running back Jeremy McNichols. While Sperbeck will be tough to replace, coach Bryan Harsin has a more than capable back in Alexander Mattison to make sure the Boise offense doesn’t drop off too much in the run game. The defense has several holes, specifically among the linebackers and secondary.
Luckily for Boise State, the Cavaliers have lost each of their leading rushers from a year ago and two of the only four pass-catchers they used in 2016. Defensively, Virginia may have a tough time holding Rypien as it returns most of a secondary unit that was 12th in the ACC in passing defense. Experience isn’t always good experience and we could be seeing a case of that with the Virginia defense in 2017.
Cavalier coach Bronco Mendenhall doesn’t enter 2017 with any real expectations after going 2-10 a year ago. While the Broncos remain the most talented G5 team in the country, inconsistency has plagued the program in recent years. Its propensity for playing up to major programs will loom large, though, as Boise State will be looking to head into its first bye week with a pair of P5 victories.
App State vs Wake Forest
September 22nd TBD
The final game on our list is a battle within the hills of North Carolina between two teams in very different spots in their respective conferences. Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield has built a machine in Boone while Dave Clawson is entering year four of a slow rebuild in Winston-Salem.
The Mountaineers are a model of consistency and will once again field a top offense in the Sun Belt conference. App State is no stranger to hanging with major programs, taking Tennessee to the wire in last year’s opener. Having senior leader Taylor Lamb at quarterback and 2016 Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Jalin Moore at running back gives the Mountaineers two of their most important parts of the steady machine. Returning leading receiver Shaedon Meadows is icing on the mechanical cake. The linebacker group will be breaking in some inexperienced players but the defensive line will be strong again. Sophomore Clifton Duck leads a defensive back group that will be solid after finishing in the top three in pass defense in 2016.
As for Wake Forest, the fourth year is usually when things come together for Clawson. John Wolford returns at quarterback but was highly inefficient as a passer last season. However, he’s effective with his feet having run for 521 yards last year. The Deacons also return Matt Colburn and Cade Carney at running back, giving Wake Forest a solid ground attack. There will be plenty of questions on defense, though, as there are more holes to fill than on offense.
Appalachian State, talent wise, is far above the rest of its conference. This game will give the Mountaineers and the rest of college football a great measuring stick for just how much talent is on this Sun Belt roster.
Boise State at Washington State
Western Kentucky at Vanderbilt
Wyoming vs Oregon
Middle Tennessee State at Minnesota / vs Vanderbilt
Memphis vs UCLA