EDITOR’S NOTE: Kevin is not new to football, but he’s new to G5 football and wanting to learn by talking and writing about it. First up, a crash course in important G5 rivalries.
I may not know a lot about the Group of 5, but I know enough about college football to know this:
It is full of rivalries.
I was overwhelmed with just how many, to be quite honest. I basically only knew the Florida school rivals, and not much more. Diving deeply within the Group of 5 rivalry world was something entirely different than I had in mind and, in hindsight, I had a pretty narrow view of things in the Group of 5 conferences in general.
Anyways, after some digging, here are five rivalry games to watch this season, with perhaps some honorable mentions too.
1. Mid-American: “The Battle of the Bricks ” (Ohio-Miami (OH), November 6, 7:30/8:00 pm)
Based on history alone, this is probably your best bet for the MAC.
Two of the oldest teams in the MAC, Ohio as a founding member in 1946 and Miami jumping in a year later. A rivalry that dates back to 1905. The most consistent rivalry in the conference, with 95 total meetings so far. You would think this is an easy sell to top them all this year, even with BGSU-Toledo in the same conference.
Yet for 2019 this is a tough sell. Miami is still in rebuilding mode, and while they continue to get better, not many have them higher than third in the MAC East. Meanwhile, Ohio is the general favorite to pass Buffalo and take the division crown.
However, two things point this to be more challenging. The first is that the other main rivalry is between a team that’s an odds-on favorite to win the MAC West and a team that might not even be bowl eligible.
The other is that Miami has the momentum. In a rivalry of streaks, to break a six-game losing streak in a comeback win at home last year puts new energy into this game and season for Miami.
As long as they hold strong early in the season, they’ll have plenty of time to answer their quarterback question, so the Redhawks could still be in the race when they travel to Athens.
The oldest rivalry in the MAC could be a bellwether for Miami’s chances at the title.
Being on ESPN2 in celebration of 150 years to the day of college football won’t hurt, either.
Honorable mention: Definitely watch the “Battle of I-75” divisional matchup between the aforementioned Rockets and Falcons on October 12. Those teams are 30 miles apart, and really do not like each other.
2. Mountain West: “Fremont Cannon” (UNLV-Nevada, November 30th, Noon)
If Boise State and Fresno State played, there’s no question they and their intense Milk Can rivalry would be here. It is a possibility still to see them face off for the conference title, but without a regular-season tilt, this fiercely divisive Rivalry Week showdown for a now-defunct cannon tops the list.
There have not been many good years for either team in recent memory. Last year was Nevada’s best finish since 2010 before it even joined the MWC. UNLV, who joined in 1999, has only had three .500-or-above seasons since and hasn’t had a winning season since 2013.
Yet one thing has been set in stone, regardless of division or conference, almost every year since 1969: the Fremont Cannon showdown.
Nevada is the heavy favorite, and they host it this season, but the last few years have been real challenges, and UNLV will be riding in hoping to make it two in a row against their hated foe.
Honorable mention here would be the “9th Island” rivalry game with Hawaii and UNLV on November 16th. Look for a reloading Warrior squad to likely make it two in a row in Las Vegas.
3. Sun Belt: “Deeper Than Hate” (Appalachian State-Georgia Southern, October 31st, 8 pm)
Considering that Appalachian State is a recent addition to FBS football, I was surprised to discover (from literally every Sun Belt fan I asked) that they have the deepest and most intense rivalry in the conference, this one.
In fact, though both teams jumped into the Sun Belt in 2014, they have clashed yearly since 1993 and had their first showdown all the way back in 1932.
It has built up especially lately to contend with any college football rivalry. With both teams in the hunt for the division and conference crown annually, their late October matchups often have far more than bragging rights. But asking any fan of either, that would be enough regardless.
Since Georgia Southern pulled off four in a row from 2000-2002, two things have been true. Appalachian State has not won more than three in a row (the last streak snapped in Georgia last season).
Secondly, Georgia Southern hasn’t won back to back since then. With the matchup in Boone this year, it is a tough sell. But an Eagle win here would put GASO firmly on the map for the near future, and potentially take the division too.
Honorable mention would be either the up and coming Battle for the Belt (South Alabama @ Troy, October 16th, 8 pm) or the bitterly contested rivalry between Arkansas State and Louisiana (October 17th, 7:30 pm, in Jonesboro)
4. American Athletic: Houston-Memphis (November 6th, Time TBA)
It took everything in me to not pick the War on I-4, for it is the one most pursued in my neck of the woods. But for all of USF’s improvements, I do not see it meaning much for the AAC East, at least currently.
The AAC West, however, has gone down to these two teams in the last three years. Not to mention that the last three meetings have been high-scoring bonanzas decided in the last few minutes (48-44, 42-38, 52-31)
Even if you ignore the recent showdowns, these teams have met often since 1996, with meetings back to 1963. Even with Memphis winning all three of those shootouts, the Cougars have the overall series lead at 15-12.
Even with a new coach for Houston and a strengthening team in Tulane, it will be hard to bet against these two leading the way by this point in the season.
The chip on Houston’s shoulder to make the breakthrough this time around, and adding that it is Homecoming Game for the Cougars just puts more fuel on the fire.
Honorable mention, given the lack of natural rivalries in the AAC, easily goes to the “War on I-4” (UCF-USF, November 29th, Time TBA, Orlando). USF holds the series lead 6-4. UCF hopes to go three in a row. The intensity is high no matter what their standing.
5. Conference USA: “Don Shula Bowl” (FAU-FIU, November 9th, 6 pm)
This time, I wanted to pick against the home state rivalry, but the direction these teams are heading would make Don Shula himself proud.
Named because the first coach of each football team was connected directly to Don Shula, and as an homage to the man’s legacy in South Florida himself, this matchup has had its shares of lopsided beatings and nail-biting victories.
FAU currently dominates the rivalry 12-5, and are on an impressive two blowout streak, beating the Panthers 52-24 at home in a good season followed by a 49-14 walloping in Miami during what was otherwise a disappointing season for the Owls.
Despite their setback last year, and even with Marshall strengthening behind them, this showdown has the potential to be the C-USA East title game in Boca Raton.
Honorable mention is definitely “100 Miles of Hate” (Western Kentucky-Middle Tennessee, November 30th, 2pm, Bowling Green, Kentucky). While on paper an intriguing game between two rebuilding East teams, it is a historically vibrant and regionally intense showdown, going back overall to 1914.
The Hilltoppers had large swaths of dominance in the early years, but by the time the temporary hiatus started in 1991, they were near even. Since it restarted in 2007, it has been a rivalry of streaks. The Blue Raiders snapped one at home, and hope to start their own in Bowling Green.
These are the games on the top of my list. Feel free to agree, disagree, or discuss your own!
WRITER’S NOTE: The original post had Miami and Ohio joining the MAC in the 1960s. It has since been corrected, thank you for bringing it to our attention.