The Group of Five conferences made big waves last year with the success of teams like Houston, Navy and Temple. Outside of the AAC you also had impressive results like Toledo beating Arkansas in September. But the season culminated in Houston winning the Peach Bowl 39-24 against Florida State. Lets take a look at those non-Power Five conference teams most likely to be challenging for a New Year’s Six Bowl game.
The Best Non-Power Five Conference Teams in 2016
Naturally a good choice to repeat what they did last year given that they managed to retain head coach Tom Herman. The Cougars also have starting quarterback Greg Ward returning. They showed in the bowl game that they have the ability to take down very good teams in one off games which will be needed looking at the schedule.
A neutral site game with Oklahoma in week one and a home game with Louisville will really test this team. Their conference schedule also looks tough with road games against Cincinnati, Navy and Memphis. The Cougars strength of schedule is easily the toughest of the teams listed here so two losses might not stop them repeating. Although they could easily fall to eight or nine wins and that would be classed as a disappointment after 2015.
Boise State Broncos
The Broncos are admittedly another easy choice given their recent history as one of the best programs outside the Power Five conferences. The quarterback position should be stronger this year with Brett Rypien getting plenty of early playing time and showing real potential as the season wore on. Elsewhere they are still the top recruiter in the Mountain West which should give them an edge in conference play.
The schedule sets up nicely as well for Boise State. They face Washington State and BYU at home with Oregon State on the road out of conference. All these are very winnable games for this team. In the MWC, things get better as they avoid San Diego State who are probably their biggest rival for the conference title with most of their tougher games at home. The only challenging road game in the conference is at Air Force. Don’t be surprised if this team goes 12-1 through this schedule
San Diego State Aztecs
The Aztecs are arguably less talented than Houston and Boise State above but they return many pieces from a superb defense while the offense should improve. They finished last year with nine straight wins so expectations are high within the program. The main reason they are listed is a favorable schedule in which no game looks un-winnable.
California and Northern Illinois are expected to be weaker than in the last couple of years as they rebuild. In conference, their toughest games are road trips to Nevada and Utah State so it’s not beyond this team to go through the season with just one loss.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
A wildcard pick for a team that’s made the transition to the FBS level look surprisingly easy. They went 11-2 last year with Clemson being the only team to comfortably beat them early in the season. They have arguably the best group of running backs in the Group of Five with a solid defense as well.
The three games that will define their season are most likely to be Tennessee and Georgia Southern on the road and Miami at home. If they can somehow spring a surprise victory or two in these games then its entirely possible they are the dark horses to make a New Year’s Six bowl.