College Sports Journal 2020 Group of Five Preseason Top 25 Rankings

It has been a turbulent offseason with the COVID-19 pandemic across not only the United States but the whole world.  In early May, it looked like college football might not happen in 2020.  However, as we are now in early June, it looks very real that the college football will happen as most schools have a return to individual workouts, albeit possibly not in the normal full stadium settings fans are accustomed.   

Last year, Memphis was the regular season Group of Five team with the highest ranking. The Tigers lost in the Cotton Bowl to the Big 10’s Penn State 53-39 but still ranked as the top team in the G5 in the final Sagarin rakings.

Forner Memphis head coach Mike Norvell celebrates with his team after the Tigers beat Cincinnati to win the 2019 AAC Championship game. (Courtesy of Daily Memphian)

Memphis was breaking in a new coach in that bowl game. Ryan Silverfield replaced Mike Norvell, who was 38-15 in four seasons and led the Tigers to their first outright American Athletic championship this season along with a third consecutive division title.  Norvell left the Tigers after the AAC Championship game victory to go to the ACC’s Florida State. 

Memphis will be amongst the teams again shooting for the Group of Five top rankings but Cincinnati, UCF, SMU, and Navy with in the AAC look very strong to unseat the Tigers for not only the G5 top spot but the top spot overall in the G5. 

Boise State, Appalachian State, Louisiana, Western Kentucky, Wyoming, Florida Atlantic, and Marshall look like the top schools outside of the AAC to get the G5 New Year’s Six Bowl game.

Cincinnati Head Coach Luke Fickell (Courtesy of UCLA Fansided)

In the CSJ preseason rankings, however, Cincinnati looks to finally get to the pinnacle this year not only in the AAC but in all of the G5. The Bearcats’ Coach Luke Fickell has guided his team to 11 wins in back-to-back seasons and this year’s team is loaded again on both sides of the ball. Like Memphis’ Norvell, he received several Power Five coaching opportunities including the Big 10’s Michigan State but turned them all down to stay in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder (Courtesy of Cincinnati Athletics)

Quarterback Desmond Ridder anchors the Bearcat offense with Gerrid Doaks (526 yards), Ryan Montgomery and Charles McClelland a capable trio to replace NFL drafted Michael Warren II’s production at running back. The offensive line will get a boost from Michigan transfer James Hudson, who sat out last season outside of the Birmingham Bowl victory over Boston College.  The Cincinnati defense, however, might be the biggest reason for their top preseason ranking.  The group returns ten starters after the team led the  AAC in fewest points (20.6) allowed per contest in 2019.

Two road games will likely decide the fate of Cincinnati this year with a late September road game at the Big 10’s Nebraska and what might decide the AAC East title at UCF. 

Houston, Boise State, Western Michigan, UCF twice, and then Memphis have been the Group of Five champions who got the automatic bid to the available New Year’s Six game in the College Football Playoff era that started in 2014.

All five teams represented themselves well, with the Group of Five top team going 3-3 since the bowl slot was created.

This year, the highest-ranked conference champion from the American Athletic (AAC), Conference USA (C-USA), Mid-America (MAC), Mountain West (MWC) and Sun Belt will automatically get one spot in either the College Football Playoff if in the overall top four positions, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl or Peach Bowl.

In this year’s CSJ preseason rankings, the AAC lead the way with nine schools represented in the Top 25 and the top three overall positions.  C-USA is second with six teams, while the MWC was third with four squads. Keep in mind the Sagarin preseason G5 rankings will also be released in late August just before the season. 

See below for the full list of the Top 25 preseason rankings:

4Boise StateMWC
5Appalachian StateSun Belt
6LouisianaSun Belt
9Western KentuckyC-USA
11Florida AtlanticC-USA
15San Diego StateMWC
18Southern MississippiC-USA
19Air ForceMWC
20Miami (OH)MAC
23Louisiana TechC-USA
24Arkansas StateSun Belt