Rather than do a Top 25 this year, I thought I would rank all 66 (yes, 66 as James Madison is added this year) schools that make up the Group of Five FBS leagues. The Group of Five will remain as the five leagues it has had in the recent past of he American Athletic Conference (AAC), Conference USA, Mid-American Conference (MAC), Mountain West Conference (MWC), and the Sun Belt Conference (SBC). It also includes the FBS independent schools outside of Notre Dame.
While the leagues will remain the same, the schools in each league will be changing. The realignment that started in July 2021 with Oklahoma and Texas leaving the Power Five’s Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference had many trickle effects down to the G5 leagues and it hits the G5 already starting this season. Of course, the Big 10 within the past month taking USC and UCLA likely will see more conference shuffling like was seen a year ago of the course of the football season. But as we sit in July 2022, here is a look at the five G5 leagues and how they sit currently and what we know will happen going into the 2023 season:
American Athletic Conference
Joining: Charlotte, FAU, North Texas, Rice, UAB, UTEP
Leaving: UCF, Cincinnati, Houston
Moving day will be July 1, 2023. That’s when the three departing teams head to the Big 12 and the six incoming teams join from Conference USA. The league will remain the same 11 schools it had last year for the 2022 season.
Sun Belt Conference
Joining: James Madison, Marshall, Old Dominion, Southern Miss
Leaving: Little Rock, UT-Arlington
All of these changes took place this current summer of 2022. Little Rock (Ohio Valley) and UT-Arlington (Western Athletic Conference), the conference’s two non-football playing members, will depart.
Joining: Jacksonville State (FCS), Liberty, New Mexico State, Sam Houston (FCS)
Leaving: Charlotte, FAU, Marshall, North Texas, Old Dominion, Rice, Southern Miss, UAB, UTEP
Conference USA will experience the biggest changes with 9 schools leaving and 4 joining. Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss have departed for the Sun Belt this summer of 2022 and the other six will leave for the AAC in 2023. The four newcomers are expected to join in 2023.
Leaving: BYU, Liberty, New Mexico State
The Independent ranks will be down by three schools starting in 2023. BYU will move to the Big 12, while Liberty and New Mexico State will join Conference USA. Army, Connecticut, and Massachusetts will remain as independent schools in 2023.
Mid-American & Mountain West Conferences
Both the MAC and Mountain West had no member changes as of yet due to conference realignment. Both leagues will have the same line-ups in 2022 as 2021.
Maps of the Group of Five Leagues for the 2022 Season
Now to getting to on-the-field rankings after going through what the changes will be for this season by leagues.
Cincinnati was the biggest story in the Group of Five last season as the Bearcats finished the season undefeated and were in invited to the College Football Playoff (something that G5 fans thought might never happen). The Bearcats were the #4 seed in the playoff and played Alabama in the Cotton Bowl semifinal game. While Cincinnati lost to the Crimson Tide, it showed that the best of the G5 should belong in a FBS playoff.
That Bearcat team must replace QB Desmond Ridder, who was the AAC Offensive Player of the Year and was amongst nine NFL draft selections this past spring. However, Eastern Michigan transfer Ben Bryant and highly touted Evan Prater give the offense two capable quarterbacks to replace Ridder. Also, Cincinnati returns all five starters along the offensive line. An elite defense (16.9 points a game allowed in ’21) returns just four starters.
Coach Luke Fickell’s team might seem like it is bound to go down this year with the amount of talent it lost but has many capable players waiting and is my pick to be the top G5 team again this fall.
The team I think that will battle the Bearcats for G5 supremacy is AAC league mate Houston. The Cougars met the Bearcats in the AAC title game last year and gave Cincinnati all it could handle as they trailed by just a single point at the half. Cincinnati would use a strong second half to claim a 35-20 victory.
Houston though is a team with now the experience it needs not only to unseat Cincinnati in the AAC but could also reign supreme in the G5 and get to a New Year’s Six bowl bid or even a bid to the CFP.
With quarterback Clayton Tune and receiver Nathaniel Dell returning in 2022, coach Dana Holgorsen’s squad will have a chance to replicate last year’s success. The Cougars should have one of the conference’s top offenses, and the defense brings back six starters from a unit that limited teams to 20.4 points a game last season.
BYU makes it the top three that will eventually be leaving the G5 starting next season. These Cougars will join Cincinnati and Houston in the Big 12, along with UCF next season. BYU will try to make a run in its last independent season. The Cougars defeated six of seven P5 programs on its schedule in 2021. This includes going 5–0 against the Pac-12, as well as a 26–17 win Pac-12 champion and rival Utah. It put together a second straight outstanding season marred only by a 31–28 upset loss to UAB in the Independence Bowl. The Cougars have gone 21–4 the past two seasons.
While BYU was rebuilding a year ago, this year’s team will have 18 of the 22 starters back on offense and defense. The offense will be headed by quarterback Jaren Hall but will have to go through some more P5 schools to get to double digit wins again. The Cougars will play Oregon, Baylor, Notre Dame and Arkansas but could again push the two AAC teams ahead of them for G5 supremacy in its last year before being in the Big 12.
Boise State is my number four team and looks to be the team to beat in the Mountain West but will face top competition in #6 San Diego State, #7 Utah State, and #8 Fresno State. UAB is my number five team and looks to win Conference USA for its last ride before joining the AAC in 2023. Appalachian State is my number nine team will look to win the Sun Belt again after falling the last two seasons. UCF out of the AAC rounds out my top 10 this preseason.
Here is a look at the full list of all Group of Five teams in my preseason rankings.
|6||San Diego State||MWC|
|9||Appalachian State||Sun Belt|
|11||Coastal Carolina||Sun Belt|
|16||Army West Point||Indep.|
|19||Georgia State||Sun Belt|
|31||Old Dominion||Sun Belt|
|33||James Madison||Sun Belt|
|36||Southern Miss||Sun Belt|
|42||South Alabama||Sun Belt|
|45||Texas State||Sun Belt|
|47||Middle Tennessee State||C-USA|
|48||San Jose State||MWC|
|51||Georgia Southern||Sun Belt|
|58||Arkansas State||Sun Belt|
|64||New Mexico State||Indep.|
Originally from LaMoure, North Dakota, Kent is a 1996 graduate of North Dakota State University. His prior writing experience is over 15 years having previously worked with D2football.com, I-AA.org, and College Sporting News before coming to College Sports Journal in 2016. His main focus is college football is the Missouri Valley Football Conference within the Division I FCS. And in 2017, he began also to look at the FBS Group of Five conferences of the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt.
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