The popularity and obsession of the big boys in college football - the Power 5 - has continued to rise. But there still are some very elite football players at the second tier of the FBS rankings - the Group of 5. The Group of 5 term refers to players from teams in the Mountain West, Conference USA, MAC, Sun Belt and American Athletic Conference. While the coverage and exposure for teams in these leagues has improved in recent years, plenty of the stars from the Group of 5 conferences fly under the radar each preseason. Who are the names to watch in 2016 as players on the rise in the Group of 5 rankings? Here are five names to know now that spring ball has finished across the nation:
Five AAC Football Players to Know for 2016
Marlon Mack, RB, South Florida
In just two seasons at USF, Mack already ranks second on the school's career all-time rushing yardage charts. He followed a touted freshman season – 1,041 yards and nine scores – with 1,381 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015. Coach Willie Taggart and the talented tailback have the offensive firepower to bring an AAC crown to Tampa.
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Standing at 6-foot-4, the prototypical wide out impressed many his redshirt freshman season. He tied Emmanuel Sanders - not a bad name to be mentioned with in the record book - for the school-record of most receiving touchdowns by a freshman with nine. Sutton also led the team in multiple categories: catches (49), receiving yards (862) and touchdowns caught (9). Expect offensive wizard coach Chad Morris to find more ways to get him the ball.
Deyshawn Bond, C, Cincinnati
Ranked as the No. 6 center by CBS Sports for 2017 NFL prospects, Bond fits the mold to produce at a high level in the trenches. He was named to the Rimington Trophy Preseason Watch List for a second-straight season in 2015. The 6-foot-1, 291-pound linemen blocked for a Bearcats attack which ranked fifth nationally in total offense (559.4 ypg). Look for Bond to emerge as one of the AAC’s top offensive linemen in 2016.
Steven Taylor, OLB, Houston
Taylor earned second-team American Athletic all-conference honors and was one of only six Group of 5 players to record over 10 sacks last season. The Texas native filled the stat sheet as one of the leaders of Tom Herman’s defense, totaling 92 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, 12 hurries and a blocked kick. Herman and coordinator Todd Orlando will continue to look for ways to let Taylor shine on defense one last time in H-Town.
Jamar Summers, CB, UConn
Summers enjoyed a breakout season last year by showcasing his ball hawk ability with an AAC-best eight interceptions. For the second consecutive season, coordinator Anthony Poindexter has the best secondary in the conference. Led by Summers and hard-hitting safety Obi Melifonwu, they’ll strive to repeat leading the league in passing defense (189.3 ypg) and scoring defense (19.5 ppg).
- Written by Lance Dozier