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 C-USA Football Players to Know for 2016
Nick Mullens, QB, Southern Miss
New coach Jay Hopson knows how important having an established passer is, and he has one of the best in the nation under center. Mullens threw for 38 touchdowns and 4,476 yards last season and is on pace to set numerous school records for his final season. The four-year starter will be the glue on the offensive side for the Golden Eagles.
Taywan Taylor, WR, WKU
Overshadowed by All-American and NFL draft pick QB Brandon Doughty, Taylor will be a household name come this fall. The Biletnikoff Award Semifinalist ranked third nationally with 1,467 receiving yards and caught 17 touchdowns in 2015. Additionally, his explosiveness was put on display through a 17.1 yards per catch average. With all five offensive linemen returning, WKU’s new quarterback will have all day to let Taylor stretch the field once again.
T.J. Ricks, LB, Old Dominion
The standout middle linebacker led C-USA last season in tackles (47 solo, 76 assisted) and is one of only five returning players in the Group of 5 to average over 10 tackles a game in 2015. He was a semi-finalist for the Brandon Burlsworth Trophy, which is given to the best player that started his career as a walk-on. He’s come a long way from being a former non-scholarship athlete and should push for first-team all-conference honors this fall.
Trey Hendrickson, DL, Florida Atlantic
At 6-foot-4, 270-pounds, Hendrickson is a force to be reckoned with at the line of scrimmage. He led the conference in sacks last year with 13.5, which was tied for No. 2 in the country. The Apopka, Florida native also ended the year as the Owls' all-time single-season and career sack leader. Expect the defensive lineman to be in the discussion for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy in 2016.
Jeremy Cutrer, CB, Middle Tennessee
Previously a JUCO blue-chipper at Mississippi Gulf Coast, Cutrer transitioned well to the FBS level last season. While playing cornerback and receiving snaps on special teams, the versatile athlete produced in a multitude of ways totaling 31 tackles (3.0 TFLs), a sack, three interceptions and 13 pass breakups. Middle Tennessee’s secondary is in good hands with Cutrer leading the way.