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 Group of 5 Players to Know for 2016
Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State
The Las Vegas native considered an early departure to the NFL but decided to lead the Aztecs for one more season. Pumphrey, the reigning Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, can do it all by leading the team in rushing and receiving- not to mention throwing a touchdown in San Diego State’s 42-7 bowl victory over Cincinnati. The all-purpose superstar looks to carry that momentum into 2016 and help the Aztecs push for another school-record 11-win season.
Taywan Taylor, WR, Western Kentucky
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, he has explosiveness which 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.
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.
Latrell Gibbs, CB, Appalachian State
Gibbs emerged as one of the Sun Belt’s top defenders last season and showcased his playmaking ability with a 91-yard interception return to the house against Wyoming. The lockdown corner didn’t stop there, finishing 2015 with seven interceptions and 19 deflections on the year. Expect the junior to flourish as the anchor of the Mountaineers’ secondary next season.
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.
Written by Lance Dozier