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 Sun Belt Football Players to Know for 2016
Larry Rose III, RB, New Mexico State
After earning third team All-America and first team All-Sun Belt honors last season, Rose earned a spot among the best running backs in the country. He led the conference in rushing yards (1,651) and went back-to-back seasons with rushing over the milestone of 1,000 yards. Additionally, Rose had three 200-yard rushing games which made him the only back in the league to do so in 2015. The all-purpose tailback has improved over the last two years and should have his best overall season in 2016.
Penny Hart, WR, Georgia State
Hart earned Sun Belt Freshman of the Year and Freshman All-American accolades this past season. He tallied an impressive line of 71 catches, 1,099 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Hart was one of the most explosive receivers in college football last fall by hauling in seven catches that went over 40 yards. His ability to take the top off the defense will make life a lot easier for the Panthers’ new quarterback.
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.
Jay Ellison, DT, Georgia Southern
When a defensive tackle gets an interception, that just rinks of athleticism. Ellison did just that last year and then some by racking up 33 total tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. The 305-pound cog has a motor too by playing in 462 snaps last season. The Hamilton, Ga. native earned second-team All-Sun Belt last year and there’s no reason why he won’t do it again in 2016.
Xavier Woodson-Luster, LB, Arkansas State
Woodson-Luster was an all-conference selection last year and looks to repeat those honors going into the fall. He had a stellar performance last season against Louisiana-Lafayette, displaying his ability to play sideline-to-sideline when he tallied 14 tackles. The standout linebacker racked up 71 tackles (5.5 for a loss), one sack, two interceptions, six hurries, and two forced fumbles last season and will be the leader on the on the Red Wolves defense.