The annual Army-Navy game tops the list
The Group of 5 might not produce a serious threat to win a national title — sorry UCF — but there are still a bunch of very good teams that are loaded with outstanding players.
Below is our list of the top 15 games involving Group of 5 teams — some involve matchups against the so-called big boys in the Power 5 and some are key games that will go long way in determining conference championships.
Top 15 Must-See Group of 5 Games of 2019
1. Army vs. Navy, Dec. 14
The Army-Navy showdown is always going to rank among the best games of any college football season. Since there are no matchups on this list featuring two teams ranked in the Athlon Sports preseason top 25, we will be patriotic and put this game at No. 1.
Fun fact: Neither has team has thrown for 100 yards in any of the last three games in this series. Both teams did it in 2015, when Navy had 113 and Army had 208 in the Midshipmen’s 21–17 victory.
2. UCF at Cincinnati, Oct. 4
This figures to be UCF’s toughest test during conference play — and also it’s a great opportunity for the surging Bearcats to make a statement under third-year coach Luke Fickell.
Fun fact: None of the four games played in this series has been decided by fewer than 21 points. UCF has won the last three, by 25, 28 and 21; Cincinnati won by 45 in 2015.
3. Boise State at Utah State, Nov. 23
It’s the Game of the Year in the Mountain West Mountain Division. Boise State returns six starters on offense but must replace a four-year starter at quarterback in Brett Rypien. Utah State, on the other hand, returns only two starters but welcomes back junior QB Jordan Love, one of the most underrated skill position players in the nation.
Fun fact: Utah State ranked second nationally in scoring last year with 47.5 points per game, just ahead of the two teams that played for the national title — Alabama (third, 45.6 ppg) and Clemson (fourth, 44.3 ppg).
4. Houston at Oklahoma, Aug. 31
The Dana Holgorsen era begins with an intriguing trip to Norman. Prediction: There will be a lot of points scored. Another prediction: OU will win.
Fun fact: The two starting QBs in this game have rushed for 100-plus yards in a game a combined 31 times — 27 by Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts and four by Houston’s D’Eriq King.
5. Boise State vs. Florida State, Aug. 31 (Jacksonville)
The Broncos open with a Power 5 opponent for the first time since 2015, when they knocked off Washington 16–13 in Boise. It’s the first-ever matchup between the two schools.
Fun fact: Florida State is unranked in the AP preseason poll for the first time since 2008 and only the second time since 1982.
6. Washington State vs. Houston, Sept. 13 (NRG Stadium)
Houston’s defense will get its second huge test of the season, playing “host” (the game is at the home of the Texans) to Washington State two weeks after a Week 1 trip to Oklahoma.
Fun fact: Houston coach Dana Holgorsen played at Iowa Wesleyan from 1991-92. The Tigers’ offensive coordinator at that time? Current Washington State coach Mike Leach. The two then served on the same staff at Valdosta State from 1993-95, and Holgorsen was an assistant at Texas Tech while Leach was the head coach from 2000-07.
7. Appalachian State at Troy, Nov. 30
Appalachian State and Arkansas State are Athlon Sports’ picks to meet in the Sun Belt title game, but this game involves the league’s two best teams (according to our rankings). The winner will likely win the East Division title.
Fun fact: These two teams have won a combined seven straight bowl games. Appalachian State is 4–0 in bowl games since making the move to the FBS ranks in 2014, with all four bowl wins in the past four seasons; Troy has won a bowl game in each of the past three seasons.
8. Fresno State at San Diego State, Nov. 16
These teams have dominated the West since the league split into divisions in 2013, and there’s no reason to believe that won’t continue to be the case this fall.
Fun fact: Neither team has scored more than 27 points in any of the last five games in the series. Prior to that, both teams scored at least 28 points in three straight matchups.
9. Fresno State at USC, Aug. 31
USC’s schedule is brutal through mid-October, starting with this home date against Fresno State. The Bulldogs have won 22 games over the last two seasons but return only two starters and will be breaking in a new QB.
Fun fact: Fresno State went 2–0 against Pac-12 teams last season, winning at UCLA in Week 3 and knocking off Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
10. Stanford at UCF, Sept. 14
Stanford might not be a national contender in 2019, but getting the Cardinal to make the cross-country trip is a big moment for the AAC.
Fun fact: UCF’s presumptive No. 1 quarterback, Brandon Wimbush, lost his only start against Stanford while at Notre Dame. Wimbush threw for 249 yards but completed only 11-of-28 attempts and threw two interceptions in a 38–20 loss to the Cardinal in 2017.
11. Appalachian State at North Carolina, Sept. 21
This will not be an easy opener for Mack Brown as he begins his second stint with the Tar Heels. Appalachian State is 0–6 vs. Power 5 foes since returning to the FBS ranks, but one loss was by one point (vs. Wake in 2017) and two were in overtime (Penn State in 2018, Tennessee in 2016).
Fun fact: Brown’s first head coaching job came at Appalachian State in 1983. He went 6–5 in his only season at the school. He left to become the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma and then was named head coach at Tulane in 1985.
12. UCF at Pittsburgh, Sept. 21
It’s always a big game when UCF, a program starving for credibility on the national front, plays a Power 5 opponent. Last year, the Knights outgained Pitt by almost 300 yards en route to a 45-14 win in Orlando.
Fun fact: UCF has averaged 37.3 points in its last four games against P5 opponents, a loss to LSU and wins over Pittsburgh, Auburn and Maryland.
13. Ole Miss at Memphis, Aug. 31
Ole Miss’ last trip to Memphis ended with a 37–24 win by the hosts. The boys in Vegas believe it will happen again; Memphis is currently a 6-point favorite.
Fun fact: The two starting quarterbacks in this game, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral and Memphis’ Brady White, went to high school about 60 miles apart in Southern California … approximately 1,800 miles from where this game will be played.
14. Ohio at Pittsburgh, Sept. 7
This could be a good spot in Week 2 for Ohio. Pitt opens the season with an ACC game at home against Virginia and then plays at Penn State in Week 3. The Bobcats might be able to steal a win at Heinz Field.
Fun fact: Ohio has never scored more than 16 points in five previous meetings with Pittsburgh. The Bobcats do, however, have a one-game winning streak in the series; they beat Pitt 16–10 on a Friday night in Athens in 2005.
15. Toledo at Kentucky, Aug. 31
The Rockets should be able to put some points on the board against the rebuilding Wildcat defense. The problem: Slowing down UK’s power rushing attack.
Fun fact: Toledo is 1–3 all-time against SEC teams, with losses to Florida (2013) and Missouri twice (2013, 2014) and a win over Arkansas in 2015.
(Top photo courtesy of navysports.com)