These players could be the difference between an average season and crashing a New Year's Six bowl
All college football teams have one player who, if he steps up and performs to or even above his potential, could be the catalyst for a magical season. The teams in the Group of 5 conferences (American Athletic, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt) are no different, as many of them have key players who could be the difference between another season of flying under the radar nationally and possibly crashing the party that is the New Year's Six bowls.
Here are the wild card players from the Group of 5 in 2017:
American Athletic Conference
Kyle Allen, QB, Houston
Allen was once the nation's top quarterback recruit out of high school. After spending some time at Texas A&M, he's now in Houston with new head coach Major Applewhite. The Cougars have plenty of elite talent at the skill positions back. If Allen can efficiently execute a new, wide-open passing attack in H-Town, the schedule sets up nicely for the Cougars to potentially crash the New Year's Six party.
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Sutton might be the next A.J. Green on Sundays. For now, he’s a straight-up mismatch in the AAC due to his elite combination of size and speed that you would normally expect to see dominating a Power 5 conference. If head coach Chad Morris makes it a point to feed him the ball as often as possible, the Mustangs have a serious chance of playing in the conference title game.
Tyler Camp, C, WKU
The Hilltoppers have a chance to be very special in 2017. For that to happen, Camp needs to grab the center position by the horns and play wise beyond his years. The redshirt sophomore will have talented upperclassmen surrounding him on the line, but his consistency could be the difference between a conference title and a .500 season.
Adrian Hardy, WR, Louisiana Tech
Hardy is a Power 5 talent (originally signing with Oklahoma) who should able to start and shine immediately for the Bulldogs. He joins an already talented and experienced roster looking to make noise in 2017. If Louisiana Tech's opponents aren't ready for him, Hardy could be the catalyst that allows the Bulldogs to run the table in the regular season.
Tom Flacco, QB, Western Michigan
Flacco is perhaps the key piece to the post-P.J. Fleck era in Kalamazoo. He is a dual-threat quarterback leading an offense still loaded with talent. His ability to guide the Broncos through a transition period could dictate how the MAC title race pans out.
DeDarallo Blue, LB/S, Toledo
The Rockets roll out a 4-2-5-ish defense that seems to be the wave of the future. For it to be effective, Blue needs to play beyond his sophomore status and be an elite force against both the run and the pass. If he succeeds at doing just that, the Rockets could end up with one of the best records in the Group of 5.
Alexander Mattison, RB, Boise State
There are whispers of Boise State losing its stranglehold on its status as the premier program in the conference. Mattison is a guy who can silence those whispers. He's next in what is becoming a prestigious line of running backs to come through the Bronco program. He borders on scat-back status in terms of size, but could be the most complete player at the position Boise State has ever seen.
Armani Rogers, QB, UNLV
Rogers is probably the closest thing there is to Cam Newton in college football. He was originally going to play at Cal in the Pac-12, but instead will now bring his talents to Sin City. He enters an offense full of skill players with considerable experience. It's tough not to get over-excited with the potential, but Rogers could be the biggest wild card in the nation. Don't be shocked to see him carry the Rebels to the conference title game.
Rasool Clemons, DE, Troy
Someone needs to replace 2016's Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Rashad Dillard. Right now, that someone appears to be Clemons. The junior college transfer from perennial powerhouse East Mississippi Community College has all of the tools to be an elite pass rusher in the Sun Belt and possibly beyond. He could be the piece that leads the Trojans to an unblemished record in conference play.
Dee Liner, DT, Arkansas State
Now that he's settled in after transferring from Alabama, look for Liner to play a bigger role for the Red Wolves. This is a guy who was once expected to dominate the trenches in the SEC. If he reaches his full potential, Arkansas State could be one of the more dangerous teams in the Group of 5.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He also covers the Big Ten for Black Heart Gold Pants, Iowa's SB Nation blog. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.