J. Brady McCollough looks at the 25 biggest storylines in college football heading into the 2019 season. Which teams will be playing in major bowls?
J. Brady McCollough looks at the 25 biggest story lines in college football heading into the 2019 season: Which team from the Group of Five will crash a New Year’s Six bowl?
With the College Football Playoff era offering so few surprises among the field of four, one of the most entertaining subplots each year has been watching teams from the largely forgotten “Group of Five” conferences fight for one spot in the sport’s six crowned bowl games.
Two years ago, Central Florida crashed the party to a level unseen since Boise State upset Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. The Knights, playing an exciting brand of football that launched Scott Frost to the Nebraska job after the season, went wire to wire and knocked off Auburn in the Peach Bowl. They printed T-shirts that crowned themselves national champions, a brazen and warranted salvo at the system that kept them out of the playoff despite an undefeated record.
Under new coach Josh Heupel, UCF followed that up with another 12-0 regular season and American Athletic Conference title. But in the season finale against South Florida, star quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered a horrific knee injury that not only ended his season but will keep him out for all of 2019, too.
Milton’s injury made sure there would not be a second straight UCF-claimed national championship — Louisiana State ended the Knights’ 25-game winning streak in the Fiesta Bowl. It also opened the door for a new Group of Five team to push against the sport’s establishment this fall.
Even without Milton, UCF will be tough to unseat. Brandon Wimbush, a graduate transfer from Notre Dame, slides into the starting role and will be surrounded by high-end skill position talent.
But the AAC may end up being one of the most fun conference races to watch.
Houston was able to coax coach Dana Holgorsen from West Virginia and returns the dynamic D’Eriq King at quarterback. He passed for 36 touchdowns and ran for 14 last season.
The Cougars will have two huge chances to grab the nation’s attention — a Sept. 1 Sunday night, opening-weekend game against Oklahoma, and in a Sept. 13 Friday night home game against Washington State.
Cincinnati is coming off an 11-2 season and begins the year with UCLA visiting on a Aug. 29 Thursday night tone-setter for the AAC.
Memphis has been dangerous the last two seasons, winning a combined 18 games, but the Tigers unfortunately hit their stride at the height of UCF’s dominance.
It would also be a mistake to forget about Boise State. The Broncos haven’t cracked the New Year’s Six bowls since defeating Arizona in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, and they are worth keeping an eye on if the power-hungry AAC happens to cannibalize itself.