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Ranking all 63 college football non-powers for 2016: Houston's No. 1, but not a runaway

Let's power rank the entire Group of 5, from the Peach Bowl champions to Eastern Michigan.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

That's 63 previews down, 65 to go. My annual preview series has basically reached the halfway point, with the Group of 5 conferences and non-Notre Dame independents in the books. Notre Dame will mark the official halfway point on Monday.

At the end of each set of conference previews, I have been releasing power rankings based not on numbers, but on my opinions after writing so many words about each team. You can catch them all here:

Since we've reached a benchmark, it might be interesting to merge these power rankings into one giant set of mid-major power rankings.

I'll include three independents here -- including BYU, which has probably done enough to earn honorary major status -- with asterisks (*) that signify they technically aren't part of the Group of 5 (and therefore ineligible to get the New Year's Six's Group of 5 conference champion bid). They could still make big bowls by ranking highly, of course.

Capable of making (and winning) a major bowl

1. Houston
2. Boise State
3. BYU*
4. San Diego State
5. USF

These are the five with the fewest question marks to me.

I am not as high on Houston as many -- for all of the luck-related reasons I've mentioned many times before -- but I still trust the Cougars more than any other team in the mid-major universe.

That said, they are only a nose ahead of others, and as much as conventional wisdom has settled on UH as the de facto Group of 5 favorite, most of us were saying the same things about Boise State a year ago. The Broncos went 9-4.

Anyone from the second tier below could make a run at the major bowl bid, but I would be surprised if the bid didn't go to one of the four eligible teams above.

Definite conference title contenders

6. Western Kentucky
7. WMU
8. Appalachian State
9. Toledo
10. Temple
11. Georgia Southern
12. Memphis
13. Southern Miss
14. Marshall
15. Navy
16. Cincinnati
17. Air Force
18. NIU
19. Bowling Green
20. Arkansas State

Each of these is one or two answers away from making a run at 10-plus wins. Maybe a star quarterback left, or maybe there was a coaching change. Because of uncertainty, at least a few will disappoint this fall, but they all have sturdy foundations. Most will enter November with conference title hopes.

Bowls likely

21. UConn
22. Louisiana Tech
23. CMU
24. Utah State
25. ECU
26. Colorado State
27. Ohio
28. Tulsa

This is just a half-step down from the one above. Most or all should end up in the postseason.


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Bowls possible

29. Akron
30. UCF
31. New Mexico
32. Nevada
33. San Jose State
34. Middle Tennessee
35. Troy
36. Georgia State
37. Florida Atlantic

These teams are either completely rebuilding in one unit or the other or just really stunk in one unit last year. But there is decent talent and depth.

Hey, you never know

38. SMU
39. Fresno State
40. Kent State
41. UNLV
42. Florida International
43. UL-Lafayette
44. Buffalo
45. Rice
46. Ball State
47. Idaho
48. Old Dominion
49. Tulane
50. Miami (Ohio)
51. South Alabama
52. Army*
53. UTEP
54. UTSA
55. New Mexico State
56. Wyoming
57. UMass*
58. North Texas
59. Texas State

Most of my previews for these teams centered around building (or, in the case of teams like Rice and UL-Lafayette, rebuilding) for 2017, but hey, sometimes you arrive a year early.


60. Charlotte
61. UL-Monroe
62. Hawaii
63. EMU

If one of these makes a serious bowl run, I will be stunned and thrilled.


Friday afternoon, I took some Facebook and Twitter questions on these rankings and the Group of 5 in general here: