Group of Five conference power rankings entering the 2019 college football season

Yahoo Sports

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ 2019 conference power rankings. With the official start of the college football season just days away, we’re power ranking the teams in each FBS conference, starting with the Group of Five (not six — sorry, AAC). The conferences below are listed by strength in descending order from the Sun Belt to AAC.

Sun Belt

10. South Alabama (2018 record: 3-9 overall, 2-6 Sun Belt)

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The Jaguars have to replace six starters on a defense that gave up 6.7 yards per play in 2018. Good luck with Nebraska in Week 1, USA. The offense jumped to 24 points per game in Steve Campbell’s first year in Mobile and may need to be more prolific in 2019.

9. Georgia State (2-10, 1-7)

Nearly every key offensive skill position player is back in 2019 outside of wide receiver Penny Hart. But the Panthers have to replace three starters on the offensive line. Fixing a defense that gave up a whopping 7.7 yards per play in 2018 is coach Shawn Elliott’s biggest priority.

8. Texas State (3-9, 1-7)

New coach Jake Spavital takes over a team that has 19 returning starters and has brought in former FCS coach Bob Stitt to run the offense. But the schedule to start the season isn’t very kind. Texas State starts with Texas A&M and then plays Wyoming and SMU before opening Sun Belt play.

7. Coastal Carolina (5-7, 2-6)

The Chanticleers would be a trendy Week 2 upset pick at Kansas a year or so ago. But with Les Miles on the sidelines at KU, that’s probably not happening. A relatively soft non-conference schedule that includes Eastern Michigan and UMass could mean that Coastal is heading to a bowl for the first time in program history.

6. Louisiana-Monroe (6-6, 4-4)

The Warhawks are going to need a strong conference season to get to a bowl game with games against Florida State, Iowa State and Memphis on the schedule. QB Caleb Evans threw for 16 touchdowns and rushed for 10 in 2018, though he’ll enter 2019 missing three of his top four receivers from 2018.

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5. Louisiana (7-7, 5-3)

Billy Napier and the university didn’t make too many friends outside the school earlier in August with its encouragement of current players to donate to the scholarship fund that provides them their scholarships. The Ragin’ Cajuns took advantage of a weak West division to head to the title game last season and could do so again in 2019 if QB Levi Lewis turns his part-time 2018 statistics into full-time production.

4. Arkansas State (8-5, 5-3)

QB Justice Hansen is gone, but Logan Bonner should step in nicely and he’s got RB Marcel Murray behind him. Murray averaged 5.6 yards a carry and scored eight TDs as a freshman in 2018. Coach Blake Anderson is currently on a leave of absence following the death of his wife Wendy and there’s no timeline for his return to the sideline.

3. Troy (10-3, 7-1)

Chip Lindsey left Auburn to take a job on Les Miles’ staff at Kansas. But when Neal Brown went to West Virginia to replace Dana Holgorsen, Lindsey became Troy’s next coach. Just 13 starters return from a team that beat Nebraska in 2018 but the Trojans should contend for the East title. They get both Georgia Southern and App State at home.

2. Georgia Southern (10-3, 6-2)

GSU QB Shai Werts was involved in the weirdest story of the offseason when bird poop on his car somehow tested positive for cocaine. Werts was arrested but charges filed against him were quickly dropped. GSU went from 10 losses in 2017 to 10 wins in 2018 and with Werts available for the full season, GSU should easily make a bowl game again.

1. Appalachian State (11-2, 7-1)

Former NC State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz takes over for Scott Satterfield, who left for Louisville. App State’s offense has 10 starters back including QB Zac Thomas who combined for 31 touchdowns in 2019. Don’t be surprised if Appalachian State wins at North Carolina on Sept. 21 and a Halloween game against Georgia Southern will be fun to watch in between trips to the front door to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.

Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas combined for 31 touchdowns in 2018. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas combined for 31 touchdowns in 2018. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Mid-American Conference

12. Bowling Green (2018 record: 3-9 overall, 2-6 in MAC)

The Scot Loeffler era begins at Bowling Green. Just 12 starters return from a team that’s won nine games in the past three seasons after going 10-4 in 2015. Loeffler needs to replace QB Jarret Doege and also find a way to improve a pass rush that’s notched just 15 sacks in each of the past two seasons.

11. Akron (4-8, 2-6)

The Terry Bowden era is over. The Tom Arth era is upon us. Arth has leading tackler LB John Lako back on defense along with S Alvin Davis. After that, the cupboard is pretty bare. Akron needs eight new starters on that side of the ball. Offensively, seven starters are back, but the Zips averaged fewer than 19 points per game in 2018.

10. Central Michigan (1-11, 0-8)

Welcome to Mt. Pleasant, Jim McElwain. The former Florida coach takes over a team that won one game a year ago and has games at Wisconsin and Miami on the schedule. CMU has to replace eight starters on defense including four of the team’s five leading tacklers. Quinten Dormady, formerly of Tennessee and Houston, could start at QB

9. Kent State (2-10, 1-7)

The Golden Flashes should be better in 2019. Nine starters are back on an offense that jumped from 12.8 points per game in 2017 to 23.9 points per game in 2018 in coach Sean Lewis’ first year. The defense needs help — it allowed more than 36 points per game a season ago — and a three-game October road stretch of Wisconsin, Akron and Ohio won’t be too fun.

8. Ball State (4-8, 3-5)

If Ball State had a non-conference schedule easier than facing Indiana, Florida Atlantic and NC State, a bowl wouldn’t be that much of a surprise in 2019. The offense has eight starters back but must replace QB Riley Neal and RB James Gilbert. A defense that improved by eight points per game in 2018 returns nine starters and its seven leading tacklers.

7. Miami (6-6, 6-2)

A tough non-conference schedule in 2018 cost Miami a bowl berth. The Redhawks have Iowa, Cincinnati and Ohio State on the schedule this season. Jackson Williamson and AJ Mayer are battling to replace Gus Ragland at QB while Maurice Thomas should be the team’s No. 1 RB in 2019. He’ll need to improve on his 3.8 yards per carry in 2018.

6. Eastern Michigan (7-6, 5-3)

EMU had a four-game losing streak in 2018. The combined margin of victory in those games (two of which went to OT): 16 points. Three others were decided by field goals. This was a team that could have easily had 10 wins in 2018 and should be bowl-eligible again in 2019 despite just 10 starters coming back.

5. Buffalo (10-4, 7-1)

This is going to be a heck of a retooling year for Lance Leipold. After going to just the third bowl game in school history, the Bulls return just eight starters. Replacements need to be found for QB Tyree Jackson and WRs Anthony Johnson and KJ Osborn. And eight new starters will be on the defense in 2019. Outside of games against Penn State and Temple, however, the schedule is very manageable.

4. Northern Illinois (8-6, 6-2)

Thomas Hammock takes over for Rod Carey after Carey left for Temple. QB Marcus Childers is back and will have competition from Cal grad transfer Ross Bowers. The Huskies also need to replace leading receivers Jauan Wesley and DJ Brown. The schedule does NIU no favors either. After opening at home against Illinois State, Northern Illinois has three-straight road trips to Utah, Nebraska and Vanderbilt.

3. Western Michigan (7-6, 5-3)

Tim Lester’s team has combined for 13 wins in his first two seasons at his alma mater. A young defense gave up nearly 35 points per game in 2018, though that means 10 starters are back this season. QB Jon Wassink injured his foot during 2018 and missed the final six games of the season. But he threw for 16 TDs before the injury.

2. Ohio (9-4, 6-2)

Is this the year that Frank Solich gets a MAC title? Nathan Rourke might have been the most productive QB you didn’t hear of in 2018. Rourke rushed for 860 yards and 15 touchdowns and threw for 23 scores to just eight interceptions. RB AJ Ouellette and WR Papi White need to be replaced in 2019, but the Ohio offense is still in great hands with Rourke. Another season of averaging over 35 points per game isn’t farfetched.

1. Toledo (7-6, 5-3)

The Rockets enter the season as the MAC favorite despite a down year in 2018 and just 11 returning starters. Though, to be fair, a lot of the top teams in the MAC are replacing a ton of starters. QBs Mitchell Guadagni and Eli Peters split time in 2018 and combined to throw for 31 TDs and 10 interceptions. While the team’s top three WRs from 2018 are gone, RBs Bryant Koback and Shakif Seymour return.

Frank Solich has coached at Ohio since 2005 but has yet to win a MAC championship. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Frank Solich has coached at Ohio since 2005 but has yet to win a MAC championship. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Conference USA

14. Rice (2018 record: 2-11, 1-7 C-USA)

Rice went 2-11 in Mike Bloomgren’s first season and it’s hard to see an improvement in the win column in 2019. The team may be better, but a non-conference slate of Army, Wake Forest, Texas and Baylor is brutal for the Owls. The team’s most winnable games, UTSA and UTEP, are both on the road.

13. UTEP (1-11, 1-7)

UTEP’s Nov. 3 victory over Rice last year snapped a 20-game losing streak. It was the only win for the Miners in Year 1 under Dana Dimel, but the team had four losses by nine points or less. That level of competitiveness shows improvement.

12. UTSA (3-9, 2-6)

Frank Wilson led UTSA to its first-ever bowl in his first season and won six games in his second year, but the Roadrunners had an alarming drop to 3-9 in 2018. The offense was one of the worst in the country. Wilson could be looking for a new job if there’s not an improvement.

11. Old Dominion (4-8, 2-6)

ODU won 10 games in 2016 but has a combined nine victories in the two seasons since. Bobby Wilder built the program, but could find himself in a tough spot with another losing season.

10. Western Kentucky (3-9, 2-6)

WKU moved on from Mike Sanford after just two years and brought in Tyson Helton, who coached under Jeff Brohm at WKU. WKU wants to get back to the brand of football it played under Brohm, but there’s not enough talent on offense to get WKU back to the top of C-USA right away.

9. Charlotte (5-7, 4-4)

Charlotte made a nice hire by bringing in 34-year-old Will Healy from Austin Peay. Healy turned around an APSU program that had a 29-game losing streak and will attempt to elevate up a program that joined the FBS in 2015. The 49ers won five games last fall and could make a bowl in 2019.

8. Middle Tennessee (8-6, 7-1)

The search for a new starting quarterback (coach Rick Stockstill’s son Brent Stockstill graduated) and non-conference games against Michigan, Duke and Iowa could make it tough for the Blue Raiders to play in a bowl game, something the program has done in four straight seasons.

7. Louisiana Tech (8-5, 5-3)

La. Tech has experience on offense with J’Mar Smith at QB, Jaqwis Dancy at RB and Adrian Hardy at WR, but the defense loses NCAA all-time sacks leader Jaylon Ferguson to the NFL and DC Blake Baker to Miami. It will be tough for the Bulldogs to climb from the middle to the top of the West division.

6. Florida Atlantic (5-7, 3-5)

Lane Kiffin and FAU took C-USA by storm in his first year but fell back down to earth with a 5-7 campaign last fall. The Owls really struggled at QB in 2018 and might have Chris Robison, who has returned from another suspension, as the starter yet again. Losing RB Devin Singletary will hurt too, but if FAU comes out on the right side of its close games, a bowl game should be the outcome.

Can Lane Kiffin and Florida Atlantic bounce back after a disappointing 2018 season? (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Can Lane Kiffin and Florida Atlantic bounce back after a disappointing 2018 season? (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

5. Southern Miss (6-5, 5-3)

Southern Miss returns 16 starters, including 10 on offense, and the defensive line should be one of the conference’s best. The non-conference slate is tough, but the Golden Eagles should be able to contend for a conference crown if they can avoid the inconsistent play that has plagued them in recent years.

4. UAB (11-3, 7-1)

Two years after reviving the program, UAB won 11 games, the C-USA title and its first-ever bowl victory. But the Blazers return only eight starters and are really inexperienced on both the offensive and defensive lines. Still, it’s hard to envision too much of a drop-off under a coach as good as Bill Clark.

3. Marshall (9-4, 6-2)

Marshall rebounded nicely from the disastrous three-win campaign in 2016 by winning eight games in 2017 and nine last year. Entering 2019, the Thundering Herd should be back in the mix for a conference crown provided Isaiah Green progresses at QB and the defense continues playing at a high level. Last year, the Herd was tied with LSU for 25th nationally in total defense.

2. Florida International (9-4, 6-2)

Butch Davis has done a really impressive job winning 17 games in just two years at FIU. With James Morgan returning at quarterback, the Panthers may prove to have the best offense in C-USA. The schedule is tough, but FIU has the talent to win C-USA for the first time in school history.

1. North Texas (9-4, 5-3)

With coach Seth Littrell staying in the fold and QB Mason Fine back for his senior season, it’s hard to pick another team besides the Mean Green atop the C-USA power rankings. Fine is one of the nation’s best QBs and has his top target Rico Bussey back by his side. UNT has the offensive talent to withstand the loss of OC Graham Harrell to USC.

Mountain West

12. San Jose State (2018 record: 1-11, 1-7 MWC)

Brent Brennan has just three wins to show for his efforts in his first two seasons at SJSU. But the Spartans were much more competitive last fall, with seven of their 11 losses coming by two scores or less. Perhaps a few of those close games will be wins in 2019.

11. New Mexico (3-9, 1-7)

Entering his eighth season, Bob Davie is still chugging along in Albuquerque. The Lobos won nine games two years ago, but things have been ugly — on and off the field — in the two seasons since. Davie brought in a bunch of junior college transfers to shore up holes on both sides of the ball. This could be Davie’s last year at UNM.

10. Colorado State (3-9, 2-6)

CSU went 7-6 in Mike Bobo’s first three seasons before plummeting to a 3-9 mark last fall. The Rams have a tough non-con schedule (Colorado, Arkansas, Toledo) and Utah State, San Diego State and Fresno State as three of their first four league games. It could be an uphill climb for the Rams — and for Bobo to keep his job.

9. UNLV (4-8, 2-6)

The Rebels looked like a bowl team last year before QB Armani Rogers suffered a serious foot injury in Week 4. With Rogers out of the lineup, UNLV lost six straight and ended up finishing 4-8. Based on a statement from his AD, Tony Sanchez, back for a fifth year, needs to reach a bowl to keep his job.

8. Wyoming (6-6, 4-4)

Wyoming closed the season with four straight wins after Craig Bohl decided to start freshman Sean Chambers at QB. The offense looks like it could rely heavily on Chambers’ legs while the defense is one of the best in the conference. Road trips to SDSU, Boise State and Utah State could make it tough to get to a bowl.

7. Air Force (5-7, 3-5)

It’s uncharacteristic for Air Force to go two straight years with a losing record. The schedule is pretty tough for the Falcons in 2019. But with 14 starters returning, expect Troy Calhoun’s team to pull off a few upsets and get back to a bowl game.

6. Nevada (8-5, 5-3)

Jay Norvell got Nevada to eight wins and a bowl game in just his second season on the job. The Wolf Pack return a bunch of talent on offense, but will break in freshman QB Carson Strong behind an inexperienced offensive line. If the defense keeps improving, Nevada could be a sleeper team in the West division.

5. Hawaii (8-6, 5-3)

With Cole McDonald at QB, Hawaii’s offense was a ton of fun in 2018. McDonald dealt with a variety of injuries but is now healthy and one of nine returning starters on offense. The defense has nine starters back as well. The schedule is tougher this year, but the Rainbow Warriors will be a dangerous team.

Cole McDonald and Hawaii will have Arizona on upset alert on Saturday night. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)
Cole McDonald and Hawaii will have Arizona on upset alert on Saturday night. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

4. Utah State (11-2, 7-1)

After Matt Wells left for Texas Tech, the school brought back Gary Andersen to run the program. Andersen inherits an NFL draft prospect at QB in Jordan Love and says he won’t be changing the offense that put up nearly 500 yards per game. Aside from Love and RB Gerold Bright, the offense has a lot to replace, but the defense returns seven starters and should keep the Aggies in games.

3. Fresno State (12-2, 7-1)

Jeff Tedford has done a remarkable job, leading the Bulldogs to 10 wins in 2017 and a MWC title in 2018. In 2019, Fresno State will break in new faces at QB, receiver and offensive line but the defense should be really strong again, especially in the secondary and in the trenches. Even with the departures, it would not be a surprise to see Fresno back in the MWC title game.

2. San Diego State (7-6, 4-4)

SDSU started the year 7-2 before a surprising four-game losing streak to close the season. This offseason, Rocky Long said the offense will be more spread-based, an intriguing change from the power-run offense the Aztecs have long run. It could be a good move for RB Juwan Washington, who enters his senior season with 2,199 career yards.

1. Boise State (10-3, 7-1)

Even without Brett Rypien and Alexander Mattison on offense, Boise State is the clear favorite in the conference. Both the offensive and defensive lines are excellent. On offense all five line starters return while Curtis Weaver, with 28 tackles for loss and 20.5 sacks combined of the past two seasons, is the standout on the defense. And while the Broncos open with Florida State, they avoid both Fresno and SDSU on the schedule.

American Athletic Conference

12. Connecticut (2018 record: 1-11 overall, 0-8 in AAC)

This is not how Randy Edsall’s return to UConn was supposed to go. UConn is left to go independent after the school announced it was leaving the AAC after this season. The defense was historically bad in 2018 and allowed 8.8 yards per play. The good news is that it was really, really, young last season. Ten starters are back and none of them are seniors.

11. Tulsa (3-9, 2-6)

Things haven’t gone well since the Golden Hurricane won 10 games in 2016 and walloped Central Michigan in the Miami Beach Bowl. Tulsa has won just five games over the last two seasons and plays both Michigan State and Oklahoma State in its non-conference schedule and draws Cincinnati and UCF in league play.

10. East Carolina (3-9, 1-7)

Mike Houston takes over for the fired Scottie Montgomery. ECU has a QB decision to make between Holton Ahlers and Reid Herring and needs to get better running the ball. Somehow ECU has averaged less than four yards a carry for each of the last three seasons.

9. Navy (3-10, 2-6)

Thanks to the calendar quirk that gives most teams two off weeks in 2019, a Thursday game against Memphis and the traditional end-of-season game with Army, the Midshipmen end up with four off weeks this season. That’s a lot of extra practice. Just eight starters return, though QB Malcolm Perry is back. He rushed for 1,087 yards in 2018.

8. SMU (5-7, 4-4)

SMU looked well-positioned to make a bowl game in 2018 but lost to Memphis and Tulsa to end the season. Sonny Dykes’ team brings back nine starters on defense and seven starters on offense along with Texas graduate transfer QB Shane Buechele.

7. Tulane (7-6, 5-3)

The Green Wave beat Louisiana in the Cure Bowl for the team’s first bowl win since 2002. What will Willie Fritz’s fourth year have in store? RB Darius Bradwell rushed for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and the defense has eight starters back but must replace leading tacklers Zachery Harris and Roderic Teamer.

6. Temple (8-5, 7-1)

Rod Carey was hired from Northern Illinois after Geoff Collins left for Georgia Tech (and Manny Diaz for Miami). Coincidentally, Temple plays Georgia Tech on Sept. 28. QB Anthony Russo will need to improve upon the 16 interceptions to 16 touchdowns he threw in 2018 and the Owls will need to find a replacement for RB Ryquell Armstead.

5. South Florida (7-6, 3-5)

Blake Barnett is back for his senior season with the Bulls and it will, ideally, go better than his first year at USF. Barnett threw for just 12 TDs to 11 interceptions in 2018. He’s one of nine starters back on offense and Florida transfer Jordan Cronkrite and Johnny Ford will be a good RB tandem again. The Bulls open with Wisconsin and Georgia Tech and also have to play Cincinnati, UCF and Memphis during conference play.

4. Houston (8-5, 5-3)

Dana Holgorsen made the rare move from Power Five to Group of Five when he left West Virginia for Houston. His first game with the Cougars comes against Oklahoma. Holgorsen hired Arkansas State defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen to lead a defense that needs to replace seven starters and got shredded against Army in the Armed Forces Bowl. QB D’Eriq King will be extremely fun in Holgorsen’s offense.

After eight seasons at West Virginia, Dana Holgorsen is now the head coach at Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke, File)
After eight seasons at West Virginia, Dana Holgorsen is now the head coach at Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke, File)

3. Memphis (8-6, 5-3)

The Tigers will be a trendy pick in Week 1 at home against Ole Miss. If Memphis wins that game there’s a chance the Tigers could be 9-0 heading into a Nov. 16 game at Houston before finishing the season against USF and Cincinnati. QB Brady White threw for nearly 3,300 yards in 2018 and RB Patrick Taylor ran for 1,122 yards and 15 scores as the No. 2 RB behind now-Los Angeles Rams RB Darrell Henderson.

2. Cincinnati (11-2, 6-2)

If you’re looking for a team to usurp UCF, look no further than Luke Fickell’s squad. Cincinnati returns 14 starters on a team that went 11-2 in 2018. The Oct. 4 game at Nippert Stadium against the Knights could be for the AAC East. QB Desmond Ridder threw for 2,445 yards and ran for 583 as a freshman and RB Michael Warren had 1,329 yards and 19 TDs in 2018. An undefeated season probably isn’t happening even with a UCF win, however. Cincy plays at Ohio State in Week 2.

1. Central Florida (12-1, 8-0)

UCF’s win streak came to an inglorious end in the Fiesta Bowl against LSU at the end of the 2018 season. With McKenzie Milton still rehabbing from that nasty knee injury and his replacement Darriel Mack recovering from a broken ankle, Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush is in line to start at QB. Mostly everyone else is back on offense, but the defense needs to replace six starters, including Titus Davis and Trysten Hill. UCF will put up a lot of points again in 2019. It’ll probably give up a fair amount too. A Week 3 visit from Stanford will be one of the better non-conference games of the year.

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