Yesterday, we ranked the Power-5 football conferences (in basketball, football, and baseball), so today, it’s time to look at rankings for the Group of 5 conferences – who is a joke, and who is a legit threat to Power-5 teams.
MAC -20, CUSA- 21, SB – 17, AAC – 8, MWC – 9
#5. Conference USA
Last season, it was 20th time is the charm for Conference USA, which lost it’s first 19 games against Power-5 opponents before scraping out November wins against cellar-dwelling Arkansas and a floundering Miami squad. They weren’t great outside of the Power-5 either, going just 9-12 against fellow Group-of-5 programs, and, thanks to Western Kentucky, they had the sole FCS loss among Group of 5 teams (Independent UMass and the ACC’s Georgia Tech had the other two FBS-FCS losses). Florida Atlantic (11-3) nearly cracked the top 25 at the end of the season, which would have provided the conference with a bit of pride, but they didn’t, and C-USA finds the basement in these rankings.
#4. Mid-Atlantic Conference
The MAC was a strong contender for the cellar in these rankings, but ultimately they got the nod to stay just above C-USA. Just with Akron (0-12), this conference has probably the worst team in the FBS, and they were even worse against Power-5 competition, going 2-21, although their wins over Illinois and BYU represented victories over at least semi-capable programs. The MAC loses to Conference USA in star power, with no teams collecting more than eight wins, but, outside of Akron, they also can’t match C-USA in truly atrocious teams. It’s a lot of mediocrity, in the MAC, but a decent bowl season (3-4) – and Conference USA’s FCS loss – kept them out of the basement.
#3. Sun Belt
Unlike the prior conferences in these rankings, every team in the Sun Belt had at least two wins, and outside of South Alabama (2-10) and Texas State (3-9), everyone came within a game of bowl eligibility. Appalachian State was one of the best Group-of-5 programs in the country, just missing out on a 14-0 season and winning the conference. The Sun Belt saw some strong performances against the Power-5, despite a relatively dismal 4-9 overall record. Georgia State toppled Tennessee, while App State upended both South and North Carolina, and Coastal Carolina snatched a road victory at Kansas, and Louisiana-Monroe took Florida State to overtime in Tallahassee. There’s things not to like – only five teams qualified for bowl games – but the Sun Belt, with a couple of very good teams, and cellar-dwelllers that don’t quite match the atrocity of those in the MAC and C-USA, belongs third on this list.
#2. Mountain West
It was nearly a toss-up between the clear top-2 conference in the Group of 5. The Mountain West had the best success of any conference against Power-5 programs, nearly breaking .500 with a 10-12 mark, including Boise State’s comeback against Florida State, along with road victories at Vanderbilt, Arkansas, UCLA, and Colorado. They struggled at times against other Group of 5 programs, however – after posting a 2-0 record against Conference USA, they went 1-5 against the AAC, Sun Belt, and Mac, ultimately relegating them to 2nd on this list. Boise State got smacked in the conference’s lone bowl game against a Power-5 team (38-7 loss vs. Washington), but they went 4-3 overall in bowl season. Boise State was the class of the conference, but Air Force, Hawaii, and San Diego State all reached at least 10 wins.
#1. American Athletic Conference
The AAC got the nod for the #1 Group of 5 conference. In a two-man competition with the Mountain West, the AAC won out with a 3-0 head-to-head record with the MWC, and they placed four teams into the AP Top 25 at the end of the season, to the Mountain West’s two. Their cherry on top is the New Year’s 6 bowl, where the AAC leads with four appearances – no other Group of 5 has more than two, and the Mountain West has just one. The American also went a stunning 16-1 against all other non Power-5 programs, with a 7-13 mark against Power-5 schools, punctuated with a ranked victory over #25 TCU. With Memphis, Navy, Cincinnati and UCF, the conference has four truly great teams, and SMU is pushing to make it five. The conference went 4-3 in 2019 bowl game appearances, led by Memphis’s stiff fight in the Cotton Bowl and Navy’s strong Liberty Bowl victory.