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Tea Time: Checking on the Group of Five after the first week of 2019’s bowl games

We look back at a wild week in Group of Five football, as the MAC unexpectedly finds itself near the top of the leaderboard.

James H. Jimenez (illustration), Mascot images: Boyd Ivey (Icon Sportswire/Getty), Florida Atlantic University and Appalachian State University

Bowl season is here, and with it, the measuring-stick aspect of cheering on your conference so you can win the offseason arguments with your friends about if your conference really is better than theirs (hello, SEC fans,)

The Group of Five is a very unique set-up; they’re all fans of more intimate programs, and know they probably don’t have a chance at playing for the national title. That makes bowl season a bit different for them, then. It’s a chance to prove their teams are deserving of attention, especially against Power Five teams. A P5 “upset” is something every G5 conference can take pride in, regardless of affiliation.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a bit of a fraternal rivalry between the various G5 conferences. The bowl season can be a great measure of a conference’s mettle; is the parity of a conference (like the MAC) an indication of mediocrity or strength? Has a conference gotten better or worst comapred to last season? This is the time of year where theose questions can be answered.

So with that in mind, let’s check out the official standings so far:

The Table

Here are the standings, current as of Monday morning:

Conference Bowl record (Wk. 1) Total record
Mid-American 2-1 2-1
Sun Belt 2-1 2-1
Mountain West 1-2 1-2
Conference USA 1-3 1-3
American 0-1 0-1

We haven’t included FBS independents in this standing, as there’s only one G5 independent playing in a bowl game this season. (We count BYU as a Power Five for our purposes.)

Perhaps the most startling thing to report back from Week 1 (besides the MAC winnning multiple games for the first time since 2015) is that SMU, the American’s lone representative, was boatraced by FAU (CUSA’s lone victory so far) in their matchup.

The Mountain West also looks to be off to a slow start, with only San Diego State winning their matchup.

It’s early, but with a lot of these G5 vs. G5 games coming up in Week 2, we’ll start to see some separation.

The Results

In this section, we’ll link back to recaps form our site, as well as sister site Underdog Dynasty and Mountain West Wire, a valued collaborator of ours, and have them comment on what the latest results mean for their respective conferences.

Links to the recaps of each game are available as well.

We’ll go in chronological order:

2019 Bahamas Bowl: Buffalo 31, Charlotte 9

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 26 Central Michigan at Buffalo Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jaret Patterson and the Buffalo defense spoiled the party for the bowl debutante 49ers, as they took away a historic win in Nassau. The bowl win was the first one for Buffalo since jumping up to FBS competition in 1999. (Recap by Hustle Belt.)

2019 Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl: Kent State 51, Utah State 41

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 20 Frisco Bowl - Utah State v Kent State Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Kent State finally won a bowl game, 99 years after first being established as a program, and 65 years removed from their first bowl game appearance (in the amazingly named Refridgerador Bowl.) They did so in dramatic fashion over Utah State, converting a fourth-and-one from the USU 5 for a Dustin Crum rushing touchdown on a zone read to seal the game. (Recap by Hustle Belt.)

Analysis from Jeremy Mauss of Mountain West Wire: “Utah State was in a back-and-forth game that saw QB Jordan Love have one of his best games of the year. However, he had a fluky interception and the offense on a whole had three total turnovers, including a muffed punt. Those three turnovers went for nine points to Kent State. The Aggies defense did hold Kent State to five field goals but they were struggling to tackle and also unable to slow down QB Dustin Crum who ran and passed all over Utah State for a combined 336 total yards.”

2019 New Mexico Bowl: San Diego State 48, Central Michigan 11

New Mexico Bowl - Central Michigan v San Diego State Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

It was a dominant effort from the start by the Aztecs, as they picked up an interception on the first series and never looked back, putting up a season-best offensive performance (48 points and nearly 500 yards) while only giving up one touchdown to secure their fourth 10-win season in five years, (Recap by Hustle Belt.)

Analysis from Jeremy Mauss of Mountain West Wire: "San Diego State had its game of the year against Central Michigan. The Aztecs had a low key 10-win season and did so with a variety of injuries in the running game. Juwan Washingon has been bothered by an ankle injury all year and he did not play in the bowl game, but to the rescue was Jordan Byrd who had a huge 139 yards with a touchdown. The defense had an amazing game with five forced turnovers and was dominant from start to finish."

2019 Cure Bowl: Liberty 23, Georgia Southern 16

NCAA Football: Cure Bowl-Liberty vs Georgia Southern Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Southern mounted a late comeback rally, but ultimately couldn’t get the bounces they needed, giving Liberty its first bowl win as an FBS program in their first eligible season. (Recap by Underdog Dynasty’s Dan Morrison.)

2019 Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl: Florida Atlantic 52, SMU 26

NCAA Football: Boca Raton Bowl-Southern Methodist vs Florida Atlantic Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Atlantic is in the midst of a wholesale coaching change with Lane Kiffin’s inevitable departure, but that didn’t sink the spirits of the Owls who remained, as they bullied their way to a victory against an opponent many thought would be a heavy favorite. (Recap by Underdog Dynasty’s Cyrus Smith.)

2019 Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State 34, Florida International 26

NCAA Football: Camellia Bowl-Florida International vs Arkansas State Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Arkansas State had to hold off a late raly from a rowdy FIU team, but held on thanks in large part to a missed field goal from Panthers kicker Jose Borregalas. It was a streaky affair that really encapsulated the chaos of bowl season. (Recap by Underdog Dynasty’s Eric C. Henry.)

2019 Mitsubishi Las Vegas Bowl: Washington 38, #19 Boise State 7

NCAA Football: Las Vegas Bowl-Boise State vs Washington Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

In a bittersweet final game for Washington head coach Chris Petersen, he faced his old program and his hand-picked successor Brian Harsin for what would prove to be a decisive victory for the Huskies. Boise looked lost from the start, and end up giving the G5 an 0-1 record to start vs. their P5 bretheren. (Recap by Mountain West Wire’s Jeremy Mauss.)

2019 R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: #20 Appalachian State 31, UAB 17

NCAA Football: New Orleans Bowl-Appalachian State vs UAB Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

#20 Appalachian State might be in the New Year’s Six if it wasn’t for a sloppy, rainy game against conference for Georgia Southern. The season still ended in a trophy though, as the Mountaineers overcame a slow 0-14 start to beat the C-USA runners-up UAB by a final of 31-17 to get to a 13-win season. (Recap by CBS Sports’ Barrett Sallee.)

What They’re Saying Around the League

For this portion, we talked to some beat reporters form other conferences to see what they had to say about the games last week.

Adam Woodyard, North Texas and Conference USA writer for Underdog Dynasty: "Conference USA’s bowl results have been a mixed bag so far, but then, so was the regular season. 2019 champ FAU knocking over SMU is a no small feat, and a great win for the conference, but from top to bottom there still needs to be more consistency. Runner-up UAB lost to a Sun Belt team (albeit a nationally ranked one), and so far the other teams to have played their bowls were paired against teams with more regular season wins. Still, La Tech has a legitimate shot against Miami, and that feels like improvement, even if it’s not all 14 teams at once."

Jeremy Mauss, editor at Mountain West Wire: “Overall, the Mountain West bowl season is a mixed bag. A shootout game with a close loss, a blowout win and a blowout loss.

(Re: as Vegas Bowl:) There is a lot of second-guessing in this game for Boise State on offense. Head coach Bryan Harsin wanted none of it talking about who was calling plays with Zak Hill who left for the OC job at Arizona State. The bigger issue was going with freshman QB Hank Bachmeier. Senior Jaylon Henderson was 4-0 and playing well filling in for the injured Bachmeier. Harsin said Bachmeier had been healthy the past few weeks, so the big question is why not play him when healthy over the final few games and not just thrust him into a solid Washington team. Henderson did finally see playing time and he led the Broncos to a touchdown on his first drive. This specific game saw Harsin outcoached by Chris Petersen and his defense and offense failed to show up."

What Does It Mean?

It’s a bit surprising to see the American so low down the totem pole, but then, bowl matchups can be wildly unpredictable.

The Sun Belt has been very inconsistent in their gams so far, with App State picking up an expected win, but also an extremely unexpected loss (Georgia Southern to Liberty.) It’s really an indication of how top-heavy that league has been in recent seasons, with App State and Georgia Southern primarily runnign the show. The SBC has a lot of games late in the season, so there’s still time to catch up.

The American had only one game last week, and it messed up big time, getting trounced by an FAU with nothing to lose, CUSA’s only win so far as of Monday. They’ve got a lot of favorable matchups remaining, however.

As for the MAC, getting two wins to start the year was massive. It was the first time since 2015 the conference had managed to win multiple games, and it was made all the better by giving Buffalo and Kent their first bowl games in conference history, leaving only Ball State as a bowl-less program.

The bowl season will heat up after the holiday season, so we’ll see if the MAC can maintain their lead in the standings going into Week 2’s action.