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Group of five 2014 FBS Conference Rankings
There will always be the ongoing debate “Who is the Best”, it stands the test of time. In 2014 when it comes to ranking the group of five (G5) FBS football conferences the debate will continue. The only way to make a prediction on the future is to evaluate the many spokes of the wheel that will have an impact on this year. It should be a complicated formula that takes into account last years’ on the field performance, the history and experience of returning players, starters, impact players from the incoming 2014 class, OOC schedules and many other factors in general. All will help shape and determine the ranking. The reality is the consensus of most experts is there is no consensus. However, as you break down the G-5′s in 2014, there is no clear favorite to be the best in 2014. The AAC loses Louisville yet adds East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa. UCF (12-1) should be the class of the AAC this year with Cincinnati (9-4), East Caroline (10-3) and Houston (8-5) making some noise. 2013 Bowl season (2-3) had one shining star, the UCF win over Baylor. The middle of the conference shows little change with SMU (5-7) and a new wrinkle as Tulane (7-6) is added to the mix. The bottom will grow in 2014 and appears there will be a log jam to get the bottom. It will be difficult to predict the bottom five. Flip a coin for the order which may include Tulsa (3-9), UConn (3-9), Memphis (3-9), Temple (2-10) and 2013’s biggest disappointment, USF (2-10). If the bottom of the league continues as they played last year and the middle shows little improvement in 2014 the outcome may be in question.
The AAC will most likely be followed in a neck and neck struggle between the MWC and CUSA both having overall improvement from top to bottom from last year’s successes and failures. The MWC at the top of the league appears to be more competitive and a nice huddle of schools will be bunched at the top. The teams that could have the best odds to finish on top are Fresno State (11-2), Utah State (9-5), SDSU (8-5), Colorado State (8-6), and a vastly improving UNLV (7-6). All had strong 2013 years and finished the year with commanding improvement that carried them into the Bowl season (3-3). Somewhere in the middle you will have a trifecta with San Jose State (6-6), Nevada (4-8), and Wyoming (5-7). Unfortunately the bottom of the league seems to be in a downward spin with New Mexico (3-9), Air Force (2-10) and Hawaii (1-11). The one to watch in the MWC will be Wyoming, the new HFB Coach Craig Bohl comes to Wyoming after 11 years at North Dakota State, where he won the last three Football Championship Subdivision titles. The MWC should pull it out in the end as the second best in 2014.
CUSA may have the biggest gains in the upward movement of the five G5 conferences. Marshall (10-4) will be dominating in the East and has an opportunity to go undefeated for the first time since 1996. This was the same year the Thundering Herd won the FCS National Championship. A top 25 ranking could be in Marshall’s future if they do not stumble. Other teams in the East to watch are MTSU (8-5), new member Western Kentucky (8-4), FAU (6-6) and ODU (8-4). This will be the transitioning year for new member ODU. Old Dominion has yet to prove itself against FBS opponents and has shown they have a historically undermanned defense that could be a stumbling block in 2014. UAB (2-10) and FIU (1-11) will both need to have new players make immediate impact for them to have a turnaround season from 2013. The west is by far the stronger side of CUSA from top to bottom and will be a very entertaining year to see who rises to the top. Rice (11-4), last year’s CUSA Champions will need to replace some key players in 2014 to return to the Championship game. UTSA (7-5), North Texas (9-4) and LA Tech (4-8), may be the most improved teams in the Conference in 2014. Rounding out the west will be UTEP (2-10) and Southern Miss (1-11), both should have dramatic improvement over last year’s record. As a conference they had a very impressive Bowl season (3-3) including Marshall’s win over BCS Maryland.
The MAC will slip in 2014 and will need a year to rebuild after nothing short of a disastrous 2013 Bowl season (0-5). Bowling Green (10-4) appears to be the team to beat in the east. Two teams that could be a factor are Buffalo (8-5), and Ohio (7-6). The next group will need marked improvement in 2014 to improve on 2013’s finish, Akron (5-7) and Kent State (4-8). Rounding out the east will be Massachusetts (1-11) and Miami (OH) (0-12). The west will be stronger than the east as in the years past. Could this be Ball State’s year? The fact is both NIU (12-2) and Ball State (10-3) will be at the top of the west at the conclusion of 2014. The other west members will struggle to keep pace, Toledo (7-5) Central Michigan (6-6) and lagging behind the others will be Eastern Michigan (2-10) and Western Michigan (1-11)
The transforming Sun Belt with a new look will also struggle in 2014. One bright spot in 2013 were the two 2 Bowl game wins Arkansas State over a formidable opponent in MAC member Ball State and LA Lafayette win over Tulane who is now a member of the AAC. The fact that departing Southern Conference members GA. Southern (7-4) and Appalachian State (4-8) will need to have a quick acclimation into the roll call of FBS schools will factor into the overall outcome for 2014. Not to mention the impact that second year member GA State (0-12) will have on the overall ranking if they continue to be the last man standing (128 out of 128 FBS teams in 2013). GA Southern and Appalachian State both are reclassifying in 2014 from the glory years that they leave behind in FCS. Louisiana Lafayette (9-4) and Arkansas State should prove to be the teams to beat. While the others, Louisiana Monroe (6-6), USA (6-6), Troy (6-6) and Texas State (6-6) will compete to be the best of the rest.
My predicted order of G-5 Conferences for 2014.
5) Sun Belt