Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:55 AM
Saturday's Group of 5 Tips
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Playing for a championship is the goal of every program and nine conference champions will be decided on Saturday.
College Playoff berths are not on the line in the Conference USA, American, Sun Belt, and Mountain West games but all four contests provide intriguing stakes to fill out the championship Saturday schedule.
One of eventual championship teams will also get called for the top Group of 5 spot in the New Year’s Six.
CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP
Matchup: UAB Blazers at Florida Atlantic Owls
Venue: At FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida
Time/TV: Saturday, December 7, 1:30 p.m. ET CBSSN
Line: Florida Atlantic -7½, Over/Under 49½
Last Meeting: November 1, 2014 At UAB (+3) 31, Florida Atlantic 28
The past two Conference USA Champions are facing off with Florida Atlantic the 2017 title winner while UAB will be looking for a second straight championship after improbably climbing back to the top of the standings in the final weeks of November. After taking a second conference loss with a 37-2 defeat in Hattiesburg the chances of repeating as West champions looked slim for the Blazers but UAB has won three in a row while both Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech stumbled. The head-to-head win over Louisiana Tech gets the Blazers this opportunity with a 6-2 tie on top of the West standings.
UAB was perfect at home for a third straight season as all three losses came on the road. This will be a second straight road game as UAB won at North Texas 26-21 last week to claim this spot. That win was led by freshman Dustin Hopkins at quarterback who has had to fill-in late in the season for Tyler Johnston who missed most of the last month before making a token appearance last week, though most assume Johnston will be leading the offense this weekend.
Lane Kiffin is the most well-known coach in Conference USA and the Owls climbed back to the top of the East standings with a 7-1 league record this season, out-scoring foes 291-153. That defensive scoring figure is three points worse than UAB in the eight-game slate, but the Owls scored 87 more points than the Blazers on offense. Florida Atlantic enters this game with five straight wins while scoring at least 34 points in each of those games.
UAB won the last meeting back in 2014 in Boca Raton but is 2-4 S/U & ATS in the series since 2008. Florida Atlantic is just 4-4 S/U in the past eight home games following 10-game home winning streak. Since 2008 Florida Atlantic is just 25-39 ATS in home games but there have been many heavy favorite prices the past three years.
AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP
Matchup: Cincinnati Bearcats at Memphis Tigers
Venue: At Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee
Time/TV: Saturday, December 7, 3:30 p.m. ET ABC
Line: Memphis -9½, Over/Under 57½
Last Meeting: November 29, 2018, At Memphis (-14) 34, Cincinnati 24
These will meet twice in eight days as Memphis needed to win in last week’s regular season finale to earn this spot while Cincinnati had already clinched the East title. Losing last week perhaps takes Cincinnati out of the conversation for the top Group of 5 spot for a coveted New Year’s Day slot that the AAC Champion has earned the past two seasons. Memphis will likely be that team should they defeat Cincinnati again this week.
Memphis is playing in a third consecutive AAC title game having lost to undefeated UCF teams each of the past two seasons. The Tigers are 11-1 this season in Mike Norvell’s fourth season and with a 37-15 record in four years it will be a surprise if Norvell is still in Memphis next season given several major conference openings that could make sense.
On the Friday after Thanksgiving, freshman Ben Bryant was a surprise starting quarterback for the Bearcats, in place of Desmond Ridder. The sophomore Ridder has started much of the past two seasons but has played through a shoulder issue. His numbers this season aren’t as impressive as they were last season, but presumably last week’s absence was merely to get extra rest ahead of this week’s more impactful contest. That defeat dropped Cincinnati to 10-2 with the only other loss to Ohio State.
Cincinnati’s production numbers don’t add up to a 7-1 record in AAC play as they were actually out-gained in seven of those games. The Bearcats had the top defensive scoring in the conference however with only 170 points allowed in eight games. This is Luke Fickell’s third season in Cincinnati with a combined 25-12 record.
Regular Season Meeting:
In last week’s game in this same venue, Memphis returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and led 17-3 after the first quarter. Cincinnati fought back in the game to tie at 17-17 before Memphis pulled away in the fourth quarter. Memphis had just a 432-407 yardage edge but a 3-1 turnover edge in what was Bryant’s first start. The line on last week’s game opened at -9½ or -10 but shot up to -14 by kickoff.
Memphis has a 12-11 S/U edge since 1980, going 9-10 ATS in lined games back to 1984. These teams haven’t met since 2016 with Memphis winning the past three meetings.
SUN BELT CHAMPIONSHIP
Matchup: UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns at Appalachian State Mountaineers
Venue: At Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, North Carolina
Time/TV: Saturday, December 7, 12:00 p.m. ET ESPN
Line: Appalachian State -6½, Over/Under 56
Last Meeting: October 9, 2019 Appalachian State (+2½) 17, AT UL-Lafayette 7
These teams have met seven times since 2014 with Appalachian State winning every time. Since a 63-14 win at the end of the 2017 regular season for the Mountaineers, the past three meetings have been competitive low scoring games with Appalachian State winning 27-17 in the regular season last season at home and similarly 30-19 at home in the 2018 Sun Belt title game. In the regular season this year Appalachian State won 17-7 in Lafayette in October.
Scott Satterfield departed Appalachian State after last season’s successful campaign and took over at Louisville. Eliah Drinkwitz maintained that high standard with a great first season and the 36-year-old will certainly be mentioned as a possible candidate to move up, especially given how far NC State’s offense fell this season without him. Billy Napier is now 17-9 in two seasons with the Ragin’ Cajuns as another young head coach that could rise the ranks in the near future. Last season’s team finished just 7-7 after a bowl loss but with 10 wins this year’s team was a much more convincing division champion.
Both of these teams rank in the nation’s top 20 in rushing yards per game and rushing yards per attempt. Defensively there have been clear edges for Appalachian State statistically, though both teams allowed exactly 131 points in Sun Belt play and overall the Ragin’ Cajuns allowed 11 fewer points on the season.
Regular Season Meeting:
These teams met early in the conference season in October and the game was tied at halftime. Up 10-7 Appalachian State completed a drive that took more than 10 minutes over 19 plays to clinch the victory with fewer than two minutes remaining. The Mountaineers had a 343-254 yardage edge in a game with no turnovers.
Appalachian State is 7-0 S/U and 4-3 ATS since 2014 in this series, though they have failed to cover in three of four meetings at home.
MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP
Matchup: Hawai’i Warriors at Boise State Broncos
Venue: At Albertson’s Stadium in Boise, Idaho
Time/TV: Saturday, December 7, 4:00 p.m. ET ESPN
Line: Boise State -14, Over/Under 64½
Last Meeting: October 12, 2019 At Boise State (-13) 59, Hawai’i 37
Boise State has won seven consecutive meetings with Hawai’i while scoring at least 42 points in each of the past six meetings, covering each of the heavy favorite spreads in those six games going back to 2009. The Broncos have hosted the Mountain West Championship each of the past two seasons vs. Fresno State, winning the 2017 title 17-14 but losing 19-16 in overtime last season.
Boise State is in play for the top Group of 5 spot should they win to finish 12-1 with the only loss a three-point defeat at BYU. The Broncos rank 19th in the playoff standings, two spots behind #17 Memphis and one spot ahead of #20 Cincinnati as the Broncos will hope to impress and hope that Cincinnati wins the AAC title. Staying ahead of the Bearcats as well as #21 Appalachian State isn’t assured and beating Hawai’i at 5-3 in Mountain West play and 9-4 overall won’t provide a huge boost to the numbers for the Broncos.
Quarterback play has evolved throughout the season for both teams. Freshman Hank Bachmeier was a surprise starter to open the season and starred in the comeback win over Florida State in August. With a shoulder issue Bachmeier hasn’t played in the last month. Chase Cord has played significantly in three games, but the starter is now senior Jaylon Henderson who has thrown nine touchdowns with just one interception. For Hawai’i Cole McDonald’s role as the lead quarterback remains but freshman Chevan Cordeiro has played substantially as well in recent weeks.
Regular Season Meeting:
Boise State led 31-7 late in the second quarter and 52-21 through three quarters as the game was never in doubt despite some late scoring for the Warriors and a production edge of 518-438 that suggested a closer game. Hawai’i had four turnovers in that game as it was a sloppy game with high penalty counts on both sides as well.
Boise State has gone 13-3 S/U in this series since 1996 while covering in 10 of the 15 lined games going back to 1999. Blowouts have been the norm other than a stretch of very competitive games from 2005 to 2007, including Hawai’i winning in 2007 for the WAC title. Under Bryan Harsin Boise State is 34-5 S/U at home but just 15-22-1 ATS.