Bowl season gets all the glory for comparing the relative strength of conferences. There’s decent reason for that, as it’s an opportunity to see rare out-of-conference matchups, featuring ideally, the best teams a conference has to offer. However, it’s not the only time when teams compete against each other, out-of-conference.
The out of conference schedule is actually a more effective way of separating the success of individual conferences, because there’s a larger sample size from it.
Of course, teams schedule FCS programs for an easy win. Power 5 programs schedule Group of 5 teams for what they expect to be an easy win. That only leaves so many games between two G5 programs, to judge G5 teams, and conferences, against one another.
These are the best non-conference games, between two G5 programs for the 2019 season.
Houston at North Texas
When the Cougars travel to Denton the two best quarterbacks, in the G5 will be meeting on the field. That alone makes it must watch TV. D’Eriq King, of Houston, is an explosive runner, and play-maker. King has the potential to pass for 3,000 passing yards, and rush for 1,000 yards this season. He’s got a ton of weapons too, most notably Marquez Stevenson. Under new head coach Dana Holgorsen’s Air Raid offense, Houston could average 40 points per game this season.
On the other side is one of the favorites to win C-USA, North Texas, a team known to light up the scoreboard too. Mason Fine might not be tall, but he’s incredibly tough to beat. Like King, Fine is a dual threat quarterback with weapons at his disposal this season. Bodie Reeder, an up and coming offensive mind off of the Mike Gundy coaching tree, will take over an offensive coordinator at North Texas.
Both defenses might not be great at preventing explosive plays this season, so given the two dynamic offenses, bet the over.
If that’s not enough reason to watch, S&P+ has margin for the game at 0.2 points.
Army at Hawai’i
If neither Mason Fine, nor D’Eriq King are your cup of tea, perhaps Hawai’i’s Cole McDonald is more your flavor. That’s if he’s the starter this season. Despite nearly throwing for 4,000 yards and 36 Touchdowns last season, there’s a quarterback controversy on the islands. Chevan Cordeiro, who briefly replaced McDonald as quarterback when the latter struggled, is making a push for the starter job. Both are good options to command the run and shoot, and like always, Hawai’i has some really good receivers in Cedric Byrd and JoJo Ward.
On the other hand, Army is coming off of a 10 win season, and expects to hit that mark again. Coach Jeff Monken goes by the odds, and loves to make call games aggressively. Their slow, technical, and effective offense chews up clock, and keeps explosive offenses off the field.
To go with all of that, this game is a rematch from last season. Hawai’i went to West Point, and lost by a touchdown. Maybe the Rainbow Warrior body clocks were off, or maybe the Army offense kept the explosive Warriors from getting going. Either way, Hawai’i is going to want to return the favor in their 13th game of the season.
S&P+ has Army as a 1.6 point favorite.
Temple at Buffalo
Speaking of rematches from last season, this is an interesting one. In 2018, Buffalo beat Temple by a touchdown. It was Week 2, and Temple had been sleep walking to start the season. Meanwhile, the Bulls were looking dominant early in the year. Still, Temple was embarrassed, and will be looking for their revenge.
However, both programs are going through some major changes. Temple had a mess of an off-season, losing two coaches. Their new head coach Rod Carey needs to get them to focus behind quarterback Anthony Russo, and stay Temple Tuff. They’ll do so without a lot of last season’s best players, like Ryquell Armstead, and Rock Ya-Sin.
Buffalo lost the two key pieces of its dominant 2018 offense. Their quarterback Tyree Jackson left early for the NFL. That may have been a mistake, as he went undrafted, and ended up signing with the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo also lost two receivers, who transferred to Power 5 programs. They are Charlie Jones, and KJ Osborn.
It’s also a rematch for Rod Carey, despite not being around for Temple’s 2018 loss to Buffalo. Carey won a MAC Championship, by beating the Bulls, last season.
As for S&P+, it has Temple as a 6.7 point favorite.
FIU at Tulane
This game will set the tone for each team’s season. Win, and you could be setting the bar for a 9+ win season. You can challenge anyone. You’re in the driver’s seat for a decent bowl berth. However, if you lose, you’re behind the eight ball. It means that you’re not as good as you thought you were, and you need to figure out a way to grow.
Beyond the implications surrounding the game, it should be a lot of fun.
Tulane’s offense is explosive. Justin McMillan leads the spread option as they take shots downfield, and force you to cover all of their talented skills corp. The Green Wave could put up points all season behind Darius Bradwell, Corey Dauphine, Darnell Mooney, and Jalen McCleskey. That’s not to mention they’ve got Patrick Johnson, a safe bet for AAC Defensive Player of the Year, at defensive end. Add turnover to the secondary, and the defense is a bit of a mystery.
As for FIU, the Panthers figure to be on top of C-USA this coming season. FIU will be able to attack teams through the air. Their quarterback, James Morgan, is going to be the backbone of the offense, as the running game remains a question mark due to consistency. That’s good, for the Panthers, though. Tulane has turnover in the secondary, and their youth will be vulnerable. Of course, on the defensive end, they’ll need to improve against the run. Otherwise, the Green Wave, who lean on a run game, won’t ever need to attack the strong FIU secondary.
FIU is favored in S&P+ by 1.3 points.
Boise State at BYU
Boise State has been a model of consistency at the G5 level. They recruit well, and win 10 games just about every season. Even with veteran quarterback Brett Rypien moving on, they’re still expected to be excellent. Whoever does end up starting at quarterback, will have plenty of help. The entire offensive line returns. At the skill positions, Boise State is young, but stacked with talent. On defense, they’re talented, but have depth concerns.
Even without a known quarterback, everyone expects a minimum of 9 wins from Boise State.
After a disappointing 2017, Kalani Sitake rebounded in 2018 to win the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. More importantly than going 7-6, BYU found their quarterback of the future. Zach Wilson, now just a sophomore, completed 66 percent of his passes last season, and threw 12 touchdowns to 3 INTs. He will undoubtedly be even better with a full off-season of training.
On defense, BYU has the experience to hold its own. They may not be exciting, or capable of stealing momentum, but they won’t let teams dominate them either.
If BYU takes a step forward, and wins this game, it would go a long way to proving they can have success outside of a conference, and don’t need to consider joining a conference like the AAC.
As for S&P+, it predicts Boise State will win by 4.4 points.