2020 Conference Championship Games Preview (Group of Five)

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    2020 Conference Championship Games
    AMHERST, NY - DECEMBER 12: Buffalo Bulls Running Back Jaret Patterson (41) reacts to scoring a touchdown during the first half of the College Football game between the Akron Zips and the Buffalo Bulls on December 12, 2020, at UB Stadium in Amherst, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    In a normal season, Group of Five conferences are about as open as any. Now that the dust has settled, three G5 teams and three “Power Five” teams are undefeated. Personally, I absolutely love G5 conferences and teams. Some conferences have high-powered offenses, others have many teams with stifling defenses. Let’s take a look at the 2020 college football conference championship games in the Group of Five.

    Here, you can find a breakdown of the “Power Five” 2020 Conference Championship games.

    2020 Conference Championship Games Preview (Group of Five)

    American Athletic: (9) Cincinnati vs (23) Tulsa

    Tulsa leads all-time series 17-15-2
    Last matchup: October 19, 2019, Cincinnati won 24-13

    In a just world, the Cincinnati Bearcats would be ranked in the top five in the CFP rankings and would have a shot at the crown. Unfortunately, we do not live in a just world and Cincinnati got jumped by a two-loss Iowa State team. Not to mention the fact that Florida lost to a terrible LSU team at home and only dropped one spot. The “Power Six” conference has a lot to be proud of in 2020.

    At 8-0, Cincinnati will finish with fewer wins in 2020 than it did in each of 2018 and 2019. This season was not a flash in the pan fluke, it has been built up. Desmond Ridder is a massive reason. He has amassed 2,347 scrimmage yards and 27 total touchdowns through eight games. Admittedly, he started slowly, but he has been playing as well as any quarterback in the nation as of late.

    Gerrid Doaks is a bruising monster of a running back. To date, he has accrued 862 yards and nine total touchdowns. Josh Whyle has grown into a dominant tight end and leads the way with five touchdowns.

    Realistically, the Bearcats’ strength is their defense. In each of their eight games, they held their opponents to fewer yards and points than that team’s respective averages. Tulsa is going to have a massively uphill battle moving the ball.

    That hill, however, can be scaled. Led by quarterback Zach Smith, the Tulsa offense averages 411 yards and 27.7 points per game. They have a three-headed rushing attack with T.K. Wilkerson, Deneric Prince, and Corey Taylor II.

    Defensively, the Golden Hurricanes are an interesting case. In their season-opening loss to Oklahoma State, they allowed only 277 yards. In their next five games, they allowed 380 yards per game. The run defense has been suspect, but they contained Navy in their last game.

    The Tulsa defense forces turnovers. The Tulsa offense turns the ball over. Cincinnati’s defense will be the best Tulsa has faced. The Bearcat offense will also be the best that Tulsa has faced, even better than UCF. With a suspect run defense, Doaks and Ridder should be able to eat and get 100+ yards each. Look for Cincinnati to come out firing after being idle for nearly a month. They are on a mission to prove they deserve to be in the CFP discussion.

    Sun Belt: (19) UL-Lafayette vs (12) Coastal Carolina

    Coastal Carolina leads all-time series 2-1
    Last matchup: October 14, 2020, Coastal won 30-27

    In a battle of the best mascots, the Ragin’ Cajuns face off against the Chanticleers in the championship of the conference I call the “Fun Belt.” One of college football’s surprises, Coastal Carolina is looking to finish a perfect season and earn an NY6 bowl. Even if they finish behind Cincinnati, I think Coastal deserves a spot in an NY6 bowl.

    True freshman Grayson McCall has been phenomenal thus far. 2,170 yards and 23 touchdowns through the air and 473 yards and six touchdowns on the ground lead the way. His favorite target has been Jaivon Heiligh, who has gone off for 820 yards and ten touchdowns. Taking the pressure off of McCall is running back Torrance Marable. Marable has been a monster, amassing 1,064 scrimmage yards and 19 total touchdowns.

    “Any time, any place.” One of the greatest games of this year was when Coastal picked up an undefeated BYU. That BYU team was balling out in all phases of the game. Coastal held them to season-lows in points (17; they averaged 47.5 points per game to that point), passing yards, and total offense.

    Don’t expect Louisiana to lay down and help anoint Coastal. That aforementioned Iowa State team lost by 17 at home to this team. They possess a very potent and exciting offense. They’re led by quarterback Levi Lewis who has amassed over 2,400 total yards and 22 touchdowns. The Cajuns have a two-headed monster running the ball with Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas. They’re fast and so much fun to watch. ULL actually upset one of my pre-season G5 picks to crash the CFP.

    Louisiana is a very good team and I curse that 2020 robbed us of a full season. This game is low-key a possibility to be the best of the 2020 conference championship games. It won’t be easy, but Coastal will win this one. I would recommend tuning into this one at 3:30 on Saturday.

    Conference USA: Marshall vs UAB

    Marshall leads all-time series 8-2
    Last matchup: November 22, 2014, Marshall won 23-18

    Conference USA was wide open this year. Marshall opened up the season with a seven-game win streak and was looking to be an outside shot to the G5 NY6 bowl bid. Then they absolutely laid an egg at home against Rice.

    Quarterback Grant Wells leads the way with 1839 yards and 16 touchdowns through the air. Wells has been an efficient distributor of the football this year, considering he has found ten different receivers for touchdowns. His partner in the backfield is junior Brenden Knox. In their eight games, Cox was responsible for 906 scrimmage yards and ten touchdowns.

    The money-maker for this team is its defense. Would it surprise you to know that the Herd leads the nation in points per game allowed with only 11.4? I’d say bend-but-don’t-break, but they hardly bend. Marshall only allows 253 total yards per game.

    In this crazy 2020 season, it’s impressive that a three-loss team is competing in one of these 2020 conference championship games. The UAB Blazers are that team. Given, they posted a 3-1 record in conference.

    Overall, this team is about as balanced as it gets. Quarterback Bryson Lucero has seven touchdowns to eight interceptions. The team averages 195 passing yards per game while allowing 180. Additionally, they average 198 rushing yards per game, led by Spencer Brown. The defense has forced 13 turnovers, the offense has committed 15.

    It would be something to have a three-loss conference champion. Even within the Group of Five, it’s rare. UAB’s best attack is on the ground. Marshall only allows 73 yards per game rushing. The Herd should be able to take care of business and capture the Conference USA crown.

    Mountain West: Boise State vs (24) San Jose State

    Boise State leads all-time series 14-0
    Last matchup: November 2, 2019, Boise won 52-42

    The Mountain West championship game features San Jose State against one of the Group of Five bluebloods. San Jose State rolls into this matchup 6-0, but only until now are they ranked. The Spartans have not garnered much respect because they simply have not destroyed their competition.

    Their offense that averages 435.8 yards per game is led by quarterback Nick Starkel and his 1453 passing yards and 13 touchdowns. His favorite target thus far has been Bailey Gaither who has pulled in 36 passes for 627 and four touchdowns.

    The Spartan defense allows 355 yards per game and is led by junior linebacker Kyle Harmon. To their credit, they have forced nine turnovers in their six games. But they will have their work cut out for them.

    Boise State has had an interesting season. The Broncos’ offense averages 368 yards per game. That includes a less productive game in the snow against Wyoming in their final game. To this point, they have had three quarterbacks with significant playing time, but they are led by Hank Bachmeier. Khalil Shakir is Boise’s most dynamic playmaker with his 786 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns.

    In total, Boise State has allowed 352.7 yards per game on defense. The largest deficiency is their porous rush defense. Aside from giving up 415 rushing yards in a shootout with Air Force, Boise State allows 137.4 yards per game (183.7 yards per game including that game). All San Jose State needs to do is change their offense to a triple-option attack and they’ll be okay!

    Another low-key great one in the 2020 conference championship games, the MWC title game will likely be a treat. Each of these teams has high-powered offenses. We have seen what happens when you play Boise State with a competent offense when they got smashed by BYU. The Broncos are favored by seven points. I’ll take the Spartans in this one, though.

    MAC: Buffalo vs Ball State

    Ball State leads all-time series 9-2
    Last matchup: November 16, 2017, 40-24

    The CFP Committee needs to rank Buffalo.

    Sorry, I had to get that off my chest. My favorite G5 conference serves up a great matchup of two very different programs. If there was a Heisman Trophy for Group of Five conferences, Buffalo has a guy who would give McCall from Coastal a run for his money.

    Jaret Patterson has played five games, but he has run for 1,025 yards and 18 touchdowns. The bulk of that came against Bowling Green (301 yards, four touchdowns) and Kent State (409 yards, eight touchdowns!!). Patterson has been good all three years he’s been at Buffalo, but he’s kicked it into another gear in 2020. Luckily for Buffalo, his backup, Kevin Marks, is just as electric with his 510 yards and five touchdowns.

    Aside from the 578 yards given up against a high-flying Kent State team, Buffalo’s defense has been stout. In the season-opener, they forced five turnovers. In the season-ending game, the defense held Akron to 204 total yards. Side note: I was really looking forward to Buffalo vs Ohio, but Ohio has been dealing with an uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak all year, so it was canceled.

    The first game of the Ball State schedule was against defending MAC champion, Miami (OH). Many believed that the winner would end up as the MAC West representative. Turns out, not the case. Ball State rattled off five straight wins behind the play of quarterback Drew Plitt and his 1,674 yards and 13 touchdowns. Caleb Huntley may not be Jaret Patterson, but he is still a formidable back.

    For their offense’s 457.8 yards per game, the defense allows 432.2. 147.8 yards per game is allowed on the ground. Ball State has had a good season, but Buffalo is going to ground and pound their way to a MAC Championship. Patterson, Marks, and Kyle Vantrease are too good.

    Tune In to the Group of Five’s 2020 Conference Championship Games

    If anyone ever tells you that G5 games are boring, point them to the MAC. If they ever say they can’t play defense, show them some Cincinnati or Coastal game film. The Group of Five has legit teams and could give most Power Five teams fits. Most of these games will be just as entertaining as those bigger matchups. Just turn them on, learn some of the names of the players, and tell your friends “I told ya so” when they begin to tear it up on Sundays. I sure did when Kareem Hunt burst onto the scene in 2017.

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