Let’s be real: Cincinnati making the College Football Player last season was awesome. The Group of 5 “glass ceiling” was shattered and it could open up the opportunity for another. Cincinnati did end up losing 27-6 to Alabama. The Crimson Tide, to that point, had been averaging nearly 43 points per game. Were they seemingly overmatched? Sure, but it was Alabama. Who has the best Group of 5 odds to make the CPF this year?
G5 programs field exciting and criminally underrated teams year in and year out. The Sun Belt looks like it’s going to be legitimately strong. The AAC has a few teams with CFP aspirations. The MAC will certainly play football this fall. It’s anyone’s game!
All odds as of August 7th via Betonline.
Best Group of 5 Odds to Make the 2022-23 CFP
Cincinnati Bearcats (+20000)
All of the best Group of 5 odds are extremely long. That said, it makes sense that the best odds would belong to the team that broke through. Coach Luke Fickell has his program humming but they’ll need to replace key pieces.
In 2017, Cincinnati went 4-8, including a loss by giving up 569 rushing yards to Navy.
4 years later, they made it to the @CFBPlayoff facing ALABAMA.
— “This Guy Greg” (@CallMeGreg4) December 31, 2021
Desmond Ridder, Jerome Ford, and Alec Pierce are gone from the offense. On defense, they’ll have to do without Darrian Beavers, Brian Cook, Curtis Brooks, Coby Bryant, and Ahmad Gardner. Regardless, 20 Bearcats were named to Athlon Sports’ preseason All-ACC team. They’re going to be okay.
Ben Bryant transfers back to UC to battle with Evan Prater for the privilege of following up the greatest Cincinnati quarterback in its history. No pressure. No matter who wins, they’ll be protected. That Bearcat offensive line is going to be a strength of this team. Running the ball will likely be hometown stud, former Mr. Ohio Football, and LSU incoming transfer, Corey Kiner. Plus, tight end Josh Whyle is an athletic freak who will find himself playing on Sundays.
Fickell’s strength has always been defense. This fall, there will be a few new faces but veterans like Malik Vann and Deshawn Pace will lead the way. Ohio State transfer EDGE Noah Potter joins the ranks looking for a fresh start. The question will be whether or not the secondary can reload.
Houston Cougars (+25000)
The popular pick to unseat the Bearcats is this Houston Cougars team. After being the closest thing UC had in terms of competition last year, expectations are sky high. The dynamic duo of Clayton Tune and Nate Dell returns yet again after hooking up for over 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns.
They lost leading running back Alton McCaskill to an ACL injury but a pair of transfers in Ta’Zhawn Henry (524 yards, seven touchdowns for Houston after transferring from Texas Tech) and Brandon Campbell (four-star recruit from USC) will be just fine.
Alongside Dell out wide will be a total of five transfers: KeSean Carter (also transferred from Texas Tech before the 2021 season), Cody Jackson (four-star recruit from Oklahoma), Sam Brown (three-star from West Virginia), Joseph Manjack (three-star from USC), and Brice Johnson (from Ole Miss). Oh, and true freshman and four-star recruit Matthew Golden looks to immediately contribute.
The defense will be better this year as well. Gervarrius Owens and Hasaan Hypolite will lead this unit and will be good enough to lead the Cougars to double-digit wins. Not to mention last year’s leading tackler, Donavan Mutin, returns for another go.
This team will be stacked. According to its 247Sports leger, Houston welcomes 11 incoming transfers, nine of whom are from Power 5 programs. They have the second-easiest non-conference schedule in the AAC and they get to avoid Cincinnati and UCF in the regular season. If they get past Texas Tech, they could be 12-0 and ranked top-10 heading into the AAC Championship Game.
UCF Knights (+30000)
As any fan of G5 football could tell you, the top G5 programs of the past few years have all come from the AAC. The third-best Group of 5 odds to crash the party belong to these UCF Knights.
Last year was a magic carpet ride for the Cincinnati Bearcats, on way to the CFP.
— Harrison Vapnek (@harrisonvapnek) July 29, 2022
UCF lost Dillon Gabriel via The Portal this offseason after he missed most of the year to injury. The question will be will incoming transfer John Rhys Plumlee beat out sophomore Mikey Keene. Keene led the Knights to a (7-3) record as a starter, all capped off with a win over the University of Florida.
Speaking of UF, their third-leading receiver last year was a tight end, Kemore Gamble. He has since transferred to UCF to go alongside their great receiver, Ryan O’Keefe. In total, the Knights have a pair of former SEC wide receivers transferring in: Javon Baker (four-star from Alabama) and Kobe Hudson (four-star from Auburn. At running back, it’s Isaiah Bowser coming back for another year but behind him are Johnny Richardson and incoming Florida transfer, Demarkcus Bowman, a former five-star recruit.
The defense will be solid again, likely led by a handful of incoming transfers like Branden Jennings (four-star linebacker from Kansas State) and Koby Perry (three-star FCS All-American safety from Austin Peay). In a conference with high-powered offenses in Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, and SMU, it’s a good thing the strength of this defense is in its secondary. They’ll be led by Davonte Brow, Corey Thornton, and Quadric Bullard.
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (+50000)
Now that the AAC programs are out of the way, it’s time for a little #FunBelt. The Chants lose its leading rusher in Shermari Jones and each of its top three receivers. However, what they do have is potential first-round pick Grayson McCall and incoming Georgia State transfer receiver, Sam Pinckney.
Highest-graded Sun Belt QB seasons since 2014:
1. Grayson McCall (2020) – 92.4
2. Grayson McCall (2021) – 91.0 pic.twitter.com/XdUtC0i6Be
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 30, 2021
Taking over for Jones will be redshirt sophomore running back Braydon Bennett. Bennett, as the back up, ran for 636 yards and seven touchdowns off of 74 rushes. Oddly enough, he’s Coastal’s leading returning receiver with 295 yards and a pair of touchdowns off of 24 receptions.
On the defensive side of the ball, Coastal Carolina will have to replace all but two starters from last year. Josaiah Stewart gets to back up his massive freshman year where he was top-five in the nation in sacks with 13, he forced three sacks and finished with 43 tackles (16 for loss). If the best player on this defense isn’t going to be Stewart, it will be two-time First-Team All-Sun Belt corner, D’Jordan Strong. At linebacker, a pair of transfers will make their mark in Jahmar Brown (from South Carolina) and Adrian Hope (from Furman).
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (+50000)
The fifth-best Group of 5 odds to crack the top four belong to the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. Louisiana (NOT UL-Lafayette, a lesson I had to learn) comes off of its best season and third straight 10-plus-win season. They are expected to be good but they’ll have to replace a lot to maintain the longest active winning streak in the country.
Reasons Louisiana should be included on this list:
-Recently named an R1 institution
-Beat a ranked P5 opponent on the road
-Ranked in all national polls including CFP
-Won conference title
-Longest active win streak in CFB
-Recently beat three teams on this list https://t.co/DAEi9Ynvq3
— Sidelines – Louisiana (@SSN_Louisiana) July 16, 2022
To start, to say this team runs the ball a lot would be an understatement. Last year, four different players ran the ball 100 times. They return just one. Chris Smith was the second-leading rusher for the Ragin’ Cajuns with 855 yards and eight touchdowns off of 153 rushes. After Emani Bailey transfers to TCU, Terrence Williams will back up Smith.
At quarterback, it looks like Chandler Fields will be taking over the offense after Levi Lewis graduated. This year, they will have to replace 364 rushes, 1,823 yards, and 25 touchdowns.
Defensively, a number of starters return but they have plenty of experienced depth. Third-leading tackler EDGE Andre Jones returns to lead this unit that has struggled to get to the quarterback. Corner Eric Garror will lead the defensive backs after he had a team-high seven passes defended and two interceptions.
It should be noted that incoming freshmen Lorenzell Dubose (three-star corner) and Kallep Edwards (three-star linebacker) are the two highest-rated signees in Louisiana recruiting history, according to 247Sports. This, just a season removed from signing their then-second-best (now fourth) signing, defensive lineman Nijel Mcgriff.
Best Odds of Each Group of 5 Conference
AAC: Cincinnati (+20000)
Sun Belt: Coastal Carolina (+50000)
Mountain West: Boise State (+100000)
Conference-USA: N/A (UTSA is +215 to win the C-USA but no odds for CFP)
MAC: N/A (Miami (OH) and Toledo are tied with +350 odds to win the MAC)
Never Tell Me The Odds
Compared to the best overall odds in Alabama (+210) and Ohio State (+350), these are some seriously long odds. Of course, nobody truly expects a G5 team to break through. Cincinnati had to go through Notre Dame and Indiana as well as their AAC slate, go undefeated, and pray for a little chaos.
To put it in perspective, if Notre Dame had lost to Toledo two weeks prior or Virginia Tech the following week, Cincinnati doesn’t make it. If Ohio State hadn’t lost to Oregon in Week 2. If Baylor had not lost to TCU and the CFP believed the Bears had avenged their loss to Oklahoma State. If Auburn hadn’t choked away the Iron Bowl. For a Group of 5 team to make the CFP in its current form, the stars have to align and then some.
Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF have just one more season at the G5 level before making the move to the Big 12. They’ll get the benefit of the doubt starting next year but they all have a legitimate chance to crash the party again. However, going undefeated may not be enough.