Each year the gap in college football between the haves and the have nots seems to widen. The Power-5 conferences get more powerful at the expense of everyone else. Currently, there are 130 Division 1 college football programs in total, and 64 of those are from the Power-5 conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, SEC and PAC 12).
After you exclude the six-independent schools (which includes Notre Dame which is definitely a Power-5), you are left with 60 schools who play in the other conferences (AAC, C-USA, MAC, MW and Sun Belt). These have become known as the Group of Five.
It is always interesting at the beginning of the year to look at upcoming schedules to see how often a Power-5 school will go on the road to play a Group of Five team at their place. I became interested in these matchups after I covered a game four years ago when Mississippi State, led by Quarterback Zak Prescott, traveled to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to face Southern Miss in an intra-state rivalry. It impressed me at the time about how special these games are to the respective Group of Five school.
In reviewing the 2019 schedule, there are 18 upcoming games in the category, (19 if you include Liberty, which is an independent, when they host Syracuse on 8/31). You often read stories of Power-5 school paying the smaller schools’ big money to come into their stadium and play but they don’t return the offer very often. That’s what makes these games so intriguing.
In total, 14 Group of Five schools will host a Power-5 team, including three who will host multiple games. Temple has two; Georgia Tech and Maryland, Hawaii has two; Arizona and Oregon State (and let’s face it, Hawaii is a little different, who wouldn’t want to play there at some point. Even Alabama played a road game at Hawaii in 2002). But the winner for the best home schedule for hosting Power-5 teams is the Rice Owls from Conference USA. They get three consecutive home games in a row against Wake Forest, Texas (which will be played at nearby NRG Stadium) and Baylor.
The Owls play their home games at Rice Stadium, which has a rich history since it opened in 1950. No other college stadium can boast that it hosted President John Kennedy on the day he issued his space voyage challenge via a speech on September 12, 1962 and hosted a Super Bowl (Super Bowl VII in 1974 where the Dolphins defeated the Minnesota Vikings. It’s interesting to note that in that game, Dolphin QB Bob Griese threw 7 passes in TOTAL, but that is a story for a different time.)
Rice Stadium also was home to University of Houston games from 1951 to 1965, the AFL Houston Oilers from 1965 to 1967 and the Bluebonnet Bowl for 11 years.
With the prestige of hosting three Power-5 teams, what are the prospects for the 2019 Rice Owls? This will be the second season under Head Coach Mike Bloomgren’s regime as he tries to mold the Owls into the Stanford of Conference-USA. Last year was a tough one, as they won their first and last games but lost the eleven in between.
The strength of the upcoming team will be the receivers and tight ends with five returning players from last season, led by Aaron Cephus (40 catches for 565 yards) and Austin Trammell (62 catches for 632 yards). Who will be getting the ball is very much up in the air. Freshman Wiley Green had some bright moments last year, including the final season win over Old Dominion. Coach Bloomgren mastered the art of getting his freshman some playing time but not jeopardizing their redshirt year, so Green still has four years of eligibility left. Added to the mix is graduate transfer Tom Stewart from Harvard, who threw for 14 touchdowns last year and has the exact make-up of a Bloomgren style quarterback.
While the talent level is on the rise, so is the strength of their schedule. Therefore, a considerable jump in the win column would be considered a reach, but look for the Owls to be more competitive, play deeper into games and continue the process of trending upward in the conference. In the meantime, they will have one of the most appetizing home schedules of any team in the Group of Five, definitely something to brag about.
A full listing of the Group of Five home games against Power-5s for the upcoming season includes:
9/14 UCF hosts Stanford
8/29 Cincinnati hosts UCLA
9/7 Connecticut hosts Illinois
9/13 Houston hosts Washington State
8/31 Memphis hosts Ole Miss
8/30 South Florida hosts Wisconsin
9/14 Temple hosts Maryland
9/28 Temple hosts Georgia Tech
9/14 Tulsa hosts Oklahoma State
9/7 Rice hosts Wake Forest
9/14 Rice hosts Texas
9/21 Rice hosts Baylor
9/14 MTSU hosts Duke
9/7 Fresno State hosts Minnesota
8/24 Hawaii hosts Arizona
9/7 Hawaii hosts Oregon State
8/30 Nevada hosts Purdue
8/31 Wyoming hosts Missouri
8/31 Liberty hosts Syracuse
I have covered local, college and professional sports for 12 Local and Regional Newspapers over the past four years. A lifelong Georgia Bulldog fan (I attended my first game in 1978 when I saw the Dawgs beat Baylor), I love to find the compelling story lines that make the game so great.