NCAA: Group of 5 Championships Preview/Predictions

The regular season is over, and it’s time for championship week. Ten teams are vying for a conference championship and securing their conference’s marquee bowl game.

American Athletic Conference

This game has completely changed since UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered a gruesome injury in their game versus South Florida. Will the Golden Knights fall without their star signal caller, or will the group rally and secure a New Years Six Bowl for the second consecutive year? That remains to be seen, but last year’s AAC champions certainly have the talent to achieve that goal.

The Golden Knights and the Tigers played in October, in which UCF escaped with a 31-30 win on the road. But this time it’ll be much different. After Milton went down, Darriel Mack Jr. saw significant playing time for the second game this year, but the freshman struggled, throwing just 5-14 and 81 yards. UCF will need another strong performance from its running game to keep any playoff hopes alive.
Prediction: UCF 38, Memphis 35

Conference USA

UAB takes on Middle Tennessee State in this championship game. Does this sound familiar? It should because both teams played just a week prior. UAB, which is in just its second season back playing football, took a 3-0 lead early but were shut out the rest of the way and lost 27-3 to the Blue Raiders. That game will decide home-field advantage for this week’s championship game in which the Blue Raiders are a -2.5 point favorite.

Middle Tennessee State needed a win plus a Marshall win over FIU to secure its spot in this week’s game. On Saturday, the Blue Raiders held the Blazers to a staggering 89 yards of total offense. It’s hard to beat the same team twice, but on Saturday the Blue Raiders proved to be too much to overcome on defense.
Prediction: MTSU 24, UAB 20

Mid-American Conference

The Buffalo Bulls have won 10 games for the first time in program history, and now they’ll look to take the MAC Championship against West Division winner Northern Illinois. NIU comes in the game 7-5, but three of the losses have come to Power 5 teams. The Huskies come in on a two-game skid at the hands of Miami (Ohio) and Western Michigan. The Bulls have been the team to beat this season in the MAC, taking down both of last year’s division winners, Toledo and Akron. Quarterback Tyree Jackson has been phenomenal with over 2,600 yards passing and 25 touchdowns for the season. And Jackson is accompanied by running backs Kevin Marks and Jarett Patterson, who have over 1,500 yards and 23 touchdowns so far.
Prediction: Buffalo 34, NIU 24

Mountain West Conference

It might not be for a playoff spot, but Boise State and Fresno State are two of the best teams nationally in the Group of 5, and for the second consecutive year they’ll duke it out for the Mountain West championship. These two teams met three weeks ago in Boise in which the Broncos came out with a 24-17 victory.

That game was the most points the Bulldogs have allowed all season. The defense has been stout. But, Boise State’s Brett Rypien held his own versus the Bulldogs with 269 yards and a touchdown. One difference in the game was the run game. Boise State’s Alex Mattison ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Expect more of the same in yet again a close game on the signature blue turf. Prediction: Boise State 20, Fresno State 17

Sun Belt Conference

Appalachian State and Louisiana secured their spot in the inaugural Sun Belt Championship game. The Mountaineers took down an undefeated Troy, and Louisiana defeated in-state rival Louisiana-Monroe. Now, they will compete for a spot in the New Orleans Bowl, in which the champion is guaranteed a spot.

The East Division has been the class of the conference with three teams at nine wins each. App State, who nearly took down a ranked Penn State team in week one, has been the class of the conference, and this week the result will show. Being at home with a great offense and a stingy defense would propel the Mountaineers over anyone over the West Division, which struggled this year.
Prediction: Appalachian State 31, Louisiana 10

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