Everyone loves the story of Cinderella, that rags to riches tale of the girl who lived happily ever after…well, except maybe that evil stepfamily, but that’s besides the point.
A term normally reserved to the basketball schools that make thousands across the nation tear up their brackets in fury, Cinderella’s pumpkin coach is making its way over to college football with the advent of the College Football playoff. Granted, it’s a little more difficult because there the ugly stepsisters this time around are much more numerous, but there are plenty of schools from the “Group of Five” conferences that can give the “Power Five” juggernauts a run for their money. It’s not to say we’ll see anyof them come New Year’s Eve, but they could make a move for one of the bigger bowl games.
Western Kentucky (Conference USA)
You many know the Hilltoppers for their goofy mascot, but get used to seeing WKU, who have not even been Football Bowl Subdivision members for a decade yet, creep around the Top 25 polls. The driving factor behind the emergence of WKU football is the return of QB Brandon Doughty. While some teams are lucky to score 49 touchdowns per season, Doughty put up that tally on his own in the 2014 season, which ended with last season’s thrilling Bahamas Bowl victory over Central Michigan. Doughty’s 4,830 passing yards also led the nation last season. Overall, WKU’s offense ranked 4th in FBS, and returns a great deal of other talent including RB Leon Allen (1,542 yards, 15 TDs) and WR Jared Dangerfield (825 yards, 11 TDs). The Hilltoppers have some experience in big upset games, having ended C-USA foe Marshall’s undefeated streak last season in a 67-66 shootout. Doughty threw 8 TD’s in the win.
The Most Dangerous Game: @LSU, Saturday, October 24
For the first time in their illustrious history that spans more than a century, the Midshipmen are moved into a conference, joining the Artists Formerly Known as the Big East. In addition to an impressive winning streak over Army, Navy brings several rushing threats that will stymie their new conference brethren. QB Keenan Reynolds returns for his senior year. A four year starter, Reynolds has turned Navy’s traditional optional offense into one of the most dangerous in the nation. Despite missing two games due to injury, Reynolds tallied 1,191 yards in 2014. The other half of the tandem comes in FB Chris Swain, who averaged 6.7 yards per carry. The Midshipmen lost several starters on defense but do return CB Brendon Clements, who had 49 tackles in 2014.
The Most Dangerous Game: @Notre Dame, Saturday, October 10, 3:30
Georgia Southern (Sun Belt)
Normally a season without a bowl game is generally considered a failure, right? Not in the case of GSU, who became the first team since Marshall in 1997 to win it’s conference outright in it’s first FBS/Division I-A season. Denied a bowl appearance due to their “transitional” status, the Eagles will be going all out to ensure they’re invited this year, as they’ll seek to build on last season’s undefeated conference play mark. GSU boasted the top running game in football last season, anchored by returning RB Matt Breida, whose 8.7 yards per carry ranked 2nd in the game last year. Also back is quarterback on the run Kevin Ellison, who accumulated over 2,000 yards in total offense last season, topping a thousand in each category. Georgia Southern has a brutal non-conference slate, as trips to West Virginia and Georgia are in store (not to mention a sneaky good game against Western Michigan in Week 2), but the Eagles are used to crazy games on the national stage. Everyone knows about that epic win over Florida, captured in the fall of 2013, but last season the Eagles brought ACC powers North Carolina State and Georgia Tech to the brink, losing to the two games by a mere five points.
The Most Dangerous Game: Saturday, November 21, @Georgia
Boise State (Mountain West)
A list of preseason college football Cinderellas without the Broncos is like making an Iron Man movie without Robert Downey Jr. BSU doesn’t exactly sneak up on anybody anymore, but just when you think they’re dead, they come back and pull of an upset bigger than the last, with the whammy last year being a big win over then #10 Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos have big holes to fill as QB Grant Hedrick and RB Jay Ajayi are gone, but return several starters from a scary defense including LB Kamalei Correa and LB Tanner Vallejo. Further more, the return of potential All-American C Marcus Henry will provide some great protection for the new quarterback, who figures to be Hedrick’s former backup Ryan Finley. The Broncos get a great opportunity for revenge in their 2015 debut, taking on the Washington Huskies. Two years prior, the Huskies humiliated BSU 38-6 in their 2013 opener in Seattle.
The Most Dangerous Game: Friday, September 4, 10:15