Holy Tulane! The Green Wave capped off their tremendous season by putting the Group of Five in a tremendous light.
Tulane took down Caleb Williams and USC in a Cotton Bowl thriller, proving that the best in the Group of Five is highly competitive on the national landscape. Sadly there is a long, long wait until the start of the 2023 college football season, but it’s never too early to start looking ahead to next season.
OK, maybe it’s too early, but that won’t stop us.
Let’s take a way-too-early look at the Group of Five Top 5 ahead of the 2023 season.
The Green Wave will have a tough time replicating 2022’s success, but they deserve the top spot entering the offseason. Tulane returns head coach Willie Fritz and starting quarterback Michael Pratt, one of the most consistent quarterbacks at the Group of Five level.
Defensively, the program took a huge step forward in 2022, and if Tulane can match a similar defensive showing, it should be among the best Group of Five teams in 2023. Tulane plays South Alabama, Ole Miss, and Southern Miss in its nonconference schedule. If the Green Wave only loses one game or fewer during that stretch, they’ll have a shot to make a New Year’s Six bowl again.
2. Boise State
With Taylen Green at quarterback, the Broncos figure to be the Mountain West favorite entering next season. In 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2022, he finished with over 2,500 total yards and 24 total touchdowns. He’s capable of a special 2023 season, and Boise State is also expected to return standout running back George Holani. That’s a frightening backfield.
Boise State’s nonconference schedule won’t be easy, as it plays Washington, UCF, and Memphis in September.
The Roadrunners felt underrated this season, despite breaking into the Top 25 at the end of the season. With Frank Harris returning at quarterback and Jeff Traylor at head coach, UTSA is poised for another strong season. The Roadrunners have won 30 games over the last three seasons, and they move into the AAC next season to take on a higher level of competition.
Road games against Houston and Tennessee are huge nonconference tests in 2023.
4. James Madison
JMU’s defense should be dominant in 2023, with the Dukes returning several of their best defensive linemen and linebackers. Replacing quarterback Todd Centeio won’t be easy, but the addition of two transfers (Jordan McCloud and Brett Griffis) makes that transition easier. JMU returns its starting offensive line and went wide receiver heavy in the transfer portal last month.
After going 8-3 in 2022, JMU returns the players and coaches to contend for a Sun Belt title in 2023. To do so, they’ll need to receive a waiver from the NCAA this spring or summer that allows them to compete in the postseason in 2023. Otherwise, those dreams will have to wait another season.
Moving into Conference USA, the Flames enter 2023 a bit underrated due to their disastrous finish in 2022. Still, Liberty adds Jamey Chadwell as head coach and is expected to return some key pieces, including a few different options at quarterback. I worry about a few transfer portal losses on defense, but I’m high on Chadwell’s prospects at Liberty and expect the offense to score in bunches in 2023.
I expect the Flames to dominate C-USA in the coming years. The nonconference schedule in 2023 is pillow-soft, giving Liberty a decent shot at winning 10 games or more in Chawell’s first season.