Tulane and South Alabama each have their sights set on earning a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Saturday night, they meet in one of the biggest Group of Five games this fall.
The Green Wave defeated Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and USC in the 2022 Sugar Bowl, sending a national statement about the program’s relevance. Tulane returns quarterback Michael Pratt and head coach Willie Fritz. As a result, Tulane is ranked 24th in the preseason AP Top 25.
South Alabama, while unranked, returns nearly all of its key contributors, including star quarterback Carter Bradley. The Jaguars are 6-point underdogs in the road game against Tulane, according to college football betting odds, but the Sun Belt West contender should put up a strong fight against one of the AAC’s best.
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Important for both teams
Saturday’s game is critical if either team wants to end up in a New Year’s Six Bowl. With notable remaining games against Ole Miss and UTSA, Tulane would benefit tremendously from taking care of business against South Alabama.
If Tulane wins the game, the Green Wave hold an edge over one of the Sun Belt’s likeliest New Year’s Six contenders. It’s a massive season opener for Fritz’s team.
For South Alabama, a road win at Tulane could vault the program into the AP Top 25. A win would send a national statement that the Jaguars are one of the Group of Five’s best.
The Jaguars also play Oklahoma State, JMU, Troy, and Marshall this fall. An early loss would significantly hamper the team’s chances of making it into the New Year’s Six conversation.
The winner of Saturday’s game will be in a tremendous spot to build toward a New Year’s Six appearance. The loser will have their work cut out for them, eliminating much of their remaining margin for error.
Important for each conference
Not only is the game critical for each individual team’s postseason aspirations, it’s also important for the AAC and Sun Belt. As conference realignment rages on – SMU might not be in the AAC for much longer – the battle for Group of Five supremacy can change rapidly.
Tulane is currently viewed as one of the AAC’s top teams, as is UTSA. While Tulane plays South Alabama, UTSA opens with Houston. A pair of wins in those games would go a long way toward cementing the AAC’s status as the elite Group of Five conference.
For the Sun Belt, the potential is there to become the best Group of Five conference in the country. The conference secured a few notable victories last fall – Marshall beat Notre Dame, App State beat Texas A&M, and Georgia Southern beat Nebraska – and South Alabama starting the year with a win over Tulane would boost the conference’s perception.
In college sports, perception can often be reality.
With the College Football Playoff expanding in 2024, Group of Five teams will gain annual access to the playoff. The AAC, Sun Belt, and Mountain West enter 2023 jockeying for 2024 positioning, and Saturday’s game between South Alabama and Tulane will add an important data point to the AAC-SBC debate.