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Andrew Cyr | | September 6, 2017

Best Group of 5 players for the 2017 season

  Ed Oliver (10) was the lone selection from a Group of 5 school on the AP Preseason All-American First Team.

Collge football is back in full force and week one certainly lived up to the hype – and then some. Returning stars looked like they hadn't missed a beat and new talent was on display in what is poised to be an excellent season.

The names of Heisman hopefuls and other premier talent from Power 5 schools have dominated the national headlines, but given the lack of nationally televised games and attention, there is plenty of under-the-radar talent that hasn't been getting as much attention among Group of 5 schools.  

These names might not be household ones yet, but keep an eye out for these Group of 5 players as the 2017 season progresses:


Quinton Flowers, South Florida

Flowers enters the 2017 season as one of the best returning dual-threat quarterbacks in college football. Last year, Flowers garnered American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors after totaling 24 passing and 18 rushing touchdowns for the Bulls. Under first-year head coach Charlie Strong, USF opened its season in “Week 0” with a 42-22 victory over San Jose State. Flowers threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns, while adding one score and 70 yards rushing. Against Stony Brook, he added another pair of throwing touchdowns as the No. 21 Bulls already sit 2-0 on the season.

RELATED: Best quarterbacks in college football

Other names to know: Josh Allen (Wyoming), Mike White (Western Kentucky), Logan Woodside (Toledo).

Running back

Jalin Moore, Appalachian State

After beginning the season as a backup, Moore had arguably one of the best second halves in college football. He averaged 107.8 rushing yards per game and finished 19th in yards last season with 1,402 to go along with 10 touchdowns, which tied for second in the conference. The reigning Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year enters 2017 with higher expectations as one of the best returning backs in not only the Group of 5, but in all of college football.

Other names to know: D’Angelo Brewer (Tulsa), Jarvion Franklin (Western Michigan),  Ito Smith (Southern Mississippi).

Wide Receiver

Courtland Sutton, Southern Methodist

An Associated Press preseason second-team All-American, Sutton is a big, physical receiver who frequently lines up outside the numbers. Standing 6-foot-4, 216 pounds, Sutton was a mismatch problem for corners and finished the 2016 season with 76 receptions, 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore. He is already picking up where he’s left off the past two seasons after he caught a touchdown in the Mustangs 58-14 win over Stephen F. Austin in week one.

Other names to know: Richie James (Middle Tennessee State), Anthony Miller (Memphis).

MORE: Best wide receivers in college football

Tight End

Adam Breneman, Massachusetts

Breneman thought he was done with football after he began his career at Penn State playing under former coach Bill O’Brien but has been revitalized since joining the Minutemen. Playing alongside childhood friend and quarterback Andrew Ford, he emerged as one of the nation’s best tight ends in 2016 where he finished first in receptions (70) and second in total yards (808) and touchdowns (eight). Head coach Mark Whipple loves to use tight ends in his offense and he’s already off to a solid start in 2017, leading the nation with 305 receiving yards and 18 receptions. Breneman left last Saturday’s 38-28 loss against Coastal Carolina due to injury in the second half, which will be something to monitor moving forward.

Other names to know: Mitchell Wilcox (South Florida), Ryan Yurachek (Marshall).

Offensive Line

Will Hernandez, Texas-El Paso

Hernandez was the lone offensive lineman from a Group of 5 school selected to one of the AP preseason All-American teams. Hernandez has started every game of his career at left guard for the Miners and was named to the All-C-USA team in 2016 after helping running back Aaron Jones rush for a new season-season school record. The 6-foot-3, 330-pound Hernandez finds himself in good hands playing under head coach Sean Kugler who has spent more than 10 years as an offensive line coach in the NFL.

MORE: AP Top 25 | Poll reaction

Other names to know: Chukwuma Okorafor (Western Michigan).

Defensive Line

Ed Oliver, Houston

Oliver enters 2017 as one of the best defensive players in FBS and was the lone member from a Group of 5 school that was selected to the AP preseason All-American first-team. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive tackle burst onto the national stage as a true freshman where he finished second in the country with 23 tackles-for-loss. Oliver totaled 66 tackles, nine passes deflected and three forced fumbles, and was the lone freshman selected to the All-American first-team.

College football: Preseason AP All-Americans

Other names to know: David Moa (Boise State), Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (Arkansas State), Jaylon Ferguson (Louisiana Tech).


Shaquem Griffin, Central Florida

Griffin had a breakout season in 2016 for the Golden Knights where he was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. The 6-foot-2, 229-pound outside linebacker finished last year with 92 total tackles, 20 of which resulted in loss of yards. He provided versatility as both a pass rusher and in coverage adding a pair of forced fumbles and fumble recoveries in addition to his eight passes defended. In UCF’s 61-17 week one win over Florida International, he finished with one tackle for loss.

Other names to know: Ulysses Gilbert III (Akron), Jahlani Tavai (Hawaii), Fred Warner (BYU).

Defensive backs

Andrew Wingard, Wyoming

Wingardi is one of those players who simply has a nose for where the football is going on every play. As a sophomore in 2016, he led FBS in total tackles (131) to go along with his two interceptions and a forced fumble. After being named to the Jim Thorpe, Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award Watch Lists, Wingard added eight tackles, one for a loss, in the Cowboys’ season opener against Iowa.

Other names to know: Andre Chachere (San Jose State), Deatrick Nichols (South Florida), Perry Nickerson (Tulane)


Louie Zervos, Ohio

Zervos led all FBS kickers last year with 29 made attempts, seven of which were from 40+ yards out. A member of the Lou Groza Award preseason watch list, he made 35-of-38 point after attempts last year and totaled 122 total points in 2016. In the Bobcats’ season opener against Hampton, Zervos made his only field goal attempt (38 yards) and converted six extra points.

Other names to know: Redford Jones (Tulsa), Jason Sanders (New Mexico), Spencer Smith (Memphis).

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