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New Year’s Six Race: Houston opens up conference play on the road

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We take a look at the teams that have a chance to earn the Group of 5 big money bowl game.

Houston v Oklahoma Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

#6 Houston vs. Cincinnati, 7:30 PM, September 15 (ESPN) - The Cougars get the national stage to themselves on Thursday night, but you can bet the Bearcats are ready for this one. UH barely escaped in a 33-30 decision at home last year, and UC showed remarkable balance on offense last Saturday in West Lafayette. Hayden Moore and Greg Ward Jr. should also make for one of the week's better quarterback duels, as well.

#25 Miami (FL) vs. Appalachian State, 12 PM, September 17 (ESPN) - We've wondered all along: Why would the Hurricanes agree to this trip? The Mountaineers went to Knoxville and nearly toppled Tennessee in their season opener, and shook off the disappointment with a 31-7 romp against Old Dominion. It'll be interesting to see how they choose to attack Miami on offense, but keep an eye on senior running back Marcus Cox, who leads the Sun Belt and is 11th in the FBS in rushing through two games (248 yards, 5.9 yards per carry).

San Diego State vs. Northern Illinois, 3:30 PM, September 17 (CBSSN) - The Aztecs are coming off of a big 45-40 win over Cal. This is not the same old Huskies team that seemingly is in contention for the MAC title. They lost starting quarterback Drew Hare to an ankle and knee injury, and possibly for the year.

Going undefeated is likely what it will take for San Diego State to get to a big money game and lets see if the Aztecs have a hangover or not from that win over Cal. Look for the Aztecs to give a heavy dose of Donnel Pumphrey on the ground and the defense to shutdown this NIU offense.

Fresno State vs. Toledo, 3 PM, September 17 (ESPN3) - Toledo looks strong with a new head coach and a newish quarterback at 2-0 and if they can win the MAC with no blemishes then they will be in the conversation.

The Rockets have gotten off to a very fast start with convincing wins against Arkansas State and FCS Maine, but they may want to be ready for a defensive slugfest against the Bulldogs. Fresno State went toe-to-toe with Nebraska for about three quarters, then blasted FCS Sacramento State by allowing just 185 yards of total offense, their best such effort since 2008.

Logan Woodside has been at the helm of what might be the nation's most explosive offense thus far -- Toledo's seven plays of 40-plus yards are the most in the nation -- but Bulldogs cornerbacks Jamal Ellis and Tyquwan Glass each had an interception against SSU, and the secondary as a whole has shown degrees of improvement upon 2015.

Western Michigan vs. Illinois, 4 PM, September 17 (ESPNEWS)

Strength of schedule will be included and while the Illini are not the greatest team they are from the Big Ten and the playoff committee will look a bit more closer at this game if the Broncos get the win. Plus, this would be the second win over a Big Ten team as Western Michigan opened up the year with a win over Northwestern.

This will be a game of passing as neither quarterback has thrown an interception with WMU’s Zach Terrell has completing 70 percent of his passes to go along with five scores, and on the other side of the ball Wes Lunt is not as accurate and is completing just 57 percent of his passes.

The big difference in this game looks to be the ground game for Western Michigan as they have three players over 100 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

East Carolina vs. South Carolina, 4 PM, September 17 (SEC Network) - The Pirates are looking for their second win over a Power Five team this year and add to the N.C. State victory. Quarterback play clearly favors East Carolina with Philip Nelson completing an absurd 81.3 percent of his passes, 695 yards and six touchdowns to one interception.

On the other side of the field, the Gamecocks have played two quarterbacks and have thrown for 396 yards and completed only 52.2 percent of their passes.

Louisiana Tech vs. Texas Tech, 7:00 PM, September 17 (FSN) - The Bulldogs have found support in certain parts of our voting bloc, so it'll be interesting to see how they take advantage of, to be kind, a suspect Red Raiders defense. Both teams might be able to score at will, but LTU quarterback Ryan Higgins will have to avoid the slow start and turnovers he had against South Carolina State last week.