2021: Marquee programs visit the Group of Five

Every year, nearly every Group of Five (Go5) team visits a Power Five (P5) team (or two) in non-conference play to bolster their strength of schedule, give their players an exciting game experience, and fund their athletic departments. Common payouts for the smaller programs to visit larger programs range between $500–800,000.

However, rarely do the larger hosting programs hit the road to visit smaller Group of Five teams; that is, until the coming 2021 college football season.

I always find these kinds of games interesting because of how defining and historic they are for the smaller schools that play host. Often times, these games draw record-breaking crowds and can turn even the least-spectacular game day campuses into raucous parties. The games are even more memorable when the Go5 host pulls off an upset (see: 2014 Bowling Green defeats Indiana at home).

The 2021 season is seemingly dense with these games, all of which have been set for years. Let’s take a look at some of the best P5 visiting Go5 games.

Note: This list does not include annual rivalry games like Utah at BYU and Mississippi State at Memphis.

Week 1: Oklahoma at Tulane (9/4/21)

It’s not the first time the Green Wave have hosted a P5 program at Yulman Stadium; the venue opened in front of a sold out crowd against Georgia Tech in 2014 (reference). While it seems like its 30,000 capacity is the record crowd at Yulman Stadium, this Week 1 contest could push the envelope. The only currently-listed record crowd was at Old Tulane Stadium, which is a defunct facility that was demolished in 1980.

There’ll no question be a party in New Orleans, as Tulane already has one of the best-kept party secrets in the country. My 2018 visit found me wrapped up right in the middle of it all– a completely unexpected surprise. When the Sooners come to town, we can expect the party to be turned up to 12.

Week 1: Baylor at Texas State (9/4/21)

Their first game since joining the FBS ranks in 2012 was a home game against Texas Tech drew the second-largest crowd in Bobcat Stadium history of 33,006 (reference). It’s the only instance which a P5 team hit the road to San Marcos– until 2021. Lubbock, Texas, is 409 miles and 6.5 hours away from Texas State.

For comparison, Baylor’s campus is 131 miles and two hours away from Texas State. The allure of the second-nearest Big 12 school (Texas) and proximity to the visiting school could pull a record crowd at Bobcat Stadium. San Marcos is also a great party town, which should be on full display September 4. It’s a game Texas State football sorely needs after failing to fill the stands several seasons running (2018 visit).

Week 1: Duke at Charlotte (9/4/21)

Jerry Richardson Stadium is the smallest in terms of capacity among FBS schools at just 15,314. However, its record attendance is over 19,000 (reference) when Appalachian State came to town. Since Charlotte joined the FBS in 2015, they have never hosted a P5 program. Duke sits just two hours northeast of Charlotte and is one of the popular teams of the area.

The 49ers are preparing for their biggest home game day ever, a game that may be overshadowed by the previous ones on the list.

Week 2: Oklahoma State at Boise State (9/18/21)

The Broncos were visitors in their 2018 meeting– their first-ever meeting. Oklahoma State won that game 44-21 in a game between ranked teams that was featured on ESPN. The record crowd inside Albertsons Stadium came in Boise State’s 2019 win over Hawaii. Boise State isn’t a stranger to hosting P5 teams and they’re 3-2 against those teams (Oregon, Oregon State, TCU, Washington, Virginia).

I was at Boone Pickens Stadium that day (video) and the crowd in Stillwater was downright electric. The game was filled with highlight plays and scoring, and this coming year’s matchup should be no different.

Syracuse plays at Ohio Week 1, but without a visit to Peden Stadium to build off and with Syracuse’s recent successes diminished, there wasn’t much to write about. Two other P5 teams visit Go5 teams, but those Go5 teams are housed in NFL stadiums. Florida faces South Florida, a game that will be played in USF’s home venue of Raymond James Stadium (also host to Super Bowl LV). Utah plays at San Diego State, who is playing in a temporary home until their future Aztec Stadium is completed in 2022.

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