Week one saw a mix of nothing-to-prove games and some Group of 5 teams knocking off Power 5 opponents. There were also some embarrassing losses and concerningly close wins in games that should have been easy wins for some teams, but through one week, not much has changed as far as our perception of most teams. We haven’t seen much conference play, with the ACC and SEC being the only conferences to start that off on opening weekend, so we’re still waiting to see the regular competition for most teams. Week two will likely provide more of the same, and we’ll have to keep waiting for real differentiation between teams. For last week’s rankings, click here. Side note: last week I said I’d be getting back to regular Monday posting but here it is, Friday afternoon, and I’m just now getting this out. Sorry, I’m a college student, not a professional journalist yet.
#1. UCF Knights (Last Week: 1)
Boise State made a push for this spot, but I’m not going to move the Knights out of the top spot when they smashed around the Rattlers of Florida A&M, 62-0. Brandon Wimbush was just ok, which isn’t what you’re looking for when you’re playing an FCS team. His final line was 12-23 for 168 yards and two touchdowns, with eight carries for 20 rush yards but also two fumbles. With his presumed competition Darriel Mack Jr having broken his ankle in July, true freshman Dillon Gabriel became the most likely backup and when he got on the field he did well against FAMU. He went 9-13 for 127 yards and three touchdowns. I would expect Wimbush to start but Gabriel to get some snaps against Florida Atlantic this weekend with the potential for a QB controversy to spring up if Gabriel outperforms Wimbush again. Senior running back Adrian Killins Jr ran for over 100 yards after doing so just once last year and losing the feature back role to Greg McCrae, who got ten carries for 56 yards in the game. The defense was outstanding, with big games for Aaron Robinson, with five tackles and two pass breakups, Tre’Mon Morris-Brash, with a sack and two QB hurries, and Chris DeLoach, with 1.5 tackles for loss.
#2. Boise State Broncos (2)
It was looking like it was going to be a tough start for Boise, and one you could hardly blame them for with the game moving from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, when they trailed Florida State 31-13 with 4 minutes to go in the first half. By that point, the Broncos had committed two turnovers and stopped FSU just once. Then they scored the last 23 points in the game to earn a 36-31 win over a Power 5 team expected to have a good year in 2019. True freshman QB Hank Bachmeier hung in through the litany of pressure Florida State brought (5 sacks, 8 QB hurries) to throw for 407 yards in his college debut. Junior running back Robert Mahone shined in his new starting role, rushing for more yards against the Seminoles (142) than he had in either of the last two seasons (128 last year, 115 in 2017). He also ran for two touchdowns after having just a single TD in his first two years at Boise State. Another freshman for Bronco fans to get excited about is running back George Holani, who looks like their #2 option right now as he had 14 carries for 70 yards against Florida State. One defensive standout was Kekaula Kaniho, who was disruptive the whole game as he collected four tackles for loss including a sack and forced a fumble that led to Boise State’s first touchdown. They have their home opener this week as they host Marshall today (Friday).
#3. Memphis Tigers (4)
Memphis was one of two AAC teams to knock off a Power 5 opponent, and Ole Miss was one of three SEC teams to lose to a Group of 5 opponent. In what was expected to be a game that could see both teams go over 30 points, the defenses ended up dominating, including a late safety that sealed the 15-10 win for the Tigers. Memphis’ offense lacked the explosiveness they enjoyed last year, without a run for more than 15 yards or a pass for more than 25, but being slow and steady helped them dominate time of possession, with over 38 minutes on offense to the Rebels’ 21, as they had three drives of more than five minutes including the game-sealing drive that took the final 6:27 off the clock. They’ll be looking for more big plays moving forward, and playing Southern this week could help discover that, but doubling the yardage output of an SEC opponent (364-173) is a good start for a team looking to make noise in the AAC. Patrick Taylor Jr had a 1,000-yard season last year that got completely overlooked due to the outstanding play of Darrell Henderson, and after rushing for 128 and a touchdown against Ole Miss, he’ll look to start feasting against weaker defenses going forward. The passing game played it short and safe in the opener, but you don’t return a 3,000-yard passer (Junior Brady White) and not let him open up for some big plays once in a while. I think Memphis was happy to get out of their first game with a win, and we’ll start to see some more creativity out of their offense going forward.
#4. Cincinnati Bearcats (6)
With probably the second-most impressive win of a Group of 5 team this weekend (behind Boise State), beating UCLA for the second year in a row, making Bruins fans nervous about the high expectations they had with Chip Kelly taking over as head coach a year ago. In a battle of sophomore QBs, Desmond Ridder completely outplayed UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson, going 18-26 for 242 yards, two touchdowns and one interception to DTR’s 8-26, 156-yard, two-touchdown, two-interception performance. The gap between their performances looks even bigger when you factor in that 75 yards and one of Thompson-Robinson’s touchdowns came on one play, and he had two fumbles that were both recovered by the Bearcats in the game. Cincy’s defense dominated the Bruins’ attack, allowing just 62 rushing yards and forcing the four turnovers all by Thompson-Robinson. One player who stood out was sophomore safety Ja’von Hicks who, starting in the place of injured junior James Wiggins, had an interception and fumble recovery. It wasn’t all good for Hicks, who also committed a facemask penalty and missed a tackle on the Bruins’ 75-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, but his response to his mistakes stood out to teammates and coaches. Another defensive impact-maker was linebacker Michael Pitts, who had a sack, QB hurry and pass breakup in the game. Junior running back Michael Warren II kept producing after his 2018 season that saw him rush for 19 touchdowns by going for 92 yards and a score on the ground and on a reception in the game. They travel to Columbus to take on Ohio State for an even tougher test in week two.
5. Army Black Knights (3)
Army struggled mightily with Rice, in West Point, to open the season. To be fair, the Owls had been preparing for Army since the spring (though obviously not all their time has been committed to this game) while most teams will get a week to think about how to stop Army’s option attack. The good news is their defense played great in holding Rice to just one touchdown the entire game, though missed field goals may have been the real difference-maker in the 14-7 game. Rice had missed a 26-yard field goal in the first quarter and a 44-yarder in the second quarter, and on their final drive of the game had a fourth-and-one at Army’s 26-yard line, which would have set up another roughly 44-yard field goal from there if a field goal would have mattered. But back to the impressive defensive performance, Rice’s offense only really managed one good drive, as their other scoring opportunities were set up by a 54-yard run (touchdown), 38-yard pass (missed FG), and Army fumble (missed FG). Senior QB Kelvin Hopkins Jr was responsible for both of the Black Knights’ touchdowns, both capping off drives that started inside their own 10 yard line and took over nine minutes of game clock. Junior Sandon McCoy had the most touches of anyone other than Hopkins, and he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. It’ll take more than 14 points for them to upset Michigan in Ann Arbor this weekend, but they put quite a scare into Oklahoma last year so we know it’s possible.
6. Appalachian State Mountaineers (7)
The Mountaineers didn’t have much to prove in Eliah Drinkwitz’s head coaching debut, but they left nothing to complain about in a 42-7 win over East Tennessee State. Junior QB Zac Thomas threw for 150 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 32 yards and another score. Returning starter Darrynton Evans ran for 99 yards and a touchdown against the Buccaneers, and the defense shut down ETSU for basically the whole game. When they did threaten, specifically their three drives in the second half where they got inside App State’s 35 yard line, the Mountaineer defense came up with a big play. Caleb Spurlin had a big pass breakup on a fourth-and-one for ETSU early in the fourth quarter that would have put the Buccaneers at least in field goal range, and on what would ultimately be East Tennessee State’s final drive, Hansky Paillant forced a fumble and Kaleb Dawson would recover for App State. Things shouldn’t be getting too much harder for the Mountaineers this week as they host Charlotte, and they should be looking to use that game to continue building momentum for their trip to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina on September 21st. A win there would leave them with just one more game where they’re not the favorite, when they go to South Carolina on November 9th.
7. BYU Cougars (5)
The Cougars move down a few spots not just for the fact that they lost to Utah, losing to a ranked team shouldn’t hurt you very much, but for the way that they lost. Zach Wilson, who took over the starting QB job midway through last season as a freshman, threw two pick-sixes in the game and running back Ty’Son Williams lost a fumble that also led to a Utes touchdown. BYU’s offense scored just 12 points, even with Utah’s defense in the game. That’s not how you win football games, or even compete in them. On the bright side, when Wilson wasn’t turning the ball over he was pretty good, going 21-33 for 208 yards against Utah’s elite defense. Their defense did a good job as well, as only one of Utah’s touchdowns came from their offense starting outside of BYU’s 25 yard line. But Utah’s offense wasn’t put in situations where they needed a ton of yards very often, and senior tailback Zack Moss ran for 187 yards and a touchdown, and their senior QB Tyler Huntley was never really tested as he went 13-16 for 106 yards. It doesn’t get any easier for BYU, either, as their next three games are at Tennessee and hosting USC and Washington. They chose to give themselves a tougher schedule than any small-conference team, that’s the power they have as an independent. It won’t matter if they can’t win at least one against the big boys they decided to face.
8. Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (8)
Hawai’i kicked off the year early when they hosted Arizona on August 24th, and we had already discussed that in last week’s rankings, so they see no movement here. They head into this weekend with a good chance at beating another Pac-12 team, as probably the worst team in the conference in Oregon State is coming to Honolulu, where the Rainbow Warriors are favored by 6.5 points by Vegas and given a 73.2% chance to win by ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). Hawai’i managed to win a very unusual game against the Wildcats in which they committed six turnovers but also had about 38 minutes in time of possession. Oregon State isn’t good, but they’d be better off not turning the ball over like that if they want to win this game. Junior and returning starter QB Cole McDonald is the one with the most to clean up compared to the Arizona game, where he threw for 378 yards and four touchdowns but also threw four interceptions after throwing ten all of last year. Their defense should have an easier time with the Beavers offense, as they don’t have anyone as dynamic as Arizona’s star QB Khalil Tate, who threw for 361 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 108 yards as well. It will be interesting to see how much attention Oregon State gives to Cedric Byrd II, Hawai’i’s senior wideout who just caught fourteen passes for 224 yards and four touchdowns against Arizona, a performance that will likely have him in the forefront of wide receiver of the year discussions if he can stay productive for the rest of the year.
9. Western Michigan Broncos (9)
The Broncos played a we-paid-you-to-let-us-beat-you game last weekend against FCS Monmouth, and rolled, 48-13. It was hard to find anything to complain about with their offense, whose drives went as follows: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, field goal, end of game. No punts, no turnovers, the closest thing to getting stopped was kicking field goals. The defense, on the other hand, gave up over 300 yards to an FCS team and the best thing they did was produce a goal-line stand at the end of the first half. They did occasionally get off the field, which is more than you can say for Monmouth, but they also allowed the Hawks to go 12-of-21 on third-down conversions. The one thing you can give them credit for is not giving up big plays, as Monmouth only had one play gain more than 15 yards in the game. They face another FCS-level offense in Michigan State next week (kidding. Kind of), but MSU also just held Tulsa to -73 rushing yards while forcing a safety and five fumbles, one of which they recovered for a touchdown. While senior QB Jon Wassink was great (20-25, 368 yards, five TDs), running back LeVante Bellamy and his 53 yards on 18 carries wasn’t exactly inspiring. Senior D’Wayne Eskridge, in his first game as a corner after converting from wide receiver this offseason, collected eight tackles and a pass breakup. The defense is going to need to continue to not give up big plays, but also create a few of their own if the Broncos want to win the MAC this year.
10. Marshall Thundering Herd (10)
Another team smacking around an FCS foe to start the season, the Thundering Herd put up 56 points on the VMI Keydets, who only mustered 17. QB Isaiah Green threw for 238 yards and four touchdowns while also producing 46 yards rushing. Running backs Tyler King and Brenden Knox combined for 118 yards on 20 carries between the two of them, and Knox added two scores. The defensive focus for Marshall was getting pressure on the quarterback, which they achieved with four sacks and eleven QB hurries. Jaylon McClain-Sapp added an interception on the back end of the defense, and linebacker Jaquan Yulee contributed 1.5 of their eight tackles for loss and had a pass breakup. Defensive end Channing Hames produced a sack and two QB hurries and figures to be a big contributor on their defensive front after having 45 tackles and 7.5 sacks a year ago. They travel to Boise this week for the first matchup between two teams ranked on this list in 2019, which would be expected to produce an exciting game, but Boise State is favored by 12 and given an 86.5% chance to win by FPI. It’ll only get slightly better from there, as they’ll play the two best small conference teams from Ohio over their next two games, but at least they’ll get them at home.
11. Ohio Bobcats (11)
Nathan Rourke led Ohio in both passing and rushing last week against Rhode Island, throwing for 188 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 75 and adding another score with his legs. But we had another MAC team struggle to contain an FCS offense, as Rhode Island produced 375 total yards against the Bobcats, who were supposed to be a bit better defensively than Western Michigan, and that defense is aided by their strong rushing attack. The run game did go well for Ohio, as three players (Rourke, Julian Ross, and De’Montre Truggle) all ran for over 60 yards, and Truggle scored two touchdowns, including a 55-yarder, on just three carries in the game. Cole Baker was involved in both sacks by the Bobcats on Saturday, having one solo and combining with Jared Dorsa, who piled up eight tackles and a QB hurry as well, on the other. Ilyaas Motley and Michael Ballentine both had two pass breakups, a good sign for the secondary going forward. Ohio now heads into the difficult part of their out-of-conference schedule, heading to Pitt this week and traveling to Marshall the week after that. FPI gives them a less than 1-in-3 chance to win both of those games, which could leave Ohio looking to just regain their footing heading into MAC play if they’re unable to pull off an upset.
12. Fresno State Bulldogs (12)
A lot of teams that were near the bottom of my rankings lost to a Power 5 opponent to open the season, including this Fresno State team. The game felt like it might turn when USC quarterback JT Daniels went down late in the second quarter, but after Fresno State got a field goal to make it 17-13 USC early in the third quarter, a kick return touchdown by Velus Jones Jr put some padding on the Trojans’ lead, and they would score again on their next drive to make it 31-13. That would prove to be too much for the Bulldogs, who fought back in the fourth quarter, driving into the red zone before settling for a field goal on their first drive, then scoring a touchdown on a Jorge Reyna pass to Chris Coleman to make it 31-23. They were driving once more with a chance to tie the game with a touchdown when Reyna had a throw to the end zone intercepted by Isaiah Pola-Mao to seal the game for USC. Reyna ended the game at 19-39 with 256 yards, two touchdowns, and the one interception to go along with 20 carries for 88 yards. He also lost two fumbles on the game, as the game saw seven total turnovers, but FSU got just six points off of the Trojans’ four turnovers while USC capitalized better, scoring a touchdown off of Fresno’s first fumble and having the late interception lead to them running out the clock. Justin Rice had a huge game for the Bulldogs defensively, recording ten tackles, a sack, two pass breakups, and an interception. They now prepare to host Minnesota, who will need to look more ready to go than they did in their 28-21 season-opening win over South Dakota State to beat FSU, but it’ll be another tough test for the Bulldogs before they get some lighter teams to get ready for Mountain West play.
13. Wyoming Cowboys (NR)
How ’bout them Cowboys? Knocking off an SEC team is always a great way to start a season for a Group of 5 team, and how different this team is than when they had now-Buffalo-Bills-QB Josh Allen on campus two years ago. While Allen is certainly a mobile quarterback, he didn’t usually have games like the one Sean Chambers had, where he ran for more yards (120) than he threw for (92), when he played for Wyoming. Want a weird tidbit from this game? There were thirteen kickoffs, and no kick returns. Every single one was a touchback. Sorry, I stumbled upon that and couldn’t not mention it. Missouri jumped out to a 14-0 lead in their first two drives with Clemson-transfer QB Kelly Bryant looking sharp in his (new) Tiger debut, but then the Cowboys went on a 34-3 run, capitalizing on Mizzou’s mistakes. That started with a 30-yard scoop-and-score by CJ Coldon on a Bryant fumble. Then it was Missouri’s Larry Roundtree III fumbling on third and goal seconds before halftime, and a personal foul at the end of a long return by Alijah Halliburton that allowed them to sink a field goal going into the locker room. On the first drive of the second half, Mizzou had a third-and-goal from the two yard line, then an offensive pass interference and an interception. Wyoming drove for a touchdown on the ensuing possession. If the Cowboys can play like that all year, with the defense creating a few big plays a game and the offense capitalizing, then fans in Laramie are in for a treat in 2019. That’s what turns an 11.2% win probability (per FPI going into the game, lowest for the season) into a stunning win. The Cowboys play at Texas State this week.
14. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (15)
The Golden Eagles started off the year right, scoring a touchdown on the first play of the year thanks to Jaylond Adams going 89 yards to the house on the opening kickoff. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, as their offense couldn’t find the end zone until the second half, but neither did Alcorn State, and they cruised to a 38-10 win. Adams would add an 80-yard punt return touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and could become someone fans tune in to watch if he can make exciting plays like that on a regular basis. Junior QB Jack Abraham went 18-28 for 293 yards and a touchdown against the Braves, and added a rushing touchdown but also threw an interception, and leading receiver Jordan Mitchell, who caught seven passes for 133 yards, also lost a fumble. The miscues came in the slow start first half, and by the second half they were clicking, with their first three drives resulting in touchdown, touchdown, field goal, with Adams’ punt return TD thrown in the middle. Defensively, Terry Whittington and DQ Thomas stood out, as Whittington recorded a pair of sacks and Thomas recorded seven tackles, two for loss, and an interception. They’re on the road each of the next three weeks, and it looks like tough sledding with Troy sandwiched between a pair of SEC teams in Mississippi State and Alabama for the Golden Eagles. No matter the outcome of those games, Southern Miss should be in good shape to make a run at the CUSA-West division crown.
15. Houston Cougars (13)
Houston got beat solidly by a fourth-ranked Oklahoma game in a strange but fun Sunday game, but the game wasn’t absent of bright spots for the Cougars. Returning QB D’Eriq King threw for two touchdowns and ran for one while accounting for 270 yards of total offense, and the team committed no turnovers while forcing two from the Sooners. Unfortunately, when they didn’t force a turnover Jalen Hurts went wild on them, throwing for 332 yards in his Oklahoma debut, running for 176 more, and accounting for six Oklahoma touchdowns before sitting for their last two drives. There were no pass breakups, sacks, or interceptions by Houston’s defense, allowing Hurts to complete 20 of 23 passes on the day. They won’t be facing teams with that good of an offense probably ever this season, and the offense punting on their first four drives, which allowed Oklahoma to jump out to a 21-0 lead, was too much for the Cougars to overcome. If their offense can play like they did from the second quarter on and the defense can make a few more plays as they see teams without offenses as loaded as Oklahoma’s, they should be in okay shape for their in-conference schedule. They get a breather game against Prarie View A&M before hosting Washington State in week three in a Friday night game, and the hope is that their defense can use that game to build some confidence.
On the Bubble:
Toledo, Temple, North Texas, Georgia State, Nevada
A few hours before the first game of week two, there are your rankings. I’ll do better about time, I promise. I shouldn’t have said I was going to post Monday when a) there was still a week one game happening on Monday and b) I knew I was going to a beach party on Monday. Oops. Next week, it’ll be done by Tuesday at the latest, hopefully back to the normal Monday publishing. It’ll be an exciting weekend of football, I’ll be in East Lansing to watch Western Michigan play Michigan State, it’s gonna be great. See you again next week.