Group of 5 Power Rankings: Week Three

It was another wild weekend of college football. We saw a few teams on this list get throttled, a few excelled, and a lot of teams turned in performances that were just good enough. There were also two teams on the bubble last week for beating a Power 5 opponent who then struggled with an FCS school. They’re both gone, and I think we can assume they really were just fluke upsets. Anyway, onto the rankings, and as always if you want to read last week’s rankings, click here.

#1. UCF Knights (Last Week: 1)

UCFThe Knights made the trip from Orlando to Boca Raton to take on the Owls of Florida Atlantic and put a hurt into Lane Kiffin’s group, winning 48-14. Dillon Gabriel got the start at QB for UCF as they let Brandon Wimbush nurse an injury he sustained in their season-opening win over Florida A&M. Gabriel had an up-and-down game, going just 7-19, but with an incredible 35 yards per completion he put up 245 yards and two touchdowns. He and Wimbush figure to continue to both play moving forward, and head coach Josh Heupel hasn’t named a starter for next Saturday’s game against Stanford, who’s coming off of a disappointing loss to USC. If their run game can be anywhere near as productive against Stanford as they were against FAU (312 yards, five touchdowns, three players with over 75 yards rushing), that’ll make the job of whoever’s under center that much easier. The defense was great again, although they finally did allow a touchdown on FAU’s second-to-last drive before lightning cut the game short with 4:20 to play. Their biggest contributors on defense were Eric Mitchell, who recorded nine tackles, 2.5 for loss and a sack, Tay Gowan (pass breakup, INT), Aaron Robinson, who had seven tackles (one for loss) and two pass breakups, and Mason Cholewa, with 2.5 tackles for loss and half a sack in the game. Running Back Adrian Killins Jr didn’t have a great day on the ground, rushing for just 37 yards, but he had one score on the ground and also caught a 74-yard touchdown pass. The senior back is still definitely a weapon for the Knights going forward.

2. Boise State Broncos (2)

BoiseBoise State’s defense did a great job containing Isaiah Green and the Marshall offense on Friday night. The offense did… just enough to win the game. To be fair, the offense outgained Marshall 437-172, they just couldn’t capitalize when they got on the Thundering Herd’s side of the field. They had drives that ended at Marshall’s 32 (missed field goal), 29 (failed fourth-and-two), 35 (failed fourth-and-27), 15 (interception), 46 (fumble) and 8 (end of game) without points, in addition to their two touchdown drives. Assuming they’re able to turn opportunities into points at least slightly better in the future, they should be fine. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier was fairly efficient, throwing for 282 yards on 22-34 passing with a touchdown and an interception, also rushing seven times for 26 yards and Boise’s other touchdown (though he also lost a fumble). The defense bottled up Thundering Herd QB Isaiah Green all game, as just a week after he threw for over 200 yards and ran for over 100 more, the Broncos held him to 56 passing yards on 10-17 through the air with an interception, and he totaled zero rushing yards in the game. Curtis Weaver played a big part in that, making six tackled including 1.5 for loss and a sack of Green, and senior safety Kekoa Nawahine made a big interception on what would ultimately be Marshall’s last possession of the game. Boise State now gets what should be a tune-up game against Portland State before meeting Air Force to start conference play in week four.

3. Memphis Tigers (3)

MemphisA week after holding Ole Miss to ten points, the Tigers gave up 24 to Southern. To be fair, this is more what we expected from Memphis, as they scored 55 against the Jaguars, though the fact that they were within ten points in the last 20 minutes of action is concerning. To be fair, this game could have been 58-17 or even 62-17 by changing just one play, either the holding call on the third-and-four from Southern’s 9 yard line or the ensuing sack-strip scoop-and-score for the Jaguars. Other than that play, it was a really good game for QB Brady White, who was 17-21 for 337 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Again, they weren’t without their problems, as their rushing attack produced roughly the same results that Southern’s did, as Southern ran 39 times for 168 yards and Memphis ran 44 times for 177 yards, although the difference in touchdowns (Memphis four, Southern one) stands out. The special teams unit was very good for the Tigers as well, as Austin Hall blocked a punt in the second quarter (he also had a tackle for loss and pass breakup in the game) that was recovered and returned for a touchdown by Keith Brown Jr. The kicking game left nothing to complain about either, as Riley Patterson knocked in both of his field goal attempts including a 49-yarder, and sent all but one of his kickoffs for a touchback (the one that didn’t Southern started from their own 15). Punter Adam Williams wasn’t needed as much as he was last week, but he made his one punt count, sending it 54 yards with no return. Memphis next travels to South Alabama, then gets a bye week before hosting Navy to start AAC play.

4. Army Black Knights (5)

ArmySo far this year, Army has moved down two spots in my rankings with a win, and then moved up a spot with a loss. When you play Rice and then Michigan, that can make sense. According to Game Score, an ESPN metric that’s a part of their Football Power Index (FPI), Army performed much better this week than last, scoring a 68 (out of 100) compared to a 33 in their win over Rice. Army and Michigan both ran the ball a lot, but without much success. Army used 61 carries to get to 200 rush yards as a team, about 3.3 yards per carry. Michigan ran the ball 45 times with even less success, posting 108 yards on the ground, just 2.4 yards per carry. But Michigan’s offense wasn’t as one-sided as Army’s tends to be, and their throwing for 232 yards to the Black Knights’ 43 was a big difference. Also, if you’re going to throw the ball just five times in a game, as Army did, you can’t afford to have one of those throws end up in the arms of your opponent. Army’s defense really stepped up to the challenge, as evidenced by their holding Michigan to just 2.4 yards per carry, and produced some highlight plays like forcing a sack just before halftime that backed Michigan up into attempting a 55-yard field goal which they were unable to convert, and twice stopping Michigan on fourth-and-two in the fourth quarter. Elijah Riley really stood out for the Black Knight defense, recording thirteen tackles and two sacks, one on that third down before halftime and the other as a strip-sack in which he also recovered the loose ball. They did enough to force overtime, but after both teams scored a touchdown in the first overtime period, Michigan would kick a field goal in the second overtime and Kelvin Hopkins Jr would cough up his second fumble of the game, which Michigan recovered to seal the deal. Army travels to UTSA next week, and they’ll look to get their offense rolling again and get back to winning.

5. BYU Cougars (7)

BYUIn an earlier article, we talked about BYU needing to win a game or two against their power conference opponents to make their tough schedule worth it. Well, they made their trip to Knoxville count, coming away with a double-overtime win over Tennessee. They barely made it there, as they needed a miraculous 64-yard reception by Micah Simon, with Volunteers senior safety Nigel Warrior missing a tackle that would have kept them out of field goal range, to set up a 33-yard field goal that kicker Jake Oldroyd barely snuck inside the right upright to send the game to OT. Unfortunately, what most people saw of this game was the video of Cougars defensive lineman Zac Dawe throwing Tennessee QB Jarrett Guarantano’s shoe to the Tennessee bench midway through the first quarter. Running back Ty’Son Williams ran for 92 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winner, in the game, as he punched in a 5-yard touchdown run after BYU’s defense held the Volunteers to a field goal in double-OT. The schedule doesn’t let up anytime soon for Zach Wilson (19-29, 232 yards, one TD) and the Cougars, who host USC this week before Washington comes to town in week four. If they can split those two, they’re set up well for the rest of the season, with their toughest tests the rest of the year coming when they host Boise State and head to Utah State. Given their schedule and expected record, this team should stay near the top of the conversation of best small conference teams this year.

6. Cincinnati Bearcats (4)

CincyThe Bearcats went into their game at Ohio State thinking they might be able to hang with the Buckeyes after taking down UCLA at home in their season opener. They were wrong. A 42-0 trouncing later, and they’re ready to play in front of the home crowd again when Miami (OH) comes into Cincy this weekend. Cincy got hit by Murphy’s Law in Columbus, having a field goal blocked and turning the ball over twice without forcing any to turn what was already going to be a difficult game into a beatdown. The good news: they don’t have to play a team that good for the rest of the year. (Regardless of what you think of UCF, please don’t try to say they’re better than Ohio State. Thank you.) It’s bad enough that their offense struggled against the Buckeyes, but the turnovers came at awful times, too, as the interception was thrown from the OSU 9 yard line, and Tavion Thomas’ fumble came as he was nearing the goal line on what would have given them a first-and-goal from inside the five at the worst if he hadn’t fumbled. Instead, Cincy came away 0-for-3 in the red zone in the game, and looked terrible for it. Fortunately, they play more teams at or below UCLA’s talent level than at or near Ohio State’s, so they should be alright moving forward. They’re an upset of UCF (at home) away from being the most likely team to win the AAC East. And if they get to the conference championship game (which could potentially mean facing Memphis two weeks in a row), they’ve got a good shot against anyone from the West division.

7. Appalachian State Mountaineers (6)

Appalachian StateThe Mountaineers looked like a team who just hired an offensive coordinator to be their head coach this season when they played Charlotte last week. They won, but they were favored by 23.5 for a reason, Charlotte is only favored in three of their remaining games, per FPI, all to teams who rank in the bottom five of ESPN’s team evaluating metric, where the 49ers themselves rank 116 out of 130. So to need three huge scoring plays from Darrynton Evans and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown just to win by 15 wasn’t a great performance for App State. To say Evans carried the load would be an understatement. He ran the ball nineteen times for 234 yards and three touchdowns, including TD runs of 87 (on the first play from scrimmage) and 68 before grabbing Charlotte’s onside kick attempt and taking it to the house to all but seal the game with about three minutes remaining. QB Zac Thomas was fine, throwing for 182 yards and three touchdowns, but only threw 20 passes and wasn’t asked to do a whole lot, as a big chunk of that yardage came on a 73-yard touchdown pass when junior wideout Jalen Virgil broke loose from the 49ers secondary. The Mountaineers are off this week as they prepare for their first of two power 5 opponents on the year when they travel to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina next week. They’ll need the defense to look more like they did in week one than week two if they want a win in an ACC stadium for the first time in school history, and their first win over a power 5 opponent since beating Michigan back in 2007 (when they were an FCS powerhouse, not a Sun Belt powerhouse).

8. Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (8)

HawaiiHawai’i got their second win of the year over a Pac-12 opponent, which they’ll take even though it was an uncomfortable win over an Oregon State team that isn’t particularly threatening. Last week we talked about Hawai’i’s wide receiver Cedric Byrd II, who had just caught four touchdown passes in a 224-yard performance against Arizona, and this week it was JoJo Ward making big plays on the outside for the Rainbow Warriors. Ward caught ten passes for 189 yards and all four of Hawai’i’s touchdowns. That their running game was so stifled by the Beaver defense is a bit concerning, as they got just 67 yards on 25 carries in the game, a 2.7 yard rush average as a team. But, as they usually are, this team is built around throwing the football, and Cole McDonald’s 421 passing yards are nothing to laugh at. The fact that he lost a fumble and threw an interception didn’t help the Rainbow Warriors’ cause, and the defense struggled to make big plays, with just one sack and no turnovers forced on the game. That, along with THREE missed field goals by kicker Ryan Meskell, who tied his full season total of missed field goals in 2018 last week, including a 27-yard chip shot, allowed Oregon State to stay close. Once Hawai’i finally got the lead, OSU had one more chance, missing a field goal of their own, albeit a 52-yarder that was a bit longer than any of the four Meskell attempted (he hit from 28 while missing kicks from 27, 47, and 48). That allowed the Rainbow Warriors to escape with the 31-28 win, and move on to go play Washington this week, which doesn’t seem likely to be a third win over a Pac-12 team, but it would be incredible if they could pull it off.

9. Fresno State Bulldogs (12)

Fresno StateI didn’t want to move Fresno State up this much after they fell to 0-2, but there were so many disappointing games by teams in this area of the rankings last week that someone has to be here. They gave the Golden Gophers of Minnesota all they could handle before Jorge Reyna’s second interception of the game ended it in double-overtime. Fresno State had a few opportunities to win the game, but miscues like a missed field goal in the first quarter, not capitalizing on a Minnesota fumble in the second, and the interception that ended the game held them back. The good news for Reyna and the Bulldogs is the schedule does get easier from here, especially in the fact that they have six remaining games where FPI gives them at least an 80% chance to win. Take care of business in those, go 2-2 in your other games (all of which are between 41 and 53% win probability) and you’ve got an 8-4 season and possibly a bid to the Mountain West championship game, depending on if a 6-2 in-conference record gets it done in the West division. When Reyna wasn’t turning the ball over, he was effective, completing 24 of 35 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for another (though he had negative rush yards and fumbled, but the Bulldogs recovered it). Minnesota’s defensive front stifled their run game, holding them to just 57 rush yards and getting to Reyna four times for sacks. They still have a bye week, games against Sacramento State and New Mexico State, then another bye week before getting to Mountain West action on October 12th.

10. Western Michigan Broncos (9)

WMUThe Broncos traveled to MSU with slim hopes of pulling off the upset, but reasonable hopes of competing in the game. Instead, they made the Michigan State offense that had just scored one touchdown against Tulsa look like Oklahoma. Or Clemson. Or (enter another actually good offense here). It was 21-0 by the end of the first quarter, and after Western got a touchdown early in the second quarter, intercepted a Brian Lewerke pass, and marched to the Spartans 10 yard line, looking to make it a one-score game, they promptly missed a 27-yard field goal (Thiago Kapps’ second miss of the game), gave up another touchdown, failed to capitalize when MSU fumbled to give them the ball in the red zone (by throwing an interception at the 5 yard line), and went into the half down 31-7. The Spartans pushed it to 44-7 before Kapps proved the third time really is the charm as he finally hit a field goal, and WMU’s second-string offense scored a touchdown on MSU’s third-string defense to make it a slightly less embarrassing 51-17 final. Their running game wasn’t very effective for the Broncos, though their 67 yards was certainly better than Tulsa’s -73 the week before at MSU, which left Jon Wassink needing to make a lot of plays. He completed 23 of 37 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown, pretty good production against a defense of that caliber, but the two interceptions didn’t help. We mentioned last week that the defense didn’t give up many big plays against Monmouth, but they fell apart against the Spartans, including allowing Elijah Collins to average 11.3 yards per carry, for a total of 192 on seventeen carries. Forcing two turnovers was a good sign after failing to make any against Monmouth, but failing to record a single sack and allowing MSU to average 7.4 yards per rush and 10 yards per pass attempt isn’t getting the job done defensively. The Broncos return home this week to play Georgia State, who beat Tennessee but then struggled against Furman, an FCS school.

11. Marshall Thundering Herd (10)

MarshallThe loss to Boise State hurts, but the Thundering Herd are favorites (according to FPI) in each of their remaining games this season. That doesn’t mean they’re going to win out, FPI gives them just a 3.4% chance to do that, but as they get into the two out-of-conference games that are going to tell us the most about them (hosting Ohio and then Cincinnati) they need to see recovery on offense, especially from QB Isaiah Green, who had a miserable performance in Boise. He went 10-17 for just 56 yards without a touchdown and threw an interception, and gained zero yards rushing. Brenden Knox was the lone bright spot for the offense, which ran just 43 plays to the Broncos’ 81, as he carried the ball ten times for 71 yards including a 13-yard touchdown run, Marshall’s only score of the game. The defense did a good job of holding firm when it mattered most, which is the only reason a game that saw Boise gain 437 yards of total offense to Marshall’s 172 was close. That includes a fourth-and-two stop in the second quarter from Marshall’s 29 yard line, forcing the Broncos into a 3rd-(and then fourth-)and-27 with back-to-back sacks after Boise drove into the red zone in the third quarter, and getting an interception when Boise State was in the red zone again on their next possession. If the defense can make key stops and big plays like they did last week and the offense can figure out how to get going again, then Marshall will be in good shape in the CUSA.

12. Ohio Bobcats (11)

ohioThe Bobcats went into Pitt last week with a chance at getting a statement out-of-conference victory, but fell behind 17-0 in the first half and their offense didn’t do enough to really get them back in the game. The Panthers defense managed to get to QB Nathan Rourke six times, including three sacks by sophomore Jaylen Twyman, who had 0.5 career sacks coming into the game. Rourke threw for 177 yards without a score or turnover as he went 15-27 on his passes. Not exactly a great game for someone thought of as possibly the best QB in his conference. Maurice Ffrench (and no, that’s not a typo, just weird spelling) broke loose for a 74-yard touchdown reception for Pitt as part of a 10-catch, 138-yard performance. For the defense, giving up 20 points to Pitt is a much better sign than giving up 20 points to Rhode Island, but the lack of big plays (one sack, no turnovers) isn’t doing your offense any favors. The good news for the Bobcats: after next week’s game at Marshall, they’re given no less than a 47% chance in the rest of their games, per FPI. The only games that FPI doesn’t have them favored in MAC competition right now are at Ball State and hosting Western Michigan, both of their West division crossover games, giving them a great chance at winning the MAC East and heading to Detroit for the championship game the first Saturday of December. That is, assuming the offense that just got shut down said more about Pitt’s defense than it did about their offense.

13. Wyoming Cowboys (13)

WyomingWyoming recovered from a slow start at Texas State that saw them fall behind 14-3 in the second quarter to earn a come-from-behind 23-14 win. That’s a sneaky big win for the Cowboys, because FPI has them as underdogs for all five of their remaining road games. The good news is that comes with home games that they all have a better chance of winning (no less than 77%) than any of their opponents other than Boise State have of beating them. That’s me trying to say they should go undefeated at home this year, as Colorado State, ranked 101 by FPI, is their toughest home opponent remaining. Wyoming was able to capitalize on both Texas State interceptions, as Tyler Hall returned one 72 yards for a score, and Braden Smith returned his 27 yards to set up the offense with a short field, which they turned into a touchdown. Unfortunately, their offense didn’t do much else, including having to settle for a field goal after having a first-and-goal from the 2 yard line in the fourth quarter, but the defense producing 5 sacks, three takeaways, and a defensive touchdown earned them the win in spite of being outgained by 151 yards by the Bobcats. You could tell the difference in these two teams’ offenses, with Texas State throwing the ball 54 times and collecting 394 passing yards, while running just 22 times for 50 yards, compared to the Cowboys running the ball 49 times for 190 yards and throwing the ball just eighteen times for 103 yards. Sean Chambers didn’t bust out a 75-yard run in this game, but he did keep the offense moving with his legs just as well as his arm as he ran for 50 yards and their only offensive touchdown of the game. They’ll hope to get another ball carrier going, as no one other than Chambers averaged more than 4 yards per carry last week, when they face Idaho in what used to be a rivalry before the Vandals dropped to the FCS level.

14. Houston Cougars (15)

UHAfter Oklahoma exposed the problems with Houston’s defense that clearly weren’t fixed in the offseason, they took on Prarie View A&M, where they got an early lead and slowly wound down to the win. Houston’s offense basically only played 35 minutes and then shut it down against the Panthers, as their first eight drives resulted in four touchdowns, three field goals, and the end of the first half, while their last seven ended with four punts, two turnovers and the end of the game. On the other side, Prarie View scored touchdowns on their last possession of each half, on drives where the score started at 34-3 and 37-10 as the Cougars coasted to victory. It was another just okay game for D’Eriq King, who was 15-26 for 139 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. He ran for two touchdowns, but had negative rush yards overall as he also took four sacks. He’s going to need to look more like he did last year before getting hurt, when he had 2982 passing yards, a 36-6 touchdown to interception ratio, 674 rushing yards, and 14 rush touchdowns, if they’re going to make any sort of noise in the AAC. FPI still has them projected right around .500, as it seems unsure if they’re going 5-7 or 6-6. The schedule is tough for a group of 5 team, that’s what happens when you play two ranked power 5 opponents out of conference and have to see UCF and Cincinnati from the AAC East. The second of those power 5 opponents is heading to Houston this Friday night in a battle of Cougars with Washington State.

15. San Diego State Aztecs (NR)

SDSUThere they are. I thought San Diego State had a chance to be good when I put them on the bubble in my preseason rankings, and then they scored six points against Weber State. A 6-0 win would have been a good showing from their baseball team, but I expected more from the football team in their season opener. Then they traveled to UCLA and took down Chip Kelly’s Bruins, 23-14. Things aren’t looking too bright for Kelly, as UCLA’s bowl hopes are becoming dangerously thin after their 0-2 start with a schedule that still features Oklahoma coming to the Rose Bowl this week, and trips to Washington State, Utah, and USC. As for the Aztecs, they became the fifth Mountain West team to beat a power 5 opponent, but only the second to beat a Pac-12 opponent this year (joining Hawaii, who has wins over Arizona and Oregon State). The win also made SDSU now 1-22 all-time against the Bruins, showing that the 23rd time’s the charm. Or the first time with Rocky Long as the head coach. QB Ryan Agnew played much better this week than he did against Weber State, throwing for 293 yards and a touchdown on 23-31 passing. That was the biggest difference in the game, as both teams struggled to run the football, rushing for less than two yards per carry and well under 100 yards overall. They did a good job capitalizing on the two turnovers they forced, with the first coming as UCLA was crossing midfield on a drive in the second quarter that SDSU would get a field goal out of, and the second coming on a third-down sack-strip of UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson that resulted in an Aztec touchdown on the ensuing drive. San Diego State next travels to New Mexico State for their last game before Mountain West action starts.

Dropped Out:

Southern Missippi (14)

On the Bubble:

Toledo, Southern Mississippi, SMU, Temple

We have one matchup of two Group of 5 ranked teams this week, with Ohio traveling to Huntington, WV to take on Marshall. It should be the second of three straight weeks with Marshall being involved in a ranked matchup here, coming off their game with Boise State and playing Cincinnati in another week. That’s about as interesting as it gets around here before in-conference play starts. But upsets are what make college football so exciting, and there are also some teams on here favored over power 5 opponents (UCF is favored by 9.5 over Stanford according to the Vegas line). It should be another fun weekend, we’ll see you back here next week.

Stats and info courtesy of ESPN and College Football @ Sports-Reference.com.

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