It was another great weekend of college football, and our Group of 5 Ranked Matchup of the Week (very unofficial) turned out to be a great game. That, for those of you who missed last week’s rankings (which you can read here), was the Ohio at Marshall game. There was plenty of other exciting football this weekend, including two Group of 5 teams knocking off ranked opponents (one of which is now ranked here), and UCF continued to put up points on anyone they face, as they scored 30 or more for the 29th consecutive game, the longest such streak since 1936. Let’s dive into the rankings.
#1. UCF Knights (Last Week: 1)
UCF dominated Stanford more than the 45-27 final score showed in the Cardinal’s first ever regular-season game in the state of Florida. When freshman QB Dillon Gabriel threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game, it was a 45-17 Knights lead with just over eleven minutes to play. They coasted to the end of the game from there, and Gabriel ended up with a 22-30, 347-yard, four-touchdown passing line on the game. Junior running back Greg McCrae looked more like he did a year ago, as he had an explosive 73-yard touchdown run as part of an 11-carry, 109-yard game. After the results of this weekend, the Pac-12 can now be split into two groups of six teams. Ranked teams, and teams who’ve lost to Group of 5 opponents. UCF had run for 229 yards on 40 carries (5.7 per carry) before losing 31 yards on their last four rush attempts of the game, a 24-yard loss (and then fumble recovered for a touchdown by Stanford) by Quadry Jones and three kneel-downs to run out the clock. The offense wasn’t slowed down a whole lot by the Cardinal defense, as they also averaged 11.6 yards per pass attempt. The Knights play at Pitt next week in their other matchup against a Power 5 team this year, in a game that might threaten their 30-point streak with that Panther defense, but could also make their defense look better than it has so far, as Pitt has kind of looked like an off-brand Michigan State, with a good defense but an offense that struggles to put enough points on the board to capitalize.
#2. Boise State Broncos (2)
Boise State gave up ten points to Portland State in their first three possessions. Unfortunately for the Vikings, the Broncos had a kick return touchdown and an offensive touchdown by that time, and Portland State wouldn’t score again. Boise would continue scoring though, as Hank Bachmeier threw for 238 yards and two touchdowns and backup QB Chase Cord threw for two more TDs and also ran for a score. On the receiving end, CT Thomas caught two of those touchdown passes as part of a four-catch, 61-yard night. The star of the show didn’t come from the Broncos’ offense, though. The biggest story of the night was defensive end Curtis Weaver, a junior who was already known for collecting sacks, recording 20.5 over his first two years at Boise State and having one in each of their first two games this year, when he tied the school record with four sacks in a single game. He was the lead producer in what was a disruptive defense all game, as the Broncos collected six sacks, ten total tackles for loss, and three QB hurries. They weren’t able to force any turnovers, but they clearly didn’t need any in this 45-10 blowout win over an overmatched Portland State team. Boise State now gets ready to start Mountain West play as Air Force comes to Boise this Friday.
#3. Memphis Tigers (3)
It’s hard to impress in a game you go into favored by 20, but Memphis showed out in their trip to South Alabama, putting a 42-6 beatdown on the Jaguars that included USA completely botching their extra point attempt after their only touchdown, and Memphis forcing a fumble and returning it for two points of their own. The game also included two fumble recoveries on plays from scrimmage by Austin Hall, the second of which he returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. While it wasn’t as impressive of a defensive performance as allowing just ten points to Ole Miss in the season opener, the six points they allowed were the fewest they’ve allowed since 1993, when they recorded their last shutout in a win over Arkansas. The offense returned to the form we were used to last year, with a dominant rushing attack that featured two backs, Kenneth Gainwell and Kylan Watkins, both rushing for over 100 yards. QB Brady White threw for 209 yards on 12-20 passing with three touchdowns, including one to Watkins, and an interception. They’ve done enough to receive a few votes in the top 25 polls, as have a few teams behind them in my rankings, and are holding off BYU with the additional factor that I don’t think the Cougars are going to pull off another upset win over Washington. The Tigers are taking this week off, and then they host Navy to start AAC play.
#4. BYU Cougars (5)
For the second straight week, BYU beat a Power 5 team in overtime. This time, that meant beating USC in what was somehow only the third meeting between the two programs all-time, the first two matchups coming in 2003 and ’04 in a home-and-home series. They got it done by capitalizing on the Trojans’ mistakes, scoring a touchdown and a field goal on their first two interceptions of the game. Their games have reflected the importance of the turnover battle thus far, getting beat easily by Utah when they lost it, 3-0, beating Tennessee when they won the battle 1-0, and now beating USC with a 3-0 turnover advantage in the game. The third turnover? That would be the game-ending interception, made by safety Dayan Ghanwoloku, who earned a 1-yard rush touchdown but also failed to convert a fourth-and-short in his two carries in the game as he also was used as a short-yardage running option. Zach Wilson completed 20 of 33 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown, adding a rush touchdown as well. Ty’Son Williams ran for 99 yards, his third 90+ yard game in his career and second consecutive, falling a yard short of hitting the century mark for the first time. They made Kedon Slovis look like a freshman who wasn’t USC’s plan at QB this year, which Stanford failed to do the week before, when they were able to intercept three of his passes. If they can force Washington QB Jacob Eason into similar mistakes then they stand a chance at coming away with back-to-back wins over ranked opponents for the first time since 2009 when they beat 22nd-ranked Utah in their Mountain West and regular-season finale, then beat 16th-ranked Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl to end the year ranked #12.
#5. Army Black Knights (4)
Army earned a fairly convincing 31-13 win over UTSA this weekend but moves a step backward in my rankings. That’s more about BYU than the Black Knights, but it also has to do with the fact that Army’s two wins so far are against teams ranked in the bottom ten of ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). They won’t get a chance to beat a quality opponent this week either when they take on an FCS school in Morgan State. In their remaining schedule, they have just four games left against teams in the top 100 of FPI and none in the top 50. Pushing a CFP contender to overtime for the second year in a row is good, but Army still needs double-digit wins for it to be a successful season with that schedule. They had to change plans late in the week as Kelvin Hopkins Jr was unable to play with an injury, so Sophomore Jabari Laws made his first start as their QB, and he promptly became their first player this year to have a 100+ yard rushing game. In total, he had 23 carries for 137 yards and a touchdown while completing both of his pass attempts for eighteen yards. Kell Walker added two touchdown runs on just five carries for 80 yards in the game, and the defense continued to excel. They forced two fumbles, got a third turnover with an interception, and forced five sacks en route to allowing just 51 rush yards for the Roadrunners. They failed to dominate time of possession as they like to do, but still managed to overwhelm the UTSA defense with their triple-option attack. Even with Laws’ success, they’ll hope for Hopkins to be back as soon as possible to resume his quarterbacking duties.
#6. Cincinnati Bearcats (6)
The Bearcats got out to a slow start against Miami (OH), trailing 10-0 at the end of the first quarter before coming alive and rolling for the rest of the game for a 35-13 victory. The win brought their all-time record to 58-59-7 against the Redhawks, who used to own the rivalry until the Bearcats’ current 14-game winning streak. Desmond Ridder struggled in the game, going just 14-30 passing for 186 yards, but he did throw two touchdowns along with an interception. The run game made up for the passing difficulties, including Michael Warren II going for 113 yards and three touchdowns on just twelve carries, including a 73-yard TD run in the third quarter. The defense got to Miami QB Brett Gabbert, younger brother of NFL QB Blaine Gabbert, for five sacks, including two each for Michael Pitts and Malik Vann, with the other sack by Bryan Wright forcing a fumble recovered by Myjai Sanders, ending a scoring opportunity for the Redhawks. Cincy’s defense really bore down on Miami’s running game, allowing just 1.6 yards per carry and 64 total rush yards. It was a good bounceback after getting trounced by Ohio State a week ago before they take a bye week this week and head to Marshall next Saturday.
#7. Appalachian State Mountaineers (7)
The Mountaineers are coming off of a bye week preparing to take on North Carolina this Saturday. App State currently ranks 8th, per FPI, in conference win probability, at 34.9%. That’s behind some of the most likely playoff participants in Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Ohio State, two of the teams at the top of my rankings in UCF and Boise State, and Oregon. They actually have three games left in which they’re FPI underdogs in spite of having their remaining schedule ranked 110, with trips to UNC, South Carolina, and Louisiana remaining as games FPI expects them to lose. When you compare that with the Ragin’ Cajuns, who are favored by FPI in all their remaining matchups but have just two with greater than 77% odds, and you have to wonder whether a Sun Belt championship would be happening in Boone or Lafayette. It would likely depend on which team’s defense could improve enough to get them to 7-1 in-conference instead of 6-2. At any rate, App State’s offense has looked like it can keep them with anyone, and they’ll be actually put to the test for the first time this week in Chapel Hill, and we’ll finally have at least some sort of an answer for how the Eliah Drinkwitz era is going so far.
#8. Western Michigan Broncos (10)
The Broncos are FPI favorites in the MAC, FPI favorites in all of their remaining games (though games at Syracuse and Toledo are lower than 60%), and their offensive efficiency is ranked sixth by ESPN in a metric that, to be fair, I’m not sure if it adjusts for opponent quality, but with one of their three games so far coming against the stingy defense of Michigan State still looks impressive either way. Also, their defense figured out how to be competent this weekend against Georgia State. After GSU’s first three drives in which they scored a field goal, got the ball as far as the WMU 27 before failing to score, and scored a touchdown, they would log only two more plays from Western Michigan territory the rest of the game. Those two plays were a sack on 3rd-and-5 that forced a punt and an interception. Adding on to the 57-10 beatdown was LeVante Bellamy and the Broncos’ running game thrashing the Panther defense. Bellamy had touchdown runs of 60, 36, and 73 yards as part of a fifteen carry, 192-yard game. Sean Tyler added touchdown carries of 61 and 30 yards as he ended with 138 yards on the game and Western ran for a program-record seven touchdowns while putting the ball on the ground 44 times and gaining 450 rushing yards as a team. They won’t be able to run all over most of the teams they play like that, and that’s when the arm of Jon Wassink, who was 15-20 for 246 yards and a touchdown, comes in. Since he became the starter in 2017, the Broncos are 13-7 when he plays and 2-6 when he’s been out with injury. Keeping him healthy might be the key to the MAC championship for Western Michigan this year. They play at Syracuse this week in their last out-of-conference game this year.
#9. Marshall Thundering Herd (11)
Marshall beat Ohio at home this past week in spite of dismissing running back Tyler King, who had over 1500 rushing yards in his 2+ years there, from the team during the week for an unspecified violation of team rules. Brenden Knox responded by stepping up with 133 yards and a score as one of four players who ran for at least 50 yards for the Thundering Herd (along with Sheldon Evans, Xavier Gaines, and Isaiah Green). Gaines went for 52 yards on just three carries, including a 26-yard touchdown, while also catching three passes for 52 yards including the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Green didn’t outduel Nathan Rourke of the Bobcats in a battle of two of the best mobile quarterbacks in the Group of 5 if not all of college football right now, but he did enough, throwing for 206 yards, throwing 17-28 with two touchdowns. The defense did just enough to hold Ohio to 31 points, including a key missed field goal by Bobcats kicker Louie Zervos from 43 yards just before halftime. Marshall would later miss an extra point, but the more embarrassing miss ended up being the less important one in the 33-31 victory. Marshall will next host Cincinnati after a bye week to finish off an out-of-conference schedule that was about as tough as you can get without playing a Power 5 team, as they played Boise State, Ohio, and Cincinnati still upcoming.
10. Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (8)
No one expected Hawai’i to go into Seattle and beat Washington, but if you told someone the Huskies would be up 38-0 in the second quarter, you probably would have gotten some raised eyebrows. It was a disappointing effort from Hawai’i after beating two Pac-12 opponents (Arizona and Oregon State) to start the year. The slow start for the Rainbow Warriors included a pair of interceptions by Cole McDonald and a two missed field goals by Ryan Meskell. To be fair, they were 55-and-49-yarders, not exactly easy field goals to make, but Hawai’i didn’t do themselves any favors by making so many miscues early in a game they were already heavy underdogs in. They bookended halftime with touchdowns, with Miles Reed recovering his own fumble in the end zone just before the break and rushing for another TD in their first drive of the second half. McDonald then got a touchdown pass to Cedric Byrd II before throwing his third interception of the night on their next drive. The 20 points they got from those three scores was all they’d get, and the Huskies tacked on two more fourth-quarter touchdowns to make it a 52-20 final score. McDonald ended up with a 22-35 game with 218 yards, a touchdown, and three interceptions. Hawai’i takes on Central Arkansas this week in what should be a tune-up game before their Mountain West schedule starts.
11. Fresno State Bulldogs (9)
Fresno State drops two spots in a bye week largely because last week I said I didn’t want to put them up so high. They played hard-fought games against USC and Minnesota, but the fact remains that they’re 0-2 with a remaining strength of schedule ranked 120th by ESPN. The good news is that weak schedule has led to them being given at least 80% odds at winning six of their ten remaining games. The four games that should decide their season are October 12th at Air Force, their Mountain West opener, games at Hawai’i and San Diego State on November 2nd and 15th that will likely be the other teams fighting for the division title in the West division, and November 9th vs Utah State, another tough game in a division crossover from the Mountain division. This week, the Bulldogs take on Sacramento State in a game where they’ll try to get their offense rolling, especially senior QB Jorge Reyna, who had big shoes to fill when Marcus McMaryion graduated after being a two-year starter, throwing for 3629 yards and 25 touchdowns last year. A less intimidating defense should help calm Reyna down, as he’s thrown three interceptions in their first two games and completed just under 60% of his passes. Not having to throw the ball 35+ times should help with that as well. They should be 2-2 heading into conference action, as they get New Mexico State after hosting Sacramento State on Saturday.
12. Temple Owls (On The Bubble)
The Owls took care of Maryland in a game full of miscues, including four total turnovers, two safeties (both against Temple), five turnovers on downs, a missed field goal by each team, a missed extra point by Maryland, and a failed two-point conversion by Temple. In other words, if you like mayhem as much or more than you like football, this was the game for you. To be fair, the second safety was intentional and ended the game as Temple was just able to run out the clock on the Terrapins after the Owls defense made two stops on goal-to-go situations for Maryland in the last five minutes of the game. On the offensive side, QB Anthony Russo was 20-37 for 277 yards, including 132 to Jadan Blue, and three touchdowns. Re’Mahn Davis and Jager Gardner, who split running back duties for the Owls, both went for over 80 yards on the game, helping control the ball in spite of Temple’s three turnovers. Defensively, linebacker Shaun Bradley and defensive tackle Ifeanyi Maijeh were difference makers, with each recording three tackles for loss. Bradley, a senior and third-year starter, also had a pass breakup in the game, while two of Maijeh’s tackles for loss were sacks of Maryland QB Josh Jackson. FPI has the Owls winning 7.6 games (not including a bowl game) this year, but I think they’re more likely to go 8-4 than 7-5, and that was good enough last year to have them ranked, and they didn’t have a letdown season-opening loss like last year’s opener against Villanova, so they’re only an upset or two away from a 9-3 season and looking competitive with Cincinnati and UCF in the AAC East. Temple travels to Buffalo this week to take on the Bulls, who were briefly a conference opponent when Temple was in the MAC for football.
13. San Diego State Aztecs (15)
San Diego State took care of business this week when they traveled to New Mexico State, winning 31-10 in a game that was never particularly close. This included rushing for 251 more yards than the Aggies (though they threw for 183 less), forcing six sacks and four turnovers, and winning time of possession by just over ten minutes. Running backs Jordan Byrd and Chance Bell both ran for over 100 yards, Byrd with two scores on the game and Bell with one. Ryan Agnew was 16-27 for just 116 yards with both a touchdown and a pick, but that was all the Aztecs needed from him, and they hope to run the ball well enough to not need much more out of him at any point this season. Dwayne Johnson Jr, the son of a different Dwayne Johnson than the famous former Miami Hurricane turned pro wrestler turned actor, recovered a fumble that led to SDSU’s first score of the game. Interestingly enough, NMSU also has a player who, with just a quick glance at the program, looks like he might be the son of a famous actor in Robert Downs III, who’s a letter away from people thinking he’s the son of Iron Man. Darren Hall, meanwhile, had just three tackles in the game, but used two of them to force fumbles, both of which the Aztecs recovered. The other SDSU players involved in the turnovers were Tariq Thompson (fumble recovery), Kyahva Tezino (interception), and Luq Barcoo (interception). It was a good day for basically everyone who suited up for San Diego State defensively, as Keshawn Banks (2), Cameron Thomas (1.5) and Myles Cheatum (1.5) were involved in multiple sacks on the day. The Aztecs now get ready for Utah State for their Mountain West opener.
14. Ohio Bobcats (12)
Ohio just couldn’t quite do enough against Marshall in the 33-31 loss. Usually, passing and rushing for over 200 yards each in a game is a good sign that your offense is controlling and moving the ball, and leads to a victory. It doesn’t quite work out when your opponent also throws for over 200 yards and rushes for just over 300. Nathan Rourke looked like the guy who is in the conversation for best player in the MAC that he was expected to be, throwing 15-25 for 215 yards and three touchdowns while running for 118 highlighted by a 72-yard touchdown. It wouldn’t be enough to overcome the poor defense, Jerome Buckner’s fumble, and Louie Zervos’ missed field goal. Fortunately for Ohio, there aren’t any teams in the MAC East as good as Marshall or Pitt, the teams responsible for their two losses, and the Bobcats are given at least a 60% chance to win every MAC game, except for hosting Western Michigan, by FPI and at least a 70% chance against every MAC East team. If they take care of business, they’ll be heading to Detroit on the first Saturday in December for the MAC championship game. They take on Louisiana this week in their final out of conference game of 2019.
15. Wyoming Cowboys (13)
Wyoming nearly falls out of my rankings after struggling against FCS foe Idaho. The Vandals had started the year facing a 79-7 beatdown at the hands of Penn State and beating Division II Central Washington 41-31, and most people would have expected the Cowboys to roll through Idaho, but they got out to another slow start. They’ve trailed by at least ten points in each of their three games this season, and have been able to overcome those deficits so far, but after beating Missouri to start the year there were high hopes in Laramie, but struggling against Texas State and Idaho has dampened those expectations. Quarterback Sean Chambers was just 4-12 passing for 50 yards, running for only 26, both easily worse than their first two games. It was also his first game of the season not scoring a touchdown, as Trey Smith, a graduate transfer from Louisville, had a coming-out game in rushing for 152 yards and two scores including an 80-yard touchdown run early in the fourth to give Wyoming an 8-point lead. The slow start was due in part to Cooper Rothe missing a pair of field goals in the 45-50 yard range on the Cowboys’ first two drives. Another contributing factor in the struggles was the failure to force turnovers, as neither team coughed the ball up after Wyoming had forced six takeaways in their first two games. They travel to Tulsa this week to play the Golden Hurricane for the first time since 1998 when both teams were in the WAC.
On the Bubble:
Air Force, Houston, Toledo, Southern Miss, SMU, Louisiana
It’s a down week for good Group of 5 matchups, as among our fifteen ranked teams we have four playing Power 5 opponents, three taking on FCS schools, three more have byes, leaving just five teams, four of which are our 12-15 teams, playing other Group of 5 teams, with the Boise State-Air Force matchup being the only other one. That game likely won’t have the level of intrigue of the Ohio-Louisiana game or the San Diego State-Utah State contest, which get co-Group of 5 Game of the Week honors (this is still very unofficial, but we’re working on it with the NCAA). It’s hard to believe that after this weekend many teams will be a third of the way through their season already, but it’s true. It’s about time we get some conference games going so we can start to talk about the title races clearing up.