Group of 5 Power Rankings: Week Five

Wow. What a week of college football. For the second time in the last five years, we’ve seen a team from Michigan basically win a game on a blocked punt, this time it was Eastern Michigan returning a blocked punt for a touchdown to beat Central Connecticut State, not quite as impressive as their win at Illinois the week before. UCF’s 27-game regular-season win streak came to an end as Pitt pulled out some trickery in the final minute to beat the Knights. For the second straight week, we had a team go from on the bubble to beating an AP top 25 team, with SMU knocking off TCU. Wyoming, who dropped out of these rankings, fumbled the ball on third-and-goal against Tulsa in the final minute when trailing by three. And those were just the midday games. All this after I basically said it was going to be a boring week in last week’s article, which you can check out here. Let’s get to the much-shaken-up rankings.

#1. Boise State Broncos (Last Week: 2)

BoiseFor the first time since I began publishing these rankings last fall, we have a team other than UCF at the top. And who else to do it but the most consistent Group of 5 team of the last 20 years in Boise State. The Broncos took care of Air Force on Friday night with a 30-19 victory, highlighted by freshman QB Hank Bachmeier with another impressive performance, throwing for 263 yards on 19-26 through the air with two touchdowns. The defense came up big yet again, including Kekaula Kaniho’s interception (and 50-yard return) that set up Boise’s final score to make it a 30-13 game late in the fourth and really put it away. The run game didn’t do much for the Broncos until the fourth quarter, when Robert Mahone finally got some consistent success, running for 52 yards on seven carries and scoring two touchdowns just in the fourth. He ran thirteen times for 75 yards total in the game. After winning their 20th consecutive conference opener, ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) has their Mountain West title odds at 61.2%, fourth highest in the country behind Clemson, UCF, and Oklahoma. They also have their win out chances at 12.5 percent, behind those same three teams plus Alabama and Ohio State. Boise State gets a break this week before traveling to UNLV for their first game against the Rebels since 2016. The Broncos haven’t lost to UNLV since 1976, which was the fifth of six consecutive years that the then-Division II schools played each other. Boise State has won all four matchups since the two schools became conference opponents in the Mountain West.

2. UCF Knights (1)

UCFThey fell for the Philly special. No, wait, the Pitt special. At least that’s what Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi called their fourth-and-two call with a minute left that gave Pitt the lead. Coming into the weekend, there was a fairly reasonable scenario to get UCF to the playoff, involving the Knights going undefeated, multiple Power 5 conferences having a two-loss champ (and Notre Dame having at least two losses), and no teams with a great resume as one-loss Power 5 non-champs. That possibility is gone now, as a 1-1 record against mediocre Power 5 teams (as it looks like Stanford and Pitt are) won’t get you into the playoff no matter what else you do. They were fortunate to even be in the lead late in the game, after starting out trailing 21-0 and Pitt missing two field goals in the game. Even just surviving a game they didn’t play well in wouldn’t have helped their playoff chances, but the loss likely loses them the inside track to even be the Group of 5 team in a New Years Six bowl game, with Boise State likely taking that spot for as long as they remain undefeated. Dillon Gabriel was sacked six times as he threw 25-42 for 338 yards and two touchdowns but also threw two interceptions in the loss. Gabriel Davis and Tre Nixon did the heavy lifting on the receiving end, with Davis catching ten passes for 151 yards and both touchdowns while Nixon caught seven balls for 136 yards. Otis Anderson added a highlight with an 87-yard punt return touchdown that gave UCF a 24-21 lead at the time, but Pitt managed to pull out the 35-34 upset with the late heroics of Aaron Matthews, who had played QB in high school, throwing to Panthers QB Kenny Pickett for the 4th down go-ahead score. UCF takes on UConn this week in a game FPI gives them greater than a 99% chance of winning.

#3. Memphis Tigers (3)

MemphisMemphis took the safe route in a week full of carnage and didn’t play. They’re heading into their game against Navy this week as a battle of two unbeaten teams in their respective AAC opener. How they’ve gotten there is a bit different, with the Midshipmen beating Holy Cross and ECU while the Tigers have beaten an SEC team, but it’s still true that they both head into the matchup undefeated. Memphis is just the much more likely team to come out of the weekend with a zero in the loss column. They’ll look for junior quarterback Brady White to pick apart the Navy defense this week, as each of their last two games he’s averaged over ten yards per attempt and thrown multiple touchdowns. This offense has already seen three different backs run for 100 yards, with senior Patrick Taylor Jr, questionable for Thursday’s game after missing the last two with an injury, rushing for 128 against Ole Miss, and Kylan Watkins and Kenneth Gainwell both got to the century mark for the first time in their collegiate career against South Alabama. That kind of rushing attack allows them to be able to go toe-to-toe with the Midshipmen on the ground, something few non-military schools can claim. Memphis is favored in each of their remaining games by FPI, but after their next two, they’ll likely need to be surviving close games, as their final seven games all lie between 55% and 71% win probability, meaning they are expected to be playing a lot of one-score games down the stretch.

#4. Appalachian State Mountaineers (7)

Appalachian StateThe Mountaineers collected their second-ever victory over a Power 5 program this weekend. In both of those games, the last play of the game was a blocked field goal by App State that would have tied or won the game for their opponent. So that’s the biggest storyline from their win in Chapel Hill this week against UNC, but far from the only one that matters. The biggest reason App State was able to beat the Tar Heels was the fact that they limited mistakes while North Carolina committed three turnovers, but that’s not to say the Mountaineers played solid football the whole game. They allowed Michael Carter to take the opening kickoff 75 yards to set up a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage for UNC. Carter also caught a touchdown pass in the final ten seconds of the first half that cut the deficit to ten at halftime when a field goal would have left it as a two-touchdown game. UNC’s first scoring drive of the second half included conversions on third-and-8 (after a fumble that they were able to fall on) and fourth-and-one. App State’s offense completely went to sleep in the second half after scoring on all but one of their first-half drives (an interception, their only turnover of the game). Even with all that, Zac Thomas completed 20 of 29 passes for 224 yards while rushing for 57 more. Darrynton Evans ran for three touchdowns in a 78-yard performance on nineteen carries. And Demetrius Taylor had a huge game defensively, collecting 2.5 sacks including one that forced the ball loose from North Carolina QB Sam Howell, which he then scooped up and returned 20 yards for a touchdown to give the Mountaineers a 13-6 lead late in the first quarter. It was a big win for the program, and they take on Coastal Carolina this week in the Sun Belt opener.

#5. BYU Cougars (4)

BYUI mentioned last week that I had BYU fourth instead of third in part because of anticipating a loss to Washington, so I don’t want to punish the Cougars too much for it. That said, it would have been nice to see more fight than what we got in the 45-19 blowout by the Huskies, who were only favored by 6.5. They allowed over ten yards per pass attempt by Washington and Jacob Eason, who was 24-28 through the air for 290 yards and three touchdowns, and couldn’t really get much going against the Huskies defensive front, averaging just under three yards per carry in the game. That added up to being outgained by over 100 yards, which, coupled with their three turnovers, led to an easy win for Washington. The good news for the Cougars? They’re done playing Power 5 opponents, after managing a 2-2 record against them by winning one of three games against ranked teams and beating the only unranked opponent they faced. The bad news? They have some tough Group of 5 teams coming up, as three of their next four are on the road, including tough ones at Toledo and Utah State, and that one home game is against a ranked team in Boise State. Their schedule is sure to look tougher than any other team not in a power conference or Notre Dame, but they still have some work to do in difficult games before the season will be a success for the Cougars.

#6. Cincinnati Bearcats (6)

CincyThe Bearcats hold steady with a bye week as perceptions of other teams continue to shift, with their win over UCLA looking a bit better after the Bruins pulled off an amazing comeback on the road against a ranked Washington State team in a game that set the record for most points scored in a Pac-12 football game. The other two teams Cincy had played this year, Ohio State and Miami (OH), faced off in Columbus in a big victory for the Buckeyes that included a 42-point quarter, something neither individual team in the UCLA-Wazzou game could claim, as neither of them even scored 30 in a quarter. The AAC East doesn’t look quite as closed off as it did heading into the weekend, as Pitt proved UCF can be beaten in the regular season. Can it happen twice in a month? Fans in southern Ohio certainly hope so. Before they get to that huge AAC opener against the Knights, though, they travel to Huntington, West Virginia to take on Marshall this Saturday. They’ll look to turn Desmond Ridder loose against the Thundering Herd after he’s had his struggles in the opening games this year, having thrown an interception in each of their games so far and suffering nine sacks including four each in their last two games. Their defense has a tough task in trying to stop Marshall’s offense, headlined by electric QB Isaiah Green and running back Brenden Knox. Both sophomores, Green has had games of over 200 passing yards, 40 rushing yards and multiple touchdowns in two of their three games so far, but Boise State completely shut him down. Knox has gone for over 100 yards every game he’s had at least sixteen carries in thus far in his career, in four of the eight games he’s played. With Tyler King having been dismissed from the team, he had a big game against Ohio and the Bearcats are going to have to make sure they don’t let Marshall run wild on them.

#7. Army Black Knights (5)

ArmyArmy pulled away late, but things weren’t exactly pretty as the Black Knights hosted Morgan State this week. They trailed, 14-7, at the end of the first quarter, only had a ten-point lead on the Bears, who were projected to finish eighth in the MEAC coming into the year, going into the fourth quarter, and committed two turnovers, bringing their season total to nine. They gave the ball away just eight times all of last season. They were still without QB Kelvin Hopkins Jr, and that showed as they completed just one of seven passes on the game. To make up for that, the one completion was an 80-yard touchdown pass to Artice Hobbs IV, who also had a single carry on the game that went for a touchdown. You want to talk about efficiency, two touches, two touchdowns wins in my book. Connor Slomka got the heaviest load on the ground, running the ball eighteen times for 110 yards and a touchdown, the first 100-yard game of the senior’s career. Defensively, they allowed some big plays to Morgan State’s passing game, but kept their ground game in check, allowing just 78 yards to the Bears on 31 carries. They struggled to stop Manasseh Bailey, who had six catches for 121 of their 230 pass yards and two touchdowns, but the Army defense was able to make three interceptions on DeAndre Harris, including Ryan Velez returning one 54 yards to set up an easy Army touchdown, as the offense inherited a first-and-goal. Elijah Riley was also huge for the Black Knights defense, as he forced a fumble and had an interception in the game. Army gets a bye this week before hosting Tulane, one of just three games (and the only home game) that FPI doesn’t have Army favored in for the rest of the year.

#8. Marshall Thundering Herd (9)

MarshallMarshall moves up a spot despite their win over Ohio being soured a bit by the Bobcats’ subsequent loss to Louisiana. Still, they’re a team FPI projects to win around nine games and at least make it to their conference championship game. They have just two games left on their regular-season schedule with less than a 67% win probability according to FPI, and one of those is coming up this week as they host Cincinnati. The other, when they play at Florida Atlantic on October 18th, will play a large role in determining who wins the CUSA East division. In the long run, the Thundering Herd will go as far as Isaiah Green and that punishing running game will take them. If they can continue to average at least 200 yards running and throwing per game, they’ll be in great shape to win the CUSA. If either side of the offense stumbles, they might run into trouble, as it’s hard to know what to make of the defense thus far. On the one hand, they held Boise State to 14 points in Albertsons Stadium. On the other, they gave up 17 to VMI and 31 to Ohio and have allowed over 400 yards of offense to both FBS teams they’ve faced. If the offense keeps producing, that’s fine, they can outgun teams. If they get slowed down, they’re going to need the defense to step up in key situations like they did in Boise. Marshall is one of the teams we’ve learned the most about in their out-of-conference schedule, as they’ve played other good Group of 5 schools rather than getting beaten by traditional powers and/or thumping bad teams. Thank you for that, it’s led to some exciting games. Here’s hoping there’s more to come the rest of the way.

#9. Western Michigan Broncos (8)

WMUFPI has varied wildly week to week on the Broncos. They were ranked around 70, given about even odds to win the MAC West with Toledo, then pounded Georgia State, 57-10, went up to the mid-50s and were heralded as the favorite in the MAC, then after this weekend’s 52-33 loss to Syracuse, they’re back down to 65, and Toledo is given the edge over WMU. FPI dropped their chances in the game at Toledo two weeks from now from around 51% to 43% after the results this weekend. As for their game against Syracuse, the final score makes it look less competitive than it was. In the second and third quarters, the Broncos actually outscored the Orange, 33-24. The problem was that in the first and fourth quarters, Syracuse had a 28-0 advantage. The Broncos dug themselves a 21-0 hole when, in the first quarter alone, they failed to convert a 4th-and-1 from the Syracuse 14, fumbled on a punt return that set Syracuse up with the ball in the red zone, and fumbled at about the three yard line on a run play on first-and-10 from Cuse’s 12 yard line. The Broncos would fumble one more time before getting on the board, and then they took off, going on a 33-17 run and putting themselves in a position where they had the ball down just 38-33 early in the fourth quarter. On that drive, they failed a 4th-and-1 from their own 41, and Syracuse then scored to make it a two-score game again. Their next two drives, as they got more desperate, they failed fourth down conversion attempts from Syracuse’s 28 and then their own 27, allowing the Orange to score again and put a bit of a gap into the final score. The offense, when they weren’t turning the ball over, was still productive, as Jon Wassink threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns, and LeVante Bellamy ran for 165 and added two scores on the ground. Western Michigan takes on rival Central Michigan this week in their MAC opener.

#10. SMU Mustangs (On The Bubble)

SMUAs we mentioned in the opening, for the second straight week we have a team jumping into my rankings by beating an AP top 25 team. It was a battle of Christian Texans as Southern Methodist took on Texas Christian, and the Mustangs came out with the Iron Skillet for the first time since 2011 and just the third time in their last 20 meetings. So far, it’s looked like this will be SMU’s best season since they received the death penalty back in the ’80s. They’re 4-0 for the first time since 1984, and saying it’s their best team since the death penalty becomes a lot less bold when you realize that they didn’t make a bowl game for 20 seasons after the scandal, and have won no more than seven regular season games in a year since the reestablishment of the team. Graduate transfer Shane Buechele from Texas has had success so far for the Mustangs, throwing for 288 yards and two touchdowns against the Horned Frogs to bring his season totals to 1159 yards and seven touchdowns. Senior running back Xavier Jones has already run for eight touchdowns on the year, bringing his career total up to 30, and he has his eyes on 3,000 career rushing yards, with 2,530 career rush yards heading into their AAC opener against Southern Florida. The Mustangs are favored in all but one of their remaining games (at Memphis, November 2), and FPI projects them to win 9-10 games, which would easily make it their best season since the program shutdown.

#11. Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (10)

HawaiiHawai’i played just well enough to beat Central Arkansas without too much of a headache. Kai Kaneshiro got the scoring started with a 55-yard pick-six in the first quarter, and the Rainbow Warriors cruised out to a 28-0 lead midway through the second quarter, and then they kind of hit a wall. Their next offensive possessions (or would-have-been offensive possessions) went punt, fumbled punt return, end of the first half, interception, punt, fumble. During this time, the Bears were able to score 16 points, and had an opportunity to cut it down to a one-score game with twelve minutes to play. Hawai’i’s defense came up with the stop, their offense scored one more touchdown, and the final score was 35-16, but for roughly half the game they were outplayed by Central Arkansas. There were some bright spots for Hawai’i though, as QB Cole McDonald completed 25 of 32 passes for 300 yards and four touchdowns along with the interception. Jared Smart became the third different Hawai’i receiver to have a 100-yard game already this year, catching eight passes for 121 yards including a 16-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Hawai’i will now set their sights on Nevada for their Mountain West opener this Saturday, and they’ll try to start 1-0 in-conference for the fourth time since joining the Mountain West in 2012.

#12. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (OTB)

LouisianaThe Ragin’ Cajuns have looked better and better every week. They’ve lost to an SEC school (Mississippi State) on a neutral field, then beat a struggling Liberty team by 21, smashed an FCS school (Texas Southern) by 71, and just beat Ohio in Athens, 45-25. FPI has fallen in love with Louisiana, ranking them higher than in-conference rival Appalachian State, giving them at least a 60% chance to win each of their remaining games which results in them having a 6.6% chance to win out, tenth highest in the country and third best of Group of 5 teams behind UCF and Boise State. The Ragin’ Cajuns finally won the turnover battle for the first time this year, as the Bobcats fell apart at the end of the game, with three of their five turnovers happening in the last five minutes, turning a two-score game that still had some hope of an Ohio victory to a 20-point loss. Their first two turnovers were costly too, with a fumble on a punt return giving Louisiana the ball at Ohio’s two yard line, and the first interception and Kamar Greenhouse’s 45-yard return of it ended a scoring opportunity for Ohio and turned it into a short field for the Ragin’ Cajuns, which their offense also turned into a touchdown. If the high-powered offense, led by junior QB Levi Lewis, with seven touchdowns (and two more rushing) to two interceptions so far, and running backs Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas, who have combined for over 700 yards and eleven touchdowns in their first four games, can keep producing like this then it should be a good year in Lafayette. Louisiana travels to Georgia Southern to kick off Sun Belt play this week.

#13. Toledo Rockets (OTB)

ToledoThe Rockets have back-to-back tough games the next two weeks, hosting BYU to wrap up their out-of-conference slate and then seeing Western Michigan come to the Glass Bowl in a huge MAC opener, and then things get light for Toledo. Those are the only two games that they aren’t given at least a 72% chance of victory by FPI remaining on their schedule. They benefit from getting the Broncos at home, and face Bowling Green and Buffalo as MAC East crossover games, while they also host Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan who figure to be some of the other more competitive teams in the West. They survived a major scare at Colorado State this past week, escaping with a victory in spite of allowing 694 yards of total offense to the Rams. Colorado State ended both halves of the game by getting tackled two yards from the end zone, a heartbreaking way to end a game that you lose by six points. For Toledo, running back Bryant Koback was starting to break out at the end of his freshman season last year, but he’s a name fans in Northwest Ohio will surely get to know now after a 228-yard, three-touchdown performance in the win over CSU. Quarterback Mitchell Guadagni ran and threw for over 100 yards and had a score passing and rushing in the game. He wasn’t very efficient through the air, throwing 6-15, but he stayed turnover-free, and that helped the Rockets keep their offense on the field when their defense wasn’t getting the job done. Toledo and BYU square off for just the second time ever this week, with BYU winning the first matchup in a 55-53 thriller in 2016.

#14. Fresno State Bulldogs (11)

Fresno StateFresno State was tied with Sacramento State with less than ten minutes left in their matchup that they were supposed to wipe the floor with the Hornets. That included three missed field goals by Cesar Silva, who was 5-6 (5-5 on kicks of less than 50 yards) in their first two games. Another miscue was a costly fumble late in the second quarter that turned a possession in which the Bulldogs had crossed midfield and were looking to score to stretch the lead before halftime instead turning into an opportunity that Sacramento state capitalized on by scoring their second touchdown of the game just before the break. I mentioned last week that Jorge Reyna should have an easier job this week, but they ended up needing him to throw 41 passes, 28 of which he completed, for 326 yards and two touchdowns to take care of SSU. On the bright side, they completely stifled the Hornets’ running game, allowing just twelve yards on seventeen carries. For a team that was going from playing two Power 5 opponents in tough, close games to facing an FCS foe, it wasn’t what they were looking for. They’ll need to show more against New Mexico State if they want anyone to start believing in their chances at winning the Mountain West because so far they haven’t looked like a team that’s going to be able to beat the top programs in the conference.

#15. Tulane Green Wave (NR)

TulaneTulane is taking this upcoming week off after an encouraging start to the year. Wins over FIU and Missouri State didn’t tell us much, and a 24-6 loss at Auburn wasn’t bad, but the win over Houston showed a lot of grit from New Orleans’ college team after falling behind 28-7 in the second quarter. The Green Wave benefitted from two missed field goals by the Cougars from 31 and 48 yards. The two teams went back-and-forth in the fourth quarter, with Tulane tying the game less than a minute into the final period, and connecting on a field goal to take their first lead of the game after the 48-yard miss by Houston kicker Dalton Witherspoon. On Houston’s ensuing drive, Witherspoon somewhat redeemed himself by knocking in a 24-yard field goal to tie the game with just 21 seconds to play, and it looked we were going to see some extra football in NOLA, but Tulane wideout Jalen McClesky had other ideas. He caught a pass from Justin McMillan, breaking a poor tackle attempt by two Houston defenders, and taking it to the house with just three seconds remaining on the clock. Time would run out during the kick return, and Tulane had the victory in the conference opener. The defense recovered to their impressive form after a rough first half where they allowed 28 points by allowing 167 yards to the Cougars high-powered offense after they rolled for over 300 in the first half. It’s shaping up to be an interesting AAC West race between unexpected teams with SMU and Tulane jumping into the fray to challenge Memphis.

Dropped Out:

Wyoming (15), Ohio (14), San Diego State (13), Temple (12)

On the Bubble:

Utah State, San Diego State, Ohio, Air Force, UAB

Can this week match last week in terms of wild, unexpected outcomes? Only time will tell. Will it be entertaining? Absolutely. Memphis and Navy start the week off tonight, and after a few games Friday night, we’ll have another Saturday full of thrilling college football. We have two matchups of teams ranked here, with (6) Cincinnati taking on (8) Marshall, and (5) BYU traveling to (13) Toledo. Those games won’t have any impact on conference races, but they’ll give us a clue of where these teams are at before all of them but BYU get into their conference slate in earnest. From there, we’ll be on to October and start to see how teams are able to adjust to the weather starting to cool down around the country.

Stats and info courtesy of ESPNCollege Football @ Sports-Reference.com and Winsipedia.

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