Group of 5 Power Rankings: Week 8

The AAC is really trying to prove their point in calling themselves a “Power 6” conference as their top teams dominate these rankings. Though Boise State seems to control their own destiny to get to a New Years Six bowl game, if they went undefeated and SMU or Cincinnati won out you could make an argument that a second Group of 5 team should be invited to a New Years Six game as one of the top twelve teams in the country. The MAC race took an unexpected turn as Toledo stumbled while other favorites (Boise State, Appalachian State, Cincinnati) continued to stretch their lead on the rest of their conferences. To check last week’s rankings before this major shakeup in the middle to bottom, click here. Let’s get into the new rankings.

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

BoiseBoise State was able to earn a convincing victory over Hawai’i even as Hank Bachmeier, their true freshman starting quarterback, left the game early in the second quarter with an injury. Chase Cord played most of the game after Bachmeier went down, throwing 12-18 for 175 yards and three touchdowns. Jaylon Henderson, who’s been battling Cord for #2 on the depth chart, also saw some action as he was 6-10 for 82 yards and a score in the 59-37 win. It’s not clear if Bachmeier will be healthy in time for their game against BYU this week, but head coach Brian Harsin seemed confident that the injury wasn’t too serious, saying it was “something along the lines of a hip pointer” and that he would be fine going forward. As much as it seems like the offense won you the game when it’s a 59-37 final score, the defense was active as well, forcing three fumbles in the first half, all leading to touchdowns for the Broncos as they got out to a 31-14 lead. That lead got as big as 52-21 at the end of the third quarter before Boise let off the gas in the fourth with the victory in hand. FPI now gives them a 23.3% chance to win out, which would be their first undefeated season since 2009. This week’s game at BYU, a game that the schools are making somewhat of a rivalry out of, having played each other every year since 2012 and having future games scheduled through 2034 but without a game planned in 2024, is one of their toughest left on the schedule along with a trip to Utah State on November 23rd. They’ve beaten the Cougars in three straight years after going back-and-forth with the home team winning each game from 2012-2015.

#2. Cincinnati Bearcats (2)

CincyThe Bearcats traveled to Houston and rode their opportunistic defense to a 38-23 win. That defense came away with 5 turnovers, all of which played a role in building the lead or sealing the win. The first two were both interceptions by Ja’von Hicks, the first leading to a three-play touchdown drive that made it 21-10 in the second quarter, the second coming on the last play of the first half as Houston QB Clayton Tune tried to send a ball to the end zone on a prayer that a Cougar receiver would come down with it. A fumble by Terrell Brown, forced by Joel Dublanko and recovered by none other than Hicks, set up Cincy for another short-field touchdown drive to make it a 28-17 lead, and with about three and a half minutes to go, Bryan Wright smacked another pass by Tune up in the air, and Perry Young, who had been on a blitz from the other side, tracked it down and caught it at about the 2-yard line and scored with it, all but sealing the win as that pushed the score to 38-23, and a Coby Bryant interception in the end zone on Houston’s ensuing drive officially ended it, as it took just a single kneel down by Desmond Ridder, who was 14-24 for 263 yards while adding 50 yards on the ground and four total touchdowns, to run out the clock. They have a pesky Tulsa team that took SMU to triple-overtime two weeks ago coming in next week, and then the schedule gets light for a bit as they have matchups against ECU and UConn after that.

#3. Appalachian State Mountaineers (4)

Appalachian StateApp State earned a big win over Louisiana this week en route to becoming the highest-ranked Sun Belt team ever at #24 in the latest AP Poll. Since its founding in 2001, this is only the third week that a Sun Belt team has been ranked, following the weeks of November 13th 2016 when Troy was #25 before losing at home to Arkansas State, 35-3, and October 21st of last year when App State was #25 before losing at Georgia Southern, 34-14. If this team could avoid a similar disappointing loss, and UL Monroe isn’t as good as those teams that the previous ranked Sun Belt squads lost to, they could be the first Sun Belt team to have a sustained run in the rankings and could earn the first postseason ranking for a Sun Belt team, something they nearly accomplished last year. They won their game this week on the back of a stunning defensive performance. After giving up no fewer than 31 points in their first three games against FBS opponents, a 17-7 victory stands out. Not only were there only 24 points scored in this game (that had an over/under of 70), but there were no turnovers, just consistent defensive stops. App State’s defense held the Ragin’ Cajuns to just 4-13 on third down conversions, stopped them twice on fourth downs (a 4th-and-goal at the 1-yard line to protect a 7-0 lead in the second quarter and a 4th-and-7 at App State’s 34 with 40 seconds left to seal the game), to hold a team that was averaging over 200 pass yards and 250 rush yards a game to 131 through the air and 123 on the ground. The Mountaineers will hope this was a sign of growth from the defense and just a tough matchup that the offense bounces back from as they go forward in their Sun Belt schedule with UL Monroe coming to Boone to take them on this week.

#4. UCF Knights (5)

UCFUCF had a week off after suffering their first AAC loss since they were beaten by Quinton Flowers, Marlon Mack and a USF squad coached by Charlie Strong. The expectations have changed now, as at this point it’s really just “win as many games as you can” territory for the Knights as Cincinnati should be in good shape to win the AAC East and play in the championship game, leaving the Knights looking at a likely second-or third-place finish in the AAC and a trip to the Gasparilla Bowl or the Frisco Bowl or something like that. They’ll look for Dillon Gabriel to keep improving as he gets more experience and they’ll hope to return to the top of the AAC next year behind him, Greg McCrae, and Bentavious Thompson, who are two of their four current backs with over 200 rushing yards on the year. We’ll see how long and how successful Josh Heupel will have to be to start getting looks from major conference programs and people don’t see him as just the beneficiary of what Scott Frost built in Orlando. The Knights are hosting ECU this week coming off their bye week.

#5. SMU Mustangs (6)

SMUSMU is also coming off a bye week after a wild win in triple-overtime against Tulsa. They’ve manufactured a powerful offensive attack with Texas transfer Shane Buechele at quarterback having thrown for 1665 yards and twelve touchdowns so far, and senior running back Xavier Jones climbing the school’s leaderboards, currently 8th in school history with 2806 career rushing yards, and fourth, having passed the great Doak Walker (who the award for the best running back in college football is named after) in touchdowns with 34. He’s not likely to get to any of Eric Dickerson’s records, but he’s among some great territory of Mustang running backs. Their defense has made some exciting plays of their own with eight interceptions through their first six games, having made 26 sacks along the way led by Patrick Nelson’s 5.5. They’ll look to continue their march towards the AAC title game by beating Temple this week as the Owls head to Dallas.

#6. Memphis Tigers (3)

MemphisMemphis made their road to an AAC championship that much harder when they failed to beat Temple in Philadelphia this past week. The Tigers dug themselves a 16-0 hole by turning the ball over three times in their first four possessions of the game, and though they greatly outplayed Temple after that point, the deficit was too much to overcome as they fell 30-28 to the Owls. They had one more turnover later in the game, and it proved just as costly as the Tigers were trailing just 23-21 when their defense forced a fumble as Temple was moving in the red zone, and their offense was looking like they were going to take advantage of it as they had gotten the ball down to Temples 36-yard line when Brady White fumbled on a QB keeper and the Owls would score on their ensuing drive, restoring a two-score lead early in the fourth quarter. They had the ball twice after trimming the deficit back to two, but weren’t quite able to get into field goal range for a go-ahead score. In spite of White’s 363 passing yards and Kenneth Gainwell’s 106 yards on the ground and a score, Memphis took their first loss of 2019. They host Tulane in another big game this week, and there’s nothing easy with the rest of their schedule, as their “easiest” game left, according to FPI, is the game at Tulsa where they have a 75.4% chance to win.

#7. Tulane Green Wave (9)

TulaneTulane heads into Memphis this week fresh off a 49-7 dismantling of UConn, a performance that earned them a game score (0-100 rating of how well a team performed in a given game, measured by ESPN Stats and Info as part of FPI) of just 64. In contrast, their 42-33 win at Army the week before was a 77. That’s how bad UConn is, but there’s nothing wrong with a 42-point win even if you were playing a high school team. They outgained the huskies by a 400-yard margin, logging 634 yards of offense to UConn’s 234. The Green Wave played a turnover-free game while the Huskies only turned the ball over once, but it was a 20-yard pick-six by Macon Clark. Tulane ran for 311 yards in spite of having just one rusher top 50 and no player run for 100 yards. When eight different players run for over 20 yards, you’re doing something right. Corey Dauphine led the team with 87 yards, 57 of which came on his touchdown run to get the scoring started. Justin McMillan threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns, and when Tulane’s coaching staff decided that was enough of their starting QB for this game, Keon Howard came out and threw 8-10 for 92 yards and another score. It’s a much tougher path than that the rest of the way for Tulane, who travel to Memphis this week and still have games looming against UCF and at SMU at the end of the year.

#8. Western Michigan Broncos (12)

WMUI want to make it clear that there’s about as big of a gap from 7-8 right now as there is from 8-13 or so. The loser of the Memphis-Tulane game might narrow that gap or even fall down below a team or two, but I didn’t want to put Western up this high until I saw what other teams had done and was left unimpressed. WMU pulled away from Miami  (OH) late for a 38-16 game that had been a one-score lead in the fourth quarter. The Redhawks defense played great for the first 20 minutes or so, forcing the Broncos into three 3-and-outs in their first four possessions. Brett Gabbert’s bone-headed attempt at a screen pass as WMU linebacker Drake Spears had stepped right in front of his intended target, running back Davion Johnson, was returned 74 yards for a touchdown, and that seemed to ignite the Broncos. They would force a 3-and-out on Miami’s next possession, and score two more touchdowns to take a 21-6 lead into the locker room. They hit another rough patch starting the second half, failing to pick up a first down in their first four possessions as the Redhawks got the game back to just a 21-16 deficit, before taking advantage of more mistakes by Miami (like Gabbert’s second and third interceptions) to put the game away. LeVante Bellamy ended up with 135 yards on the ground and two fourth-quarter touchdowns as the Broncos found themselves back in the MAC race with Toledo’s loss, and they’ll head to Eastern Michigan this week looking for their first road win of the year to get the monkey off their back and keep them at the front of the battle for the MAC West.

#9. Temple Owls (15)

TempleTemple has been a real conundrum so far in 2019, as they looked great out of the gates with their week three win over then-ranked Maryland, but a 16-point loss to Buffalo didn’t exactly look like a performance from a team that would end up in the top half of the AAC, but three wins later, the latest of which knocked out another ranked team in Memphis, and they’re looking strong again. New coach, same Owls, I guess, as they started last year with a miserable loss to Villanova before going on to have a fine 8-4 season that netted head coach Geoff Collins the Georgia Tech job. They were outgained by the Tigers in their win, but the early turnovers that they turned into easy points were enough to outlast Memphis last week. They had reason to expect more from their offense, especially given that one of those early turnovers gave the Owls the ball at Memphis’ 12-yard line and they failed to move it even a yard forward before settling for a field goal. Nonetheless, they’ll take the win as they continue a rough patch in their schedule with their best chance of winning in their next five games coming in the form of South Florida, who they’re given a 53.8% chance to beat, by FPI, in Tampa. This week, that means a chance at beating their third ranked team of the year as they head on the road to take on SMU.

#10. San Diego State Aztecs (14)

SDSUSan Diego State picked up a big win over Wyoming as they’re in the middle of a Mountain West-West division race that looks like every game is going to matter. The Aztecs had plenty of mistakes in the game, such as missing a field goal after Wyoming had given them a free possession by fumbling on a punt return, or flipping a few points to the Cowboys by failing a two-point conversion while surrendering one on Wyoming’s touchdown that gave them the lead in the fourth quarter. The difference in the two teams eventually showed in the passing game though, as SDSU’s Ryan Agnew threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns while being turnover-free as Wyoming QB Sean Chambers was just 5-14 passing for 109 yards, and paired a score with an essentially game-ending interception by Luq Barcoo, already Barcoo’s fifth interception of the year, with just under a minute and a half left. The loss to Utah State still stings, but the Aztecs control their own destiny in getting to the Mountain West championship game as their biggest threats in the West are Fresno State and Hawai’i, who they play in their last two in-conference games of the year. This week, they play at San Jose State, a team that dominated them when the two teams first started playing each other, winning 14 of the first 17 games between 1935 and 1964 (while SDSU won two and they tied once), but since 1966 the Aztecs own a 19-5-1 advantage over the Spartans and have won every year since 2013 against SJSU.

#11. Toledo Rockets (7)

ToledoToledo suffered the worst loss of any team on my rankings this season as they lost their rivalry game against Bowling Green, a team that hadn’t come within 28 points of an FBS team before last weekend when they overpowered the Rockets to a 20-7 victory. The Rockets missed two field goals, lost a fumble on a second-and-goal play, and threw an interception in the end zone on their final drive. Mitchell Guadagni was actually very effective until he went out of the game after being hurt while suffering a sack on the third down play that led to their second missed field goal midway through the third quarter, throwing 17-20 for 194 yards and a touchdown, but they kept coming up short, failing to capitalize on Bowling Green’s interception late in the second quarter as they had a field goal blocked on a first-and-goal play as the clock hit 0 for halftime. The loss put a big dent in their plans, but they still control their own destiny to getting to the MAC championship. They’ll need to go on a great run, though, as they can only maybe afford a loss with Western Michigan challenging them and Ball State, who they play in Muncie this week, would have a shot if they knock off Toledo, which FPI gives them a 40.9% chance of doing.

#12. Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (10)

HawaiiHawai’i knew they were going into a tough game when they traveled to Boise last week, and they shot themselves in the foot giving up four turnovers in a 59-37 loss. The offense was able to move the ball effectively, with Cole McDonald throwing for 251 yards, running for 54 more and accounting for four touchdowns, but three lost fumbles in the first half put the Rainbow Warriors in a 31-7 hole before they could get anything going against the Broncos, and they weren’t going to overcome that deficit. They’re still the favorite in the Mountain West-West division as they’re favored in the rest of their games, and given at least a 60% chance of winning every game after they play after this week when Air Force comes to Honolulu, as FPI gives Hawai’i a 58.9% chance at beating the Falcons. The two teams played each other regularly in the ’80s and ’90s but saw each other just twice between 1997 and 2015, where they’re now regularly playing each other in the Mountain West. Air Force leads the all-time series, 13-7-1 including a 58-7 win the last time they played in Honolulu in 2015. Hawai’i will look to go against those trends and take down the Falcons as they continue their hunt for the Mountain West title.

#13. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (11)

LouisianaIt was a disappointing loss for Louisiana as they failed to take down App State now for the 7th time in the six years since App State joined the FBS and the Sun Belt. The 17-7 game wasn’t what anyone saw coming as both defenses stepped up and shut down the highest-powered offenses in the conference. For Louisiana, Levi Lewis struggled to be efficient, throwing just 13-24 for 131 yards, and the 5.5 yards per attempt was a season-low for him. They didn’t commit any turnovers, but their defense couldn’t force any either. They held Zac Thomas to a season-low 147 passing yards, but that was on just seventeen attempts, and he added a season-high 63 rushing yards and scored both of App State’s touchdowns on the ground. The defense did a great job in slowing down the Mountaineers’ attack, but they couldn’t make enough disruptive plays to help their offense which was struggling all game. As long as they get past a potentially tricky matchup with Arkansas State this week, we should be heading for the fourth matchup of the Ragin’ Cajuns and App State in the last two years and see a rematch in the Sun Belt championship game. After the game against Arkansas State, FPI gives them no less than a 75% chance in each of their remaining games.

#14. BYU Cougars (8)

BYULast week I still thought BYU was going to be a team that looked better than their record showed because of how tough their schedule was. Then they lost to South Florida and could realistically fall to 2-6 if they can’t bounce back in tough games against Boise State and at Utah State. They went into Tampa as four-point favorites (which felt low to me) and with a 68.3% chance to win according to FPI. When they went up 13-0 early, those odds were up around 90%. They slowly would throw it away, but they still led 16-7 at halftime and 23-14 going into the fourth quarter before falling apart. In that fourth quarter, they had a missed field goal from 39 yards while they still led 23-21. After USF had scored to make it 27-23 (with a missed PAT), the Cougars had their two remaining drives both end on fourth downs where the first down marker was inside the 5-yard line. Make the earlier field goal, you’ve got a chip shot for the lead. Convert either of those red zone attempts, you’ve got the lead late in the fourth quarter. But they couldn’t convert, dropped to 2-4 on the season, and are in danger of failing to reach a bowl game for just the second time since 2004. They’ve got Boise State coming to Provo for their developing rivalry that they have more games scheduled for the future than they’ve played in the past, as the Broncos currently have a 7-2 lead in the all-time series.

#15. Navy Midshipmen (On The Bubble)

NavyNavy’s only loss so far this year is at Memphis, and they just picked up a convincing 45-17 win over Tulsa as they try to prove they belong among the top half of the AAC this year. The option was working to perfection for the Midshipmen, as QB Malcolm Perry ran for 218 yards and three touchdowns, two players (Tazh Maloy and Jamale Carothers) had over 50 rushing yards on just 5 attempts as Navy ran for 388 yards and six touchdowns against a hopeless Golden Hurricane defense. The defense was amazing in the first half, allowing just five first downs and one field goal, also forcing a missed field goal by Tulsa after they fumbled away the opening kickoff. They cleaned it up after that though, as that was the only turnover of the game for either side, and the Midshipmen had just four flags thrown on them while Tulsa committed ten penalties in the game. They held Tulsa’s Zach Smith to just 23-49 passing, his 254 passing yards unable to cover for the fact that he only managed 5.2 yards per attempt. They were disruptive all game long, with four sacks, six other QB hurries, and 9 passes deflected to prevent the Golden Hurricane’s offense from ever getting going. They now host South Florida before games against Tulsa and at UConn, giving them a decent chance at being 7-1 heading into their matchup at Notre Dame on November 16th.

Dropped Out

Army (13)

On the Bubble

FAU, Utah State, Southern Mississippi, Air Force, Louisiana Tech

We’ve got three ranked matchups this week, as the AAC is going to ensure we get some every week and Boise State traveling to BYU gives us another intriguing matchup. The AAC games of note this week are the Tulane-Memphis and Temple-SMU matchups. We also have some bubble watch going on with Hawai’i playing Air Force and Southern Mississippi traveling to Louisiana Tech. As always, we’re excited to have more questions answered about the top Group of 5 teams and continue to look ahead as the conference races become more clear. See you next week.

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

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