It was a week full of upsets, blowouts, and disappointments in college football this weekend, and we’re here to try to look past that mess and see where the Group of 5’s top teams stand heading into week nine. To view last week’s rankings, that are very different than the list we have now, click here. We have our third different #1 team of the year after Boise State couldn’t quite come back after surrendering a 21-point third quarter to BYU, who stays ranked and bolsters there spot with the upset victory. Further down, more upsets have the MAC race taking a turn no one saw coming before the season, and the C-USA race is starting to take shape and they’ve earned a team getting back into my rankings. Anyway, here are week 9’s Group of 5 rankings.
#1. Cincinnati Bearcats (Last Week: 2)
Cincinnati now stands as the second-highest ranked team by the AP Poll (which I disagree with, clearly) in the Group of 5 after their win over Tulsa, 24-13, this weekend. It was a disappointing performance from the Bearcat offense, as Desmond Ridder threw for just 122 yards and Michael Warren II was held in check by the Golden Hurricane, accounting for just 35 rushing yards on thirteen carries. But the defense came up big with some momentum-changing plays, forcing five turnovers. The first was on the opening drive, giving the offense the ball in a spot where they were able to kick a field goal without even getting a first down. The second, another fumble by Tulsa QB Zach Smith, led to a blocked field goal for Cincy as they failed to capitalize on an opportunity to grow what was at the time a 10-0 lead. On Tulsa’s next drive, Ja’von Hicks intercepted a pass in the end zone to prevent the Golden Hurricane from getting on the board. It was a 17-13 Cincy lead when they failed a 4th-and-3 from Tulsa’s 12-yard line with just over four minutes remaining, but Darrick Forest came up with an interception on the second play of the ensuing drive, and Gerrid Doaks got his second touchdown run of the night, a 27-yarder that all but put the game away, and they truly ended the game with a third fumble by Smith to snuff out their last chance at a miraculous comeback. Cincy now will take a week off before heading to ECU on November 2nd.
#2. Appalachian State Mountaineers (3)
App State looked absolutely dominant, after surrendering an opening-drive touchdown, in their game this weekend as they steamrolled UL Monroe 52-7. Zac Thomas threw for 214 yards (one more yard than UL Monroe’s offense gained the whole game) and ran for 58 more while accounting for four touchdowns. Darrynton Evans outran the Warhawks by himself as he went for 136 yards including a 59-yard touchdown run that got the Mountaineers on the board in the first quarter. They scored three touchdowns in three drives in the first quarter to get an early lead, built it to 31-7 by halftime and cruised to the finish, with their second-string offense providing the final score in the 52-7 victory. The Mountaineers are now given the best odds at finishing undefeated of any Group of 5 team, despite their looming matchup with South Carolina on November 9th. To be fair, their only competition for an undefeated Group of 5 team is now SMU, who still has trips to Houston, Memphis and Navy left on their schedule and if they win all those they get to play in an AAC championship game most likely against Cincinnati, but it stands to reason that a potential undefeated App State team with wins at North Carolina and South Carolina could very well be the best Group of 5 team and head to a New Years 6 bowl game. The Mountaineers play at South Alabama this week as FPI gives them a 95.6% chance to beat the Jaguars.
#3. SMU Mustangs (5)
The other of the two remaining undefeated Group of 5 teams, and the highest-ranked by the AP Poll, the Mustangs are coming off an impressive win as they handled Temple in a 45-21 win. They had well over twice as many yards of total offense as the Owls as Shane Buechele, and more so Reggie Roberson Jr, lit up the Temple defense. Buechele threw for 457 yards, fourth-most in a single game by an SMU quarterback, and tied a school record with six passing touchdowns in a game, while Roberson had 168 yards on just his three touchdown catches (of 33, 75, and 60 yards) on his way to coming just two yards shy of the school single-game receiving record with 250 even on eight catches. Temple had 273 yards of total offense in the game. James Proche continued his pursuit of Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley on the school’s career receiving leaderboards, adding nine catches, 80 yards, and a touchdown, and he’s now 41 catches, 458 yards, and two touchdowns away from the school records for those categories. He’ll continue his treck towards those records as SMU travels to former Southwest Conference foe Houston this Thursday. The Mustangs held a 7-5 lead in the series before they suffered the death penalty, and Houston is 16-5-1 since the return of SMU football including an embarrassing 95-21 Cougar win in 1989, their first year back on the field. SMU has won two of the last three, but you have to go back to 2005 to find the last SMU victory in Houston.
#4. Boise State Broncos (1)
It looks like we’ll be left wondering what could have been for this Boise State team, who suffered one awful quarter to drop their first game of the year, as it looked like they had a good shot to go undefeated. FPI thinks they only have one true test left, as their game at Utah State on November 23rd is the only one they’re not given at least an 82% chance of winning. But that one awful quarter DID happen, as BYU needed all of that 21-0 third quarter to knock off the Broncos, 28-25 in Provo on Saturday. The Broncos felt the loss of Hank Bachmeier at QB, as Chase Cord held his own throwing 18-30 for 185 yards and two touchdowns, but a pair of costly interceptions and inefficiency hurt the Broncos. Both teams missed a field goal in the game, a big storyline in a 3-point game, Boise’s being a 36-yarder that came between BYU’s first two offensive possessions (and touchdowns) of the second half. Boise State has a bye week to shake off that tough loss, and hopefully get Bachmeier back to full health, before they play San Jose State on November 2nd. The Broncos have never lost to their former WAC foes, having a 13-0 record against the Spartans if you count their matchup in 1978 as D-II teams or 12-0 if you only want to count their FBS matchups. Rarely has the game been close, with the Spartans only coming within 14 points of Boise twice in their previous matchups.
#5. UCF Knights (4)
UCF was expected to have an easy week as they hosted ECU and, though a late touchdown by the Pirates made the game look a little closer than it was, they were able to come away with a pretty easy victory. Don’t confuse easy with impressive, however, as the Knights were favored by 34.5 over ECU, whose only win over an FBS school so far was a 3-point victory over Old Dominion. UCF looked well on their way to covering that spread when they built a 35-3 lead in the second quarter, but a 19-0 run by the Pirates had the lead down to thirteen late in the third. UCF helped them mount this comeback of sorts by going 3-and-out on their first two possessions of the second half and giving the Pirates the ball at the UCF 33 after a fumble by Dillon Gabriel to set up the touchdown that trimmed the lead to two scores. They scored a touchdown on their next drive and forced two turnovers in the last 17 minutes to put it away, but the dry spell they went through in the middle of the game made this a mediocre-at-best win. On the bright side, Gabriel looked great other than his fumble, as he threw for a career-high 365 yards and two touchdowns on 22-35 passing, adding 26 rush yards and just his second rushing touchdown of the year. A little more consistency from the offense would help them take care of a tougher opponent in Temple this week, as Gabriel would have looked even better if you took out his 2-7 start to the second half where one of those completions went for a loss of two yards. They’ve faced the Owls every year since 2013, trading two-game winning streaks that currently have the Knights with a 4-2 series lead.
#6. Memphis Tigers (6)
Memphis was supposed to have a tough test this week as Tulane headed to West Tennessee for their matchup that had the Tigers favored by just two points, and then Kenny Gainwell produced 307 yards from scrimmage (104 rushing on eighteen carries, 203 receiving on nine catches) and three touchdowns as they rolled to a 47-17 win. Memphis’ least-productive drive of the first half was a 46-yard touchdown drive, that followed Austin Hall’s incredible one-handed interception, with a failed two-point conversion. Their other four first-half drives all resulted in seven points as they took a 34-10 lead into halftime. Tulane made some adjustments and was able to slow them down after that, though the Tigers still got two field goals and a touchdown on their first four drives of the second half before basically shutting it down just to finish the game. Gainwell wasn’t the only player adding to his highlight reel, as QB Brady White went 21-29 for 358 yards and five touchdowns, an eerily similar game to his 2018 season opener where he was 22-28 for 358 yards and five touchdowns against Mercer. Defensively, Thomas Pickens and Quindell Johnson joined Hall on picking off Tulane QB Justin McMillan, and the defense made seven tackles for loss on the game, with Hall being involved in two of those plays in the backfield along with his pick. Memphis now heads on the road to face Tulsa this Saturday needing to keep winning if they want to get to the AAC championship game.
#7. Tulane Green Wave (7)
I mentioned last week that there was a big gap between Tulane at #7 and Western Michigan at #8, and then both WMU and Temple (who was #9) lost, so Tulane keeps their 7-spot in spite of the bad loss. It was a game to forget for the Green Wave, with Justin McMillan throwing three interceptions after having just two in their first six games this year. On the bright side, McMillan, the LSU transfer, threw and ran for at least one touchdown each for the fourth straight game and the fifth time this season. The run defense was solid, holding everyone but Gainwell to just eight yards on sixteen carries, but the pass defense couldn’t do much of anything, as they didn’t record a sack or interception as the Tigers averaged about twelve yards per pass attempt. With remaining road games against Navy, Temple, and SMU, along with a home tilt with UCF, it doesn’t look like Tulane has much of a chance to win the AAC. But if they’re able to split those four games and beat Tulsa in the one other game left on their schedule, an 8-4 season in the AAC is a very good showing for a team like Tulane, who last won eight regular-season games in 1998, when they went 12-0 including a Liberty Bowl win and finished ranked 7th in the AP Poll. Willie Fritz has things looking up for Tulane, and we’ll see if he’s able to find some answer for Malcolm Perry and Navy’s triple-option attack this week.
#8. San Diego State Aztecs (10)
San Diego State now stands as the favorite in the Mountain West-West division after Hawai’i’s back-to-back losses giving up over 50 points. This Aztec defense is in no danger of a meltdown like that, having given up no more than 23 points in a game this year, with that 23-point “outburst” coming in their only loss so far to Utah State. This week, they used that strong defense and ball-control offense that racked up 40:22 in time of possession to earn a 27-17 win at San Jose State. The Aztecs started the game off right with a 95-yard kick return touchdown by Kaegun Williams, and the offense used their slow and steady run game to roll down the clock and pick up points where they could. The best example of that was a 10-minute drive that suffocated the second quarter, starting from their own thirteen, ending on SJSU’s ten, a 20-play, 77-yard drive that ended with a field goal that made it 13-7 going into halftime. A poor kickoff after a second half-opening drive field goal for the Spartans gave SDSU a short field that they still managed to make a 6-minute drive out of, going eleven plays (ten runs) for a touchdown. They had their only offensive play of over 15 yards on their next drive, a 50-yard touchdown run by Chase Jasmin, that pushed the lead to 27-10, and any hope the Spartans had of a comeback was squashed between a failed onside kick after they scored to make it a 10-point game with five minutes left, and an interception on their first play after SDSU punted and pinned them at their own 1-yard line for the second straight drive. The Aztecs decided not to score with the 1st-and-goal they were given by that pick, killing the clock instead by taking a little extra time than standard kneel-downs to run the final 2:08 of game time. They head to UNLV next week before getting three of their last four games at home as they battle for a spot in the Mountain West championship game.
#9. BYU Cougars (14)
A potentially season-saving victory against a ranked team with your third-string quarterback was just what the doctor ordered for BYU. Their season seemed to be falling apart as starting QB Zach Wilson went down with a thumb injury late in the loss to Toledo, leading to Jaren Hall, who’s also an outfielder on BYU’s baseball team, to make not only his first career start but also becoming the first black quarterback to start at BYU, last week against USF. It didn’t go well, as they suffered a 27-23 loss and Hall got hurt. That led to freshman Baylor Romney getting his first career start against the Broncos, and he performed admirably, throwing 15-26 for 221 yards and two touchdowns, both coming on trick plays as they ran a fake QB sneak on a 4th-and-1 that ended up as a 27-yard pass touchdown to Matt Bushman, and later in the third quarter they ran a reverse flea-flicker that again left Bushman open, this time for a 39-yard touchdown. Romney won a battle of backup QB’s against Boise State’s Chase Cord, throwing for 36 more yards and playing turnover-free while Cord had two interceptions. BYU now has a bye week to either get even more prepared with Romney or get Wilson back healthy before taking on Utah State on November 2nd in the battle for the Old Wagon Wheel, which we’ll talk about more next week.
#10. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (13)
It wasn’t always going great for the Ragin’ Cajuns offense last Thursday but when it was they were scoring in bunches. They didn’t score until the last minute of the first quarter and didn’t score at all in the third, but still put up 37 points in a win over Arkansas State in what was expected to be their toughest test left in the regular season. They got explosive runs out of Raymond Calais, who had an 80-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and a 38-yarder in the fourth, finishing the game with 144 yards and those two scores on just eight carries. Elijah Mitchell got more of the brunt of the carries, running the ball 23 times for 109 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Levi Lewis was more efficient than he had been in recent games, though not having a touchdown and throwing an interception for the first time in five games soured it a bit. His 17-24 resulted in the highest completion percentage (70.8%) for him in any game against FBS competition this year, and he got over 200 yards of total offense (181 passing, 36 rushing) for the first time since their win over Liberty in the second game of the season. The offense looked back on track, and now they have a bye week before what should be a pretty easy game against Texas State, with FPI giving Louisiana a 93.2% chance to win.
#11. Temple Owls (9)
It was a rough game for Temple, and one that could be a worrying sign of things to come for the Owls. That game at SMU was the start of a really tough 5-game set that has FPI giving them a combined 129.7% chance at winning in their next four games, essentially meaning they’re expected to go 1-3 with a shot at getting a 2-2 outcome out of these next four. I think Temple is a little better than their 77th ranking in FPI, but I have to admit I don’t see them going better than 2-2 and I think 1-3 is the most likely outcome in games against UCF, at USF, against Tulane, and at Cincinnati. That means most likely a 7-5 finish (assuming a win over UConn in the season finale) that likely won’t keep them on these rankings. But winning two of those games (most likely against USF and Tulane) is possible, and an 8-4 finish would likely keep them somewhere between 10th-15th among Group of 5 teams. In Temple’s three scoring drives against SMU, they had five total 20+ yard plays. Unfortunately, none of their other drives produced even 20 total yards. The big plays led to points, but they’re going to need a lot more big plays or more consistency if they want to have any success over their next four games. Even if they do struggle down the stretch, they’re one win away from bowl eligibility and a likely fifth bowl game in a row after appearing in four in their first 67 years.
#12. Navy Midshipmen (15)
Navy put Southern Florida down hard on Saturday, a 35-3 win that saw them not allow a touchdown to their opponent for the first time since 2013 and holding an FBS team to three points or fewer for the first time since their 17-3 win over Army in 2009. During the route, Malcolm Perry got to 3,000 rushing yards in his career. The senior QB became the fourth Navy player to ever hit that plateau and has a very good chance at catching Chris McCoy (3401) for third place all-time in school history. He tacked on two touchdowns, pushing his career total to 33, putting him in a tie for fifth place with Craig Candeto, just four touchdowns away from matching former teammate Zach Abey, who graduated last year. The midshipmen ran for 434 yards as a team despite USF consistently bringing all their defenders into the box, clearly not worried about Perry’s throwing ability, which was warranted given that he was 0-3 with two interceptions in the game. They’ll need him to do better if any upcoming opponent does a better job of slowing down their run game, but until then the Midshipmen will keep running their way to victory. They face off with Tulane this week in a game in which the loser will find themselves virtually eliminated in the AAC-West race.
#13. Air Force Falcons (On The Bubble)
Air Force makes their first appearance on my rankings after a few trips to the bubble earlier this year after they ran away from Hawai’i in the second half to change the look of the Mountain West-West division. Unfortunately, the Falcons are in the Mountain division and have already lost to Boise State, so FPI gives them just a 5.1% chance at winning their conference despite also giving them a 31.0% chance to win out. In the game at Hawai’i, senior Mike Schmidt, who had three career carries and no pass attempts entering the game, was called on after starting QB Donald Hammond III left the game after falling on his throwing shoulder. Nerves, pressure and the Rainbow Warriors defense combined weren’t enough to stop Schmidt, who completed his first four passes and finished 5-6 for 147 yards and a touchdown, adding 120 yards on fourteen carries and three rushing touchdowns. Hawai’i couldn’t really stop any part of the Falcons run game, as Timothy Jackson and Kadin Remsberg both also averaged over eight yards per carry with more than ten attempts each, combining for 204 yards and three touchdowns. It ended up as a 56-26 blowout as Air Force took a 28-20 lead into halftime and turned on the jets to close it out. Defensively, Demonte Meeks had eight tackles, four for loss, and two sacks in what would have been the standout defensive performance of the night if it wasn’t for Milton Bugg III’s 92-yard pick-six after Grant Theil jumped in front of the Hawai’i receiver and had the ball bounce off of his hip, knee and lower leg as he tried to corral it for himself before basically kicking it into Bugg’s arms. It was an unbelievable play to cap a great game for the Falcons, who head back home to play Utah State in what FPI believes is their toughest remaining game, giving Air Force a 66.3% chance to win.
#14. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (OTB)
Louisiana Tech hops into our rankings as they’re out to a 6-1 start after beating Southern Miss 45-30, a huge win for their C-USA hopes, as they now are the clear favorite in the West division. This is their first appearance on my rankings this year after a brief appearance last year before losing back-to-back games to end the season. They’ll hope for a better stretch run this year, but it won’t be easy as they have games against North Texas and at Marshall and UAB sandwiched between easier contests against UTEP and UTSA yet to come. They dug themselves into a hole against the Golden Eagles, giving up a kick return touchdown to open the game and allowing another score on their next possession before their offense responded with a long touchdown drive of their own. The Bulldogs then forced Southern Miss QB Jack Abraham into a mistake, throwing an interception on the first play of their next drive and Tech went for a one-play touchdown drive. They went back and forth like that until halftime, where USM led 27-24. A failed fake punt by USM led to the Bulldogs’ first lead early in the fourth quarter, and then things fell apart for Abraham and the Golden Eagles. On their next drive, they had a 1st-and-goal at the two, lost three yards on a rush attempt, and then Abraham was picked off in the end zone. Tech gained 70 yards on their first play of the next drive and scored to make it 38-27. USM had trimmed the lead to 38-30 and had the ball with just under two minutes left when Abraham threw a pick-six to Ezekiel Barnett. Another interception on their next drive, the third of the game for Amik Robertson, officially ended it. The Bulldogs move on to play UTEP, whom they’re 12-2-1 against all-time and on a 6-game winning streak in the series.
#15. Utah State Aggies (OTB)
The Aggies snag the bottom spot in my rankings ahead of their big matchup with Air Force after a 36-10 win over Nevada. It’s hard to have much of a complaint with what they’ve done so far this season, as they’re 4-2 with those losses being by three points at a ranked Power 5 team (Wake Forest), and a blowout loss at a top-5, maybe top-3 team depending on who you ask (LSU). This team doesn’t seem like they’re as good as the Matt Wells-led team a year ago before he left for the Texas Tech job, but let’s not forget the success “new” head coach Gary Anderson had here before leaving for stints at Wisconsin and Oregon State, as he led the Aggies to an 11-2 record, Potato Bowl win and a 16 ranking by the AP Poll in 2012. QB Jordan Love hasn’t been nearly as effective as he was last year with Wells at the helm, going from a 64% completion percentage, 8.6 yards per attempt, and a 32-6 TD-INT ratio to 59.6%, 6.8 YPA, and a 7-9 TD-INT rate. The defense has performed well in their wins, and they’ve found good production in the running game from Gerold Bright and Jaylen Warren, who both have over 400 yards and four touchdowns so far. The defense will be faced with a very new challenge with Air Force this week, who they beat last year after suffering three straight losses to the Falcons. FPI still only projects them at about 7-5, and they’ll need at least one upset to keep their spot in these rankings.
Western Michigan (8), Toledo (11), Hawai’i (12)
On the Bubble:
Hawai’i, Western Michigan, Toledo, Western Kentucky, Ball State
What a wild couple weeks it’s been for the MAC. The MAC East currently has no teams above .500, with Ohio, Kent State, Miami, and Buffalo all at 3-4, and the conference as a whole has no team with less than three losses (no other conference has lost all their zero-or-one-loss teams yet and the Sun Belt is the only other conference without multiple such teams). Ball State now has to be considered the favorite sitting at 3-0 in-conference having just walloped the previous favorite of Toledo 52-14, and Central Michigan suddenly finds themselves in second place, though they’ve yet to play Ball State or Toledo. This week, we have some ranked matchups as Tulane plays Navy, UCF travels to Temple, and newcomers Utah State and Air Force square off in what is now Usaf Academy, Colorado, as apparently, the US Census designated that as it’s own area just outside of Colorado Springs. I was today years old when I learned that. We’ll see you next week.