For the second straight year, Georgia Southern knocked off a ranked App State team. Last year, it was an embarrassing 34-14 loss in Statesboro, Georgia. This time, no one saw another upset coming in Boone, but the Eagles didn’t care, knocking off the Mountaineers by a final score of 24-21. Georgia Southern now controls their own fate in the Sun Belt, which you can see in our (annual? Idk it’s year two now) conference championship watch under the rankings of our top 15 Group of 5 teams. To view last week’s rankings, click here. Now, on to the rankings impacted heavily by that upset and the SMU-Memphis shootout on Saturday night.
#1. Cincinnati Bearcats (Last Week: 1)
Cincinnati was lucky to escape with a 46-43 win over an ECU team still searching for their first conference win of 2019. It was a disappointing effort, but the #2 and #3 teams from last week lost, and Cincy is still looking at a scenario in which they simply need to win out to be the Group of 5’s representative in the Cotton Bowl. Not only that, but it would be the third straight year where the top Group of 5 team actually deserves a shot in a New Years Six game as one of the top 12 teams in the country, as if Cincinnati finishes the year with one loss that lone defeat would be at the hands of Ohio State, who looks like a playoff team, and they’d have wins over UCF, Memphis, and possibly Memphis again, but more likely Navy or SMU in the AAC title game. In the game against ECU, Desmond Ridder continued to struggle to throw the ball, with 161 yards on 12-24 passing and one touchdown to two interceptions, but he ran for 121 yards while Michael Warren II ran for 141 and three touchdowns to keep the Bearcats in it. The Pirates were still clinging to a 40-35 lead with just under five minutes to play thanks in large part to the outstanding play of their quarterback Holton Ahlers, who posted career highs in passing yards and touchdowns with 535 and four, respectively while completing 32 of 52 passes. Unfortunately, his biggest mistake of the game was in that situation where they had a 5-point lead with less than five minutes left in the game with the ball already in Cincinnati territory when he threw a pick-six to Ahmad Gardner to give the Bearcats the lead. ECU fought back and kicked a game-tying field goal with 1:10 remaining, but Cincy was able to get into field goal range for Sam Crosa to hit a 32-yard game-winning field goal. Cincinnati will now host UConn, who they’ll hope to handle better than ECU.
#2. Memphis Tigers (6)
Memphis got the biggest win in the Group of 5, and probably the second-biggest win in the country behind Georgia’s win over Florida, last weekend as they bested SMU in a 54-48 shootout. The wild game turned into the Antonio Gibson show as he ran for 97 yards including a 78-yard touchdown, had 130 receiving yards with a 50-yard touchdown reception, and 159 kick return yards including a kick return touchdown, setting a Memphis school record with 386 all-purpose yards and becoming the first FBS player since Leonard Fournette back in 2016 to have a rushing, receiving, and kick return touchdown in the same game. Brady White also shined in the win, throwing for 350 yards on 19-33 passing with three touchdowns, two of which went to Damonte Coxie, who had seven catches for 143 yards including the 24-and 49-yard touchdown passes. It’s easy to forget, with how good the Tigers have been since the formation of the AAC having now won at least eight games in six straight seasons, how poor the Memphis football program was before the AAC and Justin Fuente were around. Fuente was the first head coach since Fred Pancoast, who coached the Tigers during their final year in the Missouri Valley Conference, to move on to a major conference school after leaving Memphis. Pancoast did that in 1975, and the Tigers won eight or more games just twice between then and when Fuente was hired in 2012. Those came in back-to-back years under Tommy West in 2003-04 and included their first time ever being ranked in the AP Poll, in week 3 of 2004 after wins at Ole Miss and against Chattanooga. They were edged out by Arizona State, who beat a ranked Iowa team, and Arizona State, who blew out SMU, the next week, before a loss to UAB set them back. They wouldn’t be ranked again until the final poll of 2014 when Fuente led them to the #25 spot a year before he’d leave for the head coaching job at Virginia Tech. The Tigers now have a bye week before traveling to Houston on November 16th.
#3. Boise State Broncos (4)
Boise State survived a scare from San Jose State, as after not leading until there was 3:28 left in the third and going into the fourth quarter down 34-31, they scored three touchdowns in the fourth for a 52-42 win. Hank Bachmeier was back from injury but failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in his career, throwing 13-17 for 213 yards and an interception. George Holani led the Broncos offense with 28 carries for 126 yards and four touchdowns, three of which came in the second half as Boise State mounted their comeback. It was the closest the Spartans had come to beating Boise State since 2006, when the Broncos earned a 23-20 victory in San Jose, and it was the third-closest overall matchup of the 13 between the two schools, all of which have been Boise State victories. They’re one of the teams with a chance to benefit from the only two Group of 5 undefeated teams losing this week, as it reopened their Cotton Bowl hopes, though they likely will need a two-loss AAC champ to be selected. Boise State takes on Wyoming this week, who they’re 12-1 against all-time dating back to the two schools’ time together in the WAC, and they’re 6-0 at home against the Cowboys with an average score of 33-13 when they square off in Boise. Wyoming and Utah State remain as opponents with only one in-conference loss who could theoretically keep the Broncos out of the Mountain West championship game, but Boise State is heavily favored in those games and to win the conference.
#4. UCF Knights (5)
UCF struggled in the first half against Houston as the Cougars tried to ball control their way to victory, but a 21-0 third quarter put UCF in the driver’s seat as they earned a 44-29 win. Dillon Gabriel continued to be fantastic for the Knights, with his fifth game with at least three touchdowns and no interceptions. He was 21-30 for 298 yards with three touchdowns through the air and adding another score on the ground. Bentavious Thompson had 65 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries in the game, and Tre Nixon also had a pair of touchdowns as he had six catches for 123 yards. The loss to Pitt killed their (very slim) playoff chances, and the loss to Cincy is almost definitely going to keep them from winning the AAC-East. But they’re given no less than a 75% chance at winning each of their last three games by ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), and a 10-2 finish would have them ranked, and a bowl win where they’re likely to be a heavy favorite being probably the best non-champ in the Group of 5 would possibly put them in the top 20 in the final AP Poll. They travel to Tulsa this Friday as they look to continue their strong season with a chance to get to double-digit wins for the third consecutive year.
#5. SMU Mustangs (3)
Their close game luck finally ran out, and SMU fell to 4-1 in one-score games as Memphis ended their undefeated season with a 54-48 victory over the Mustangs. Shane Buechele was great, throwing 34-54 for 456 yards and three touchdowns even without Reggie Roberson, who was leading the team in receiving yards with 803 on the year before getting hurt in their game against Houston. James Proche passed him in yardage on the year with a 13-catch, 149-yard game that moved him past Cole Beasley for second on the school’s all-time receptions list, and closer to Emmanuel Sanders in receptions and yards. His fourth-quarter touchdown tied him with Sanders for the all-time receiving touchdowns record at SMU, and he’s just 21 catches and 226 yards from Sanders on the receptions and receiving yards school records with three games, a possible AAC championship game, and a bowl game remaining. They’ll need some help now to get to the title game, but they play Navy and Memphis has two road games and hosts Cincinnati, so the Tigers could suffer another loss which would allow SMU another chance to win the West division. SMU hosts ECU this week, who doesn’t have a win in-conference this year but was competitive against UCF and Cincinnati, so SMU can’t overlook them even with a trip to Navy coming in their next game.
#6. San Diego State Aztecs (7)
San Diego State had a bye week after another tight victory, as it’s hard to blow teams out when you haven’t scored more than 31 points all year, over UNLV. This week the Aztecs have Nevada coming to town for a game that FPI gives SDSU a 92.6% chance to win. San Diego State probably has the worst offense of any teams in my rankings, but their incredible defense and special teams (ranked 17th and 6th, respectively, by ESPN’s team efficiency ratings) have earned them seven wins so far on the year. That 17th-ranked defense is the best of any Group of 5 team, five spots ahead of UCF. It’s that defense that has allowed more than seventeen points just twice, in their 26-22 win over Wyoming and their 23-17 loss to Utah State, which marked one of only two times they’ve failed to score 20 points this year, the other being their season-opening 6-0 win over Weber State. Wins in their next two games against Nevada and Fresno State would secure San Diego State a trip to the Mountain West championship game, though Boise State is still a heavy favorite to host and win that title game. The Aztecs are going to play in their tenth consecutive bowl game, including all nine seasons that Rocky Long has been their head coach after Brady Hoke got them to an 8-4 season and a Poinsettia Bowl victory before taking off for the Michigan job. This streak comes after having only been to four bowl games in team history before 2009. An interesting note on Rocky Long: he was the head coach at New Mexico from 1998-2008 and went 9-2 against SDSU in his time with the Lobos, and since taking over at San Diego State in 2011 he’s 5-0 against UNM. I haven’t done a ton of research on head coaches dominating an in-conference matchup from both sides at different points in their career, but this seems incredible.
#7. Appalachian State Mountaineers (2)
Three quarters of awful football was all it took to derail what could have been an incredibly special season for App State. On Halloween night, they welcomed in Georgia Southern, and for the second year in a row, they could do nothing but watch in horror as the Eagles worked their way to a big lead over them, holding a 24-7 advantage going into the fourth quarter. The Mountaineers mounted a comeback, getting to within a 24-21 deficit with 4:47 to play, but they had a drive stall at the 50 with a turnover on downs with 2:16 remaining, then had another chance taking over at their own 16 with 1:10 to play, but a hook-and-latter attempt from their own 41 as the last play of the game failed as they ended up getting tackled at midfield. The Eagles now control their own destiny in the Sun Belt-East, just as they did last year after knocking off App State, but losses to UL Monroe and Troy allowed the Mountaineers to win the conference, and App State will hope they stumble again, possibly against the same opponents, for them to still be able to salvage a conference championship from what looked like a possibly program-changing season. They travel to South Carolina, not exactly a game that gives them a great chance to bounce back after such a disappointing loss, but a win would likely put the Mountaineers back into the top 25.
#8. Navy Midshipmen (8)
Navy did exactly what they were supposed to do at UConn: dominate. The Huskies tried to hang around early, as it was 14-10 Navy at one point early in the second quarter, but UConn’s offense made bad mistakes, throwing an interception when they had the ball on Navy’s side of the field, fumbling on a 3rd-and-goal play from the 2-yard line, committing a turnover-on-downs from Navy’s 13-yard line, to continuously lose scoring chances later in the game. The result was the Midshipmen cruising to a 56-10 victory as Malcolm Perry ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns and completed three passes for 165 yards and a touchdown as all three completions went for over 30 yards, Jamale Carothers ran for three touchdowns on just eight carries, picking up 65 yards along the way, and Nelson Smith busted a run for 77 yards and also had a touchdown. The defense forced three turnovers, and Memphis’ win over SMU made Navy technically the leaders in the AAC-West, though they’ve already lost to Memphis and have yet to play SMU. Perry moved to third all-time in school history in rushing yards, passing Chris McCoy as he surpassed the 1000-yard mark for the third time, joining Keenan Reynolds as the only Navy players to ever do so. The Midshipmen have a bye this week before their annual contest against Notre Dame, which will be in South Bend this year.
#9. Air Force Falcons (9)
Air Force struggled with Army, which can happen when the triple-option attacks they run when they finally face a defense that’s used to it. Army switched things up a bit, throwing eleven times with their backup QB Jabari Laws, who completed nine of the passes for 214 yards and a touchdown, helping Army stay in the game, but the Falcons stuck with the option consistently and just let their athletes prove they were better than the Black Knights defense. Timothy Jackson had 155 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown, Joshua Stoner had 59 rushing yards and a touchdown, and Air Force ran for 328 yards as a team, controlled the clock, and bookended the game with 4th-and-goal stops to secure the 17-13 win. It was the fifth straight loss in a hugely disappointing season for Army, who entered the year with hopes of a 9-or 10-win season but now will need a miracle to get bowl eligible. For Air Force, head coach Troy Calhoun has gotten the Falcons in a spot where they have a chance at their first 10-win regular season since 1998, their last year in the WAC. That was also the last time the Falcons were ranked in a postseason poll, another streak they may be able to end this year. This week, Air Force travels to New Mexico, in a game that FPI gives them a 92.1% chance to win.
#10. BYU Cougars (10)
BYU earned a huge 42-14 win over Utah State with Jaren Hall taking the first half at QB, throwing for 214 and running for two touchdowns, then Baylor Romney taking the second half and throwing for 191 with two touchdowns and a pick. They also ran for 221 yards as a team in a dominant showing against the Aggies. It was a sloppy game with eight total turnovers, but five of those were takeaways for the Cougars as Jordan Love threw for 394 yards but needed 49 pass attempts to do so, and threw just one touchdown to three interceptions for Utah State. Love hasn’t looked the same this year without Matt Wells as their head coach, with a worse completion percentage and a 9-12 TD/INT ratio after having a great 32/6 split last year. We’re going to keep banging the strength of schedule drum for BYU, because no other Group of 5 team can boast the kind of opponents they can, having already played four teams that were ranked at the time they played them, and they’ll play San Diego State as their season finale, and the Aztecs are currently ranked #24. They have an easy stretch from now until that matchup, though, with Liberty coming to Provo this week followed by Idaho State and then the Cougars will head to UMass. FPI gives them an 89.9% chance to beat Liberty and over 97% over the Bengals and Minutemen.
#11. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (11)
Louisiana found themselves suddenly as the Sun Belt favorite with App State no longer being confidently in a spot to make the championship game, and their 31-3 win over Texas State this week didn’t hurt either. The offense was up and down, scoring all 31 points in the second and third quarters, and that’s been somewhat of a theme for them this year that they score in streaks. The defense was consistent throughout, forcing turnovers at key times with both of their interceptions coming when the Bobcats were in field goal range to keep them from scoring more. They dominated in a game they were supposed to, and they’ll hope to make that a theme down the stretch as FPI gives them no less than a 77.9% chance in each of their remaining regular-season games. Winning three of their last four including beating their rival in UL-Monroe will ensure them a spot in the Sun Belt championship game, which would have them as a repeat participant in the first two years that the Sun Belt has had a title contest. This week, they’ll play Coastal Carolina for just the second time ever as the Chanticleers are in their third season at the FBS level. Coastal pulled the upset in Lafayette last year, and the Ragin’ Cajuns will look to repay them for the home defeat this year.
#12. Tulane Green Wave (12)
Tulane earned a 38-26 win over Tulsa this weekend. They threw two interceptions in the game, but Tulsa only managed field goals off of both of them, and the Green Wave returned a fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter. That greater capitalization on opportunities was the main difference in the game, as both teams scored six times, but Tulane had five touchdowns and a field goal while Tulsa had two touchdowns and four field goals. Tulsa also had two turnovers on downs in the red zone on the game, and when Tulane was running the ball as well as they were (290 yards as a team, three players over 70 yards), they were only going to get so many opportunities. Justin McMillan threw for 184 yards on 12-16 passing with a touchdown along with two interceptions, running for 73 yards and three scores on the ground. Stephon Huderson added 100 yards on the ground and Corey Dauphine had 78 rushing yards to lead the Green Wave offense. They have a bye week this week before heading to Temple in the last game FPI has them favored in as they’ll end the year with tough contests against UCF and SMU.
#13. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (13)
Louisiana Tech had a bye week between beating UTEP and their game this week against North Texas. The Bulldogs currently sit at 7-1 with their only loss coming in their season opener at Texas, though they’ve only played one other team ranked in the top 100 by FPI, Southern Miss, who they beat by 15 at home on October 16th. FPI gives them a 31% chance at winning the conference, making them slight favorites over Florida Atlantic and Marshall, the top teams in the East division. However, FAU and Marshall are both ranked higher than Tech by FPI, which will likely make them underdogs in the conference championship game unless they host it, so winning out would be in their best interest but road games against Marshall and UAB won’t make that easy. The Bulldogs will hope J’Mar Smith (2,220 pass yards, 13-3 TD/INT ratio) and Justin Henderson (654 rush yards, 12 rush TD) can keep leading their offense that has put up 40+ points in four of their last five games. They have a good chance of going undefeated at home on the year, with North Texas coming to Ruston this week with FPI giving them a 67.3% chance in that game, and finishing the year with a home tilt against UTSA, which FPI thinks they have a 90.6% chance to win.
#14. Marshall Thundering Herd (On the Bubble)
Marshall is in control of their own destiny in getting to the Conference-USA championship game having beaten Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky, the other top teams in the CUSA-East, earlier this year. This week, they beat Rice 20-7 as Isaiah Green (17-22, 269 yards, one touchdown) and Brendon Knox (130 yards on 27 carries, one touchdown) took charge of the offense the way they were supposed to all year but struggled with early, and the defense stepped up, holding Rice to 3-12 on third downs and 0-3 on fourth downs in the win. Marshall controls their own destiny, but it won’t be easy as they have Louisiana Tech coming to Huntington after a bye, and then a trip to Charlotte before closing out the year at home against FIU. FPI favors Marshall in all of those contests, but they’re given no higher than a 72.7% chance at each of the three games, so they’re projected to go 2-1 down the stretch. That could still get them into the championship game if Florida Atlantic loses at least once, but they’re more heavily favored in their remaining games. The Thundering Herd will have to hope they don’t end up with two upset losses to keep them out of the championship game when they beat the other best teams in their division.
#15. Temple Owls (15)
I would like to apologize for an error in last week’s article, where I said Temple would play USF this past week. It was a bye week, and they actually travel to Tampa this Thursday for that game. FPI is not a fan of the Owls, as it ranks them lower than other AAC teams in Houston (3-6), Tulsa (2-7), and USF (4-4) despite their 5-3 record on the year. To be fair, USF had a more difficult out-of-conference schedule, facing Wisconsin and BYU, but they also lost to the same Georgia Tech team that Temple beat, 24-2. Temple’s win over Memphis is better than any on the Bulls’ schedule, and they have a similar bad loss from their loss at Buffalo, but being a game better with a similar schedule should have Temple ahead of them. Tulsa has yet to win a game in-conference and wasn’t very competitive with the two Power 5 opponents they played, and while Houston has played a very difficult schedule, the best team they’ve beaten is North Texas. FPI isn’t giving Temple the respect they deserve, and hopefully the Owls earn a win or two in their next two games (at South Florida, 39.3% chance to win per FPI and vs Tulane, 33% chance to win) to prove they’re better than the 88th-best team in the country.
On the Bubble:
Western Michigan, Toledo, Wyoming, Georgia State, Georgia Southern
Group of 5 Conference Championship Watch
The closest thing we’ve got to a ranked matchup this week is Wyoming, who’s on the bubble, traveling to Boise State, who’s ranked #3, but we do have some big conference games, starting with Ball State at Western Michigan on Tuesday night in the MAC. The winner of that game will have the lead in the MAC West and the best chance to make their way to Detroit for the championship game, while Miami and Ohio square off in a similar division-defining game for the MAC East on Wednesday night. It should be a fun weekend of college football, and I’m sure there will be an upset or two that makes us question what we thought we knew before.