College football got weird this week. Nick Saban looked outcoached, Minnesota hit 9-0 for the first time in over a century, Illinois got to bowl eligible, Indiana got ranked and the ACC fell to having just one ranked team. The AAC has four. I’m not saying the AAC is better than the ACC, but I’m not saying they’re worse, either. Anyway, last week’s rankings can be seen here, and we’re gonna go ahead and get to this week’s rankings.
#1. Cincinnati Bearcats (Last Week: 1)
Cincinnati dominated UConn just like they were supposed to, taking a 38-0 lead into halftime and building it to 48-0 before a late field goal by the Huskies averted a shutout. Desmond Ridder was 13-23 for 136 yards and two touchdowns before sitting after the first possession of the second half. Michael Warren II had two touchdowns, and Gerrid Doaks had a big game on the ground as he ran for 123 yards and a touchdown. Ridder also had 94 rushing yards as the Bearcats ran for 307 yards as a team. The defense excelled in stopping the Huskies passing attack, as they were 10-23 as a team for just 70 yards with an interception as Cincy also recorded five sacks. They now stand just two wins or a win and a Temple loss (they play the Owls Nov 23) from clinching the AAC East, though they’d like to win out to ensure they host the title game. This week, they’ll take their top ranking among Group of 5 schools to USF, who they’ve played every year since 2003 as they’ve gone together from the CUSA to the Big East to the AAC, with Cincy currently leading the all-time series 9-7 after a 35-23 win in Cincy last year. Their last win in Tampa came in 2011 when Butch Jones and Skip Holtz were leading the Bearcats and Bulls, respectively.
#2. Memphis Tigers (2)
Memphis got a bye week after a huge win over SMU that put them in the driver’s seat in the AAC-West. If they win their remaining games, they’ll be hosting the AAC title game, though having two road contests and hosting Cincinnati, who leads the conference, in their season finale won’t make that easy. Brady White and Kenny Gainwell lead a high-powered Memphis offense that ranks 17th in offensive efficiency, 8th in points per game and 21st in yards per game. If they lose, they’ll need the winner of the Navy-SMU matchup in two weeks to lose their other remaining in-conference game to get into a tiebreaker to get themselves to the championship game. They also rank #1 in special teams efficiency, with Antonio Gibson having the 10th most kick return yards and fifth-best kick return average in the country, Riley Patterson being 11-13 on field goals and 43-44 on extra points, and Adam Williams having the 11th-best punt average in the nation. The Tigers will head to Houston this week to take on the Cougars, who they’ve defeated in each of the last three seasons to pull closer in the all-time series, which now stands at 15-12 in favor of Houston.
#3. Boise State Broncos (3)
Boise State looked lost offensively once again without Hank Bachmeier but was able to escape with a 20-17 win in overtime over Wyoming to remain in the lead of the Mountain West-Mountain division. Chase Cord was a bit uneven in his start in the place of Bachmeier, as he was 19-30 for 190 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. The Broncos weren’t able to help him out with a strong run game, either, as George Holani had just 30 yards on eleven carries and the team totaled 91 rush yards in the game. The Broncos were lucky to not have suffered a loss in regulation as the two teams gained basically the same amount of total yards and Boise turned the ball over twice without forcing a turnover. The Cowboys capitalized on their first takeaway, with Xazavian Valladay scoring on a 21-yard touchdown run four plays after Holani’s fumble in the third quarter, but Cord’s interception came with only enough time left for a heave to the end zone, which Wyoming wasn’t able to complete to win in regulation. Eric Sachse made his second field goal of the game in overtime for Boise State, and Wyoming’s Cooper Roth just missed a 37-yard field goal that would have pushed the game to double-OT and Boise State came out alive. The Broncos stay home next week to face New Mexico in a game they should win easily with or without Bachmeier, but they’ll want their starting QB back for road games against Utah State and Colorado State to end the year.
#4. Appalachian State Mountaineers (7)
App State became the first Sun Belt team to ever defeat two Power 5 teams in the same year with their win at South Carolina this week. If someone had told you a year or two ago that Appalachian State and Wake Forest were going to be the best two college football teams in North Carolina in 2019, you would have laughed at them. The Mountaineers managed to beat the Gamecocks despite being outgained 346-202 in total yards, 22-11 in first downs, and being an even 1-1 in the turnover battle. They capitalized better on their turnover, with Nicholas Ross getting a pick-six to give App State a 13-6 lead in the second quarter, while South Carolina had to settle for a field goal after their interception to start the third quarter. Special teams also made a big difference for the Mountaineers in the win, as they twice scored after long kickoff returns (41 yards by Darrynton Evans led to a field goal on their first offensive possession, 57 yards by Jalen Virgil led to a touchdown in the third quarter). App State got some needed help in the Sun Belt on Saturday as Georgia Southern lost at Troy State, giving the Mountaineers the lead back in the East division. The Mountaineers will travel to Georgia State this Saturday as the Panthers are coming off a loss at UL-Monroe. ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives them a 76.9% chance at winning that one as App State looks to go to 6-0 all-time against Georgia State.
#5. SMU Mustangs (5)
The good news for SMU is that they won and they now get a bye week to prepare for Navy while the Midshipmen have to play at Notre Dame this week. The bad news for SMU is that they’ve given up 105 points in their last two games combined. The mediocre defense that’s only held one opponent (Texas State) under 20 points all year is finally catching up to them, and they really need to focus on that in their bye week before lining up against Navy and their triple-option attack. SMU is setting school records every week now, it feels like, as Xavier Jones broke Eric Dickerson’s record for most total touchdowns in a season with 20 (he’s still behind Dickerson’s ’81 season 19-18 in rush touchdowns) and James Proche broke a tie with Emmanuel Sanders for most touchdown receptions in a career at SMU. He’s now two touchdowns shy of Aldrick Robinson’s school record of 14 receiving touchdowns, set in 2010, and just 60 yards away from breaking Sanders’ career receiving yards record of 3791. Shane Buechele, after a 414-yard, five-touchdown performance, is now four touchdowns away from the single-season record of 32, set by Ben Hicks in 2017. He’s got a bit more work to do to catch Kyle Padron’s 2010 season of 3,828 yards through the air, but he has two more regular-season games plus at least a bowl game to bridge the 633-yard gap. Jones and Proche both had big individual games as they broke some school records, with Jones rushing for 157 yards and three touchdowns while Proche caught fourteen passes for 167 yards and two scores. Tight end Kylen Granson also had 138 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the 59-51 win.
#6. Navy Midshipmen (8)
The Midshipmen had a bye this week to prepare for their trip to Notre Dame, their last game this year that FPI doesn’t have them favored. If they win either of their next two games (at Notre Dame, vs SMU), they’ll have a good chance at finishing the season ranked for just the third time since 1963. They’re bowl-eligible for the 15th time in the past 17 seasons, as head coach Ken Niumatalolo has them recovered from a 9-16 record over the past two seasons and returning to the prominence they had when Keenan Reynolds was their QB and a Heisman finalist in 2015. Speaking of similarities to Reynolds, current QB Malcolm Perry joined him as the only players in Navy history to have three consecutive 1,000-rushing-yard seasons. I made an error in last week’s article where I said Perry had passed Chris McCoy for third on the school’s all-time rushing yards leaderboard, he actually still needs 22 yards to catch McCoy’s 3,401 rushing yards that he racked up in his collegiate career, which he’ll likely get this week at Notre Dame. The Midshipmen have played the Fighting Irish every year since 1927, and own just a 13-76-1 record against them all-time. Navy has never won more than two consecutive games in the series, while Notre Dame had a 43-game winning streak from 1964-2006. They’ll try to get their third win over Notre Dame this decade, which would match the ’60s and ’30s as the “best” decades for Navy in the rivalry at 3-7 in those stretches.
#7. Air Force Falcons (9)
Air Force’s game against New Mexico was postponed and rescheduled for November 23rd after the death of Lobos defensive lineman Nahje Flowers. Flowers had played in New Mexico’s game against Nevada last Saturday before surprisingly passing away on Tuesday. The cause of death has not been made public. The Falcons will shift their focus to Colorado State for their matchup against the Rams this Saturday. They were nearly handed a gift as Boise State got a scare from Wyoming, but saw their Mountain West title hopes continue to dwindle when the Broncos pulled out the victory, as they need either Boise State to lose twice or get into a three-way tiebreaker between themselves, Boise, and Utah State atop the Mountain division in order to go to the championship game. That, of course, means Air Force would also need to win out, but FPI gives them a 55.7% chance of doing so. The game against Army before the unexpected bye showed growth from the Falcons defense, as it was the second consecutive game holding their opponents under 20 points after failing to do so against any of their FBS opponents earlier in the year. It was also the first game they won while scoring less than 30 points, and they’ll hope that was more about an Army defense that’s more prepared than most teams at facing the option than it was about their offense regressing. They’ll be heading to their first bowl game in three years at the season’s end, and they’ll hope to reach the 10-win plateau for the first time since 2016 as well.
#8. UCF Knights (4)
I had been arguing for UCF even after their two losses, but those were to quality opponents. This week, they lost at previously-0-5 in-conference Tulsa, and they have to take a bigger hit for that. The Knights were favored by 16.5 points, FPI gave them an 85.9% chance to win going into the game, and they went into halftime with a 28-17 lead. Then the turnovers started. Dillon Gabriel through an interception on their second drive of the third quarter that led to a Tulsa touchdown that trimmed the lead to 28-24. After a Golden Hurricane touchdown tied the game at 31, Adrian Killins Jr fumbled on the kick return, and UCF was lucky to escape relatively unscathed as Tulsa missed a field goal on their ensuing drive. But another interception by Gabriel gave Tulsa the ball with great field position again, and they hit a 23-yard field goal to take a 34-31 lead with 5:09 remaining. The Knights would convert two fourth downs on their next drive and get the ball to the Tulsa 40-yard line when an intentional grounding call backed them up to a 4th-and-12 from the 47, which they were unable to convert, and Tulsa would run out the clock. The loss makes it unlikely for UCF to finish the year ranked for what would have been the third consecutive season and fifth in school history. There’s still a lot to be excited about for the future for UCF, though, as a team with a freshman quarterback, two juniors and a sophomore as three of the four players with over 400 rushing yards, a junior-loaded receiving corps that should return a lot of members next year, and a defense that’s sophomore-and junior-heavy as well. After a bye week this week, they’ll travel to Tulane before coming home to face their rival, USF, on senior night.
#9. BYU Cougars (10)
BYU was expected to cruise by Liberty, going in as 17.5-point favorites, and looked well on their way as they took a 17-7 lead into halftime. The defense had a bit of a tougher time in the second half, and they were fortunate that their two turnovers didn’t come back to haunt them as they came away with a 31-24 win. Baylor Romney was effective other than the interception he threw, as he was 23-33 for 262 yards and three touchdowns in the game. The defense was effective but struggled to make impact plays as they had just four tackles for loss and no turnovers in the game. The win was the third in a row for the Cougars, who should see that win streak pushed to at least five with Idaho State coming to Provo this week before BYU will travel to UMass the following week. They’re currently given over a 97% chance at winning each of those games by FPI and then given a 57.9% shot at beating San Diego State in the season finale. As I mentioned in my preseason article, BYU had the toughest schedule of any Group of 5 team and going 8-4 should be considered a good season. If they win out they will have done just that while having to rely on their third-string quarterback (Romney) to get them there. Starting QB Zach Wilson’s thumb injury wasn’t believed to be season-ending, so it will be interesting to see if the Cougars can get him back and running their offense in one of the next two games to hopefully get him back in rhythm for the season finale against SDSU.
#10. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (11)
Louisiana smashed Coastal Carolina, 48-7, on Thursday night as they continue to work their way towards the Sun Belt championship game. Levi Lewis had the best game of his career at Coastal, throwing for career highs of 296 yards and three touchdowns while completing 26 of 30 passes and running for another score. Chris Smith had a 52-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that highlighted the running attack of Louisiana, as they had 225 rushing yards as a team while Smith led the way with 99 yards. The Ragin’ Cajuns built a 48-0 lead before surrendering a touchdown with their second-string defense that erased the shutout. They outgained the Chanticleers 564-236 in total yards and 30-14 in first downs, going 9-11 on third downs compared to 5-12 for Coastal. They’ll hope for more of the same when they play at South Alabama this week, and FPI doesn’t think they’ll be threatened before the championship game, giving them at least an 87% chance in each of their last three games. They’re 5-2 against the Jaguars all-time, with the home team winning each of the first four matchups before Louisiana’s current three-game win streak that’s made the difference in the series. Each of the last five games have been decided by ten points or less, so it might not be as easy as expected for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
#11. San Diego State Aztecs (6)
Arguably the most disappointing loss of the week belongs to the Aztecs after their awful loss to Nevada at home. They still lead the West division in the Mountain West, but likely need to win each of their last two games as they now have two in-conference losses and a loss to Nevada, who currently has three losses in-conference, and their remaining games are against Hawai’i and Fresno State who both also have three losses in-conference. One of those teams is going to win out if SDSU doesn’t stop them, and the Aztecs would then lose the tiebreaker. San Diego State had a chance to tie the game when they had the ball down 17-10 in the fourth quarter when incomplete passes on 2nd-and third-and-6 led to head coach Rocky Long to elect to kick a 44-yard field goal with just under four minutes remaining in the game. It was a puzzling choice for a team without an offense that has shown they can score quickly, and sure enough, they lost two yards on their next drive and failed a fourth-down attempt to seal the loss. Fresno State comes to San Diego this Friday in a game FPI gives the Aztecs a 55.1% chance to win. San Diego State owns a 29-25-4 lead in the series but is just 2-5 since 2012 when Fresno State joined the Mountain West including losing both of the last two years.
#12. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (13)
Louisiana Tech fumbled on their second offensive play of the game, allowing North Texas to make a field goal without even picking up a first down. After that, they scored 45 consecutive points and they had a 45-3 lead with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game. They dominated the Mean Green to move to 5-0 in-conference and one step closer to the C-USA championship game. J’Mar Smith was 21-38 with 263 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. The Bulldogs ran for 264 yards without any individual player getting 60 in the 52-17 win. They accomplished that by having four different players, including Smith, run for at least 40 yards. They were led by Justin Henderson’s 58 yards and two touchdowns. Since they’ve already beaten Southern Miss, they can win any two of their last three games to secure a spot in the C-USA championship game, and if they beat Marshall this Friday they have a good shot at hosting the title game. A loss could still leave the door open for Florida Atlantic to host the title game as well, as I’m not sure who would host if the two division winners had identical in-conference records and hadn’t played each other. Louisiana Tech has twice before gone to a C-USA championship game, losing at Marshall in 2014 and at Western Kentucky in 2016.
#13. Tulane Green Wave (12)
Tulane had a bye week after an unimpressive win over Tulsa to get ready for their game at Temple this week. If they beat the Owls, they will have beaten every team they played this year not ranked in the top 45 by FPI. However, they also haven’t beaten a team ranked higher than 70, though an upset over UCF or SMU in either of their last two games of the year would change that. If they win one of their last three, then it’s a good year considering the strength of their conference and the level of their program. If they win at least two of their last three, then it’s just a good year in general. A second consecutive bowl win wouldn’t hurt either, as there’s been only one time in program history that they’ve even gone to consecutive bowl games, back in 1979-80, when they lost the Liberty Bowl followed by the Hall of Fame Classic. They’ll hope this isn’t a one-year surge, but with offensive leaders like QB Justin McMillan, Corey Dauphine, Darius Bradwell, and Darnell Mooney all set to graduate, they’ll find this year’s success hard to repeat. Head coach Willie Fritz’s best shot at keeping the Green Wave up here next year is to put a stout defense, which will be junior-and senior-heavy next year, and hope their next wave of offensive players grows up fast.
#14. Marshall Thundering Herd (14)
Marshall had a bye week between beating Rice and taking on Louisiana Tech this week. As I mentioned last week, Marshall controls their own destiny in the C-USA but likely needs to win out to get to the C-USA championship game because Florida Atlantic is fairly likely to go 7-1 in-conference (they currently sit at 5-1 and are favored in their last two games). This week against Tech will be their toughest test remaining, and then they’ll travel to Charlotte and face FIU at home to end the year. Interestingly enough, they’ve only played Louisiana Tech twice in school history, despite both teams having been in the C-USA since 2013. Their two meetings were in 1942, a 26-0 win for Tech, and in 2014, when Marshall earned a 26-23 victory. The home teams won both of those contests, and the Thundering Herd will look to keep that going as they try to win the C-USA East for the first time since 2014 when they won the C-USA and went 13-1 to finish the year #23 in the final AP Poll.
#15. Temple Owls (15)
The defense won Temple their game at South Florida this week, only giving up seven points and getting a defensive touchdown to match the Bulls’ output. Temple’s offense didn’t do themselves any favors, twice turning the ball over on downs inside the USF 10-yard line, but they did just enough to get a touchdown (on a drive centered around a 57-yard run) and a field goal (on a drive centered around a 36-yard pass) to come away with the 17-7 win. Temple managed to win in spite of shooting themselves in the foot on third downs (5-14 compared to 10-19 for USF) and with penalties (7 for 75 yards to 2 for 15 yards for USF) and will now get ready to host Tulane in a game that will make the winner’s season look a lot better than the loser’s. Both 6-3, it would be Tulane’s best win so far if they beat the Owls, and for Temple, it would prove they belong in the 4-6 range in the conference as they’ve beat Memphis and have their worst loss in-conference at home against UCF. The AAC was stacked up top this year, and that second-tier of teams probably would have won the MAC or C-USA this year, so that’s a good place to be. For the loser, if it’s Tulane then you could ask who they beat that’s any good, if it’s Temple you could say that’s another disappointing loss, looking at the loss at Buffalo as another example, and that this team just didn’t put it all together. After the game against Tulane, Temple will travel to Cincinnati before coming back home for senior day against former Big East foe UConn.
On the Bubble
Western Michigan, Toledo, Southern Mississippi, Florida Atlantic, Wyoming
Group of 5 Conference Championship Watch
We have a “really ranked” matchup between Navy and Notre Dame this week, and the teams that I have ranked 12-15 are all playing each other in ranked matchups this week as well with #12 Louisiana Tech heading to #14 Marshall and #13 Tulane playing at #15 Temple. Those games along with more key MAC matchups like Western Michigan at Ohio and Central Michigan at Ball State should make this another exciting week in college football.