We went from one clinched division in the Group of 5 to six this week and the MAC West went from five potential champs to two as the conference races cleared up in a hurry. Well, that’s except for the Conference USA that decided to have some 4-2 teams beat 5-1 teams to form a three-way tie for the West division with one week left. The battles between teams on my rankings didn’t disappoint, as all three were one-score games that came down to the wire. Unfortunately, someone had to lose those games, and at least one of them wasn’t supposed to be that close, and Cincy saw the consequences of allowing too many games to be close, as their national rank is starting to slip and they’ll lose the top spot here as well. You can click here to read last week’s rankings, and we’ll go ahead and get into this week’s rankings.
#1. Memphis Tigers (Last Week: 2)
Memphis had no trouble putting away South Florida this week, as they shot themselves in the foot with a pair of interceptions in the early going that had them down 10-7 before putting together three straight touchdown drives to take a 28-10 halftime lead. They wouldn’t look back, with three more touchdown drives in the second half to head home with a 49-10 win. They still most likely need to beat Cincinnati when they host the Bearcats this week to make the AAC championship game, but a Navy loss will also secure the Tigers an AAC-West division championship. Brady White recovered from those two early interceptions to throw for 222 yards on 18-28 passing with two touchdowns. Kenny Gainwell had 128 rushing yards, but failed to get in the end zone as Patrick Taylor Jr was back in full after injuring his foot in the season opener against Ole Miss and being out until making five carries against Houston last week, and he ran for 95 yards and three touchdowns, bringing his career total to 35, one away from tying Dave Casinelli and Darrell Henderson for second all-time in Memphis history. That’s a huge addition to their run game just in time for the game against Cincy. The Tigers defense was disruptive with four sacks and seven tackles for loss against the Bulls, and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) now gives them a 66.7% chance at beating Cincinnati next week. A win in that game would mean seeing the Bearcats again a week later in Memphis, while a loss would mean Cincy gets to host the title game while Memphis would have to hope for a Houston upset of Navy to get in.
#2. Cincinnati Bearcats (1)
Cincinnati beat Temple by a blocked extra point returned for a defensive 2-point conversion, something that happens about once a year in college football. So they were lucky to escape with a win in a game they were favored by nine points in, hardly an impressive performance. That’s what loses them the top spot here for this week, though as they play Memphis next week they’ll obviously have a chance to reclaim it. Win that game and it’ll be hard to argue against Cincy for the best Group of 5 team, as their only loss was to Ohio State, currently ranked 2nd in all the major polls, and they’ll have wins over UCLA, UCF, and Memphis with victories on the road against Marshall and Houston to show they could beat good teams away from home too (I know Houston is 4-7, but their worst loss is at Tulane or home against Washington State, they’re not a bad team). In the game against Temple, they were outgained 310-210 in total yards and allowed 20 first downs while getting just fourteen themselves. It was a miserable offensive performance, especially for Desmon Ridder who was just 9-25 passing for 62 yards with an interception. Michael Warren II had their only touchdown of the game as he ran for 106 yards as their lone offensive bright spot. Coby (not Kobe) Bryant had the return on the blocked extra point for the two points that made it 15-6, and Darrick Forrest had the interception after Temple had made it 15-13 to seal the win. Sam Crosa was 2-3 on field goal attempts while Will Mobley missed his only attempt for the Owls.
#3. Boise State Broncos (3)
Boise State picked up another dominant win with a 56-21 win over Utah State that was only maybe as close as the final score. The win included a pick-six in the first quarter by Jalen Walker, a punt return touchdown in the third by Avery Williams, and a pair of touchdowns for George Holani, who ran for 178 yards in the game. It was 56-7 after Jaylon Henderson’s third passing touchdown of the night before Utah State scored two meaningless touchdowns as Boise State let off the gas. Henderson finished the game with 187 passing yards on 16-28 passing. Curtis Weaver continued to build on his legacy as one of the best pass-rushers in Boise State history, picking up another sack to put his season total at 13.5, the fifth-most in a single season for the Broncos. Adding that to the 20.5 sacks he had in his career coming into 2019 and he now has the second-most career sacks in school history with 34. The win secured Boise’s spot in the Mountain West championship game, which they will host as the West division produced a champion with just a 5-3 in-conference record and the Broncos currently sit at 7-0 with their season finale at Colorado State yet to come. It feels like every week we speculate whether or not Hank Bachmeier will be able to come back to his starting QB job, but Henderson has looked capable of leading this team and the senior should be able to get them to a win over Colorado State, whom FPI gives the Broncos an 88.4% chance of beating.
#4. Appalachian State Mountaineers (4)
Texas State was getting the ball back down just one point midway through the third quarter when Noel Cook came away with a key interception, and Darrynton Evans would cap off each of App State’s next three possessions with a touchdown run. It was enough to get the Mountaineers a 35-13 win and secure the Sun Belt-East division championship along with Georgia Southern’s loss to Arkansas State. Evans ended the game with 154 yards to push his season total to 1,168 with fourteen touchdowns on the year. Zac Thomas wasn’t asked to do much, as he only threw sixteen passes in the game, but he completed eight of them for 174 yards and two touchdowns as the Mountaineers found big play after big play through their passing game. Marcus Williams Jr provided a nice secondary rushing attack, running for 78 yards in the game. Cook’s interception highlighted a great defensive performance by App State, as they held the Bobcats to just 208 yards of total offense and eleven first downs while they only got in the end zone once. The Mountaineers travel to Troy to finish the regular season, where a win will keep them in the hunt for a spot in the Cotton Bowl and secure them home-field advantage in the Sun Belt championship game. App State is 4-3 all-time against the Trojans and 3-1 against them since becoming an FBS program.
#5. Navy Midshipmen (7)
When Navy took over on offense in a 28-28 tie with SMU with seven minutes to play, it was already one of the best games of Malcolm Perry’s career. He already had career highs in completions, pass attempts, was three yards shy of a career-high in passing yards, and had 106 rushing yards. Then he broke off a 70-yard touchdown run to give Navy the lead, and he ended the day with 357 yards of total offense (162 passing, 195 rushing) and three total touchdowns as Navy hung on for the 35-28 win. Navy was behind 21-10 at halftime after having a missed field goal and a turnover on downs in the first half, but limited the miscues in the second half to earn the comeback win. They play at Houston this week in their AAC finale, needing a win and a Memphis loss to get to the championship game. Navy is just 1-4 all-time against Houston, having played them each of the last four years as AAC foes after facing off in the 1980 Garden State Bowl, a 35-0 Houston win that still stands as the widest margin of victory and only shutout in the series. Navy’s lone win came at home in 2016 in what was Major Applewhite’s first season as head coach in Houston, so they’ll hope to beat another first-year Cougars head coach in 2019.
#6. Air Force Falcons (6)
I know I said a defensive PAT conversion happens about once a year in Cincy’s segment, but there were actually two just this Saturday, as Air Force also returned a blocked PAT for two points in their win over New Mexico. The Falcons have now won six games in a row after their 3-2 start, which is the sixth-largest active win streak in the FBS. They threw the ball ten times against the Lobos, which was nothing out of the ordinary, but what was unusual was the success they had. Donald Hammond III completed nine of those ten passes for 327 yards and four touchdowns, three of which came on 45+ yard passes. It was the fifth-most passing yards in a game ever by an Air Force QB and tied for the second-most touchdowns, while Hammond also ran for 41 yards and a score. Taven Birdow had 117 yards on the ground and one touchdown, while Benjamin Waters and Geraud Sanders caught all nine of the passes with over 150 receiving yards each and two scores apiece. The Falcons neither punted nor attempted a field goal, with six touchdowns, a fumble and the end of both halves as their offensive possessions in a dominant 44-22 win. They come back home to play Wyoming for their season finale this week, looking to get to 10 wins in the regular season for the first time since 1998.
#7. UCF Knights (8)
UCF bounced back from their disappointing loss to Tulsa by beating Tulane, 41-38, this week. It was their first win of the year without freshman QB Dillon Gabriel accounting for at least three touchdowns, though it continued the trend of the Knights winning every game Gabriel is interception-free while they’ve lost every game he’s thrown a pick in. Gabriel was 24-46 for 317 yards and one score in the game while also leading the team with 58 rushing yards. Tulane missed a field goal on their opening drive of what ended up being a three-point loss, and UCF also earned two 4th-down stops as the Green Wave were less than 40 yards from the end zone. The Knights will return home for senior day against their fellow Florida directional school as they take on South Florida in the season finale. The two teams are squaring off for just the 11th time in their history, with USF taking the first four games from 2005-’08 while UCF has won four of the six since the teams became members of the AAC. FPI gives the Knights a 93.4% chance to win and get to nine wins on the year.
#8. SMU Mustangs (5)
SMU’s hopes of winning the AAC died this Saturday at Navy, but it’s still the best season for the program since 1984, two years before the NCAA shut them down for a year for numerous violations. Shane Buechele continued his stellar season after transferring from Texas as he was 16-28 for 251 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Xavier Jones had just 61 yards on the ground and fumbled for the third time this year, with that fumble erasing a scoring opportunity as the Mustangs were driving, having reached the Navy 29 yard line before Jones’ fumble ended their opening drive. SMU now hosts Tulane as their season finale with a chance to get to ten wins for the first time since ’84 or to eleven with a win over the Green Wave and a bowl victory to hit that mark for the first time since their 1982 season, when they went 11-0-1, won the Cotton Bowl, and were ranked 2nd in the final AP Poll. The Mustangs are 12-13 all-time against Tulane but have won each of the last four games in the series and seven of the last eight.
#9. BYU Cougars (9)
BYU used a 42-point second quarter to propel them to a 49-0 halftime lead in what was eventually a 56-24 win over UMass. Zach Wilson was 17-20 passing for 293 yards and four touchdowns in the blowout win and Jackson McChesney ran for 228 yards and two scores as the Minutemen defense was incapable of stopping any facet of BYU’s offense. The defense forced two turnovers in the second quarter as they nearly put up 50+ points in the first half but Jake Oldroyd missed a 28-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter. The win was the Cougars’ fifth in a row after a 2-4 start, and they’ll look to push it to six in a row as they travel to San Diego State to end the regular season. BYU is 28-7-1 against SDSU all-time and has won the last six games in the series with the last matchup coming in 2012. We’ll see if McChesney can have a performance anywhere near the one he had this week, as he was taking a redshirt year but the coaching staff decided they liked what they saw and wanted to have him on the field for the last four games, the most you can play in while still taking a redshirt. It worked out better than they could have hoped this week at UMass, and we’ll see if their new weapon is able to expose gaps in a stout Aztecs defense in the season finale.
#10. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (10)
The Ragin’ Cajuns made it seem like their intent was to rip the souls out of the Troy players they were matched up against as they pounded their way to a 53-3 win to secure the Sun Belt-West and earn a rematch with App State in the conference championship, which will be the fourth game between the two teams in the past two years. The only problem for Louisiana is that the Mountaineers have won each of the past three. In the win over Troy, Levi Lewis threw for 273 yards and a touchdown on 21 completions in 33 attempts. Chris Smith, Trey Ragas, and Raymond Calais all ran for over 60 yards as the Ragin’ Cajuns ran for 254 yards and five touchdowns as a team, with Ragas being the only runner to find the end zone twice. The defense allowed 359 yards but forced three turnovers in keeping the Trojans out of the end zone in the dominant win. They now get ready for their season finale against UL Monroe, who’s fans and alumni take exception to UL Lafayette now referring to their athletics teams simply as Louisiana, but the Ragin’ Cajuns have won four of the past five games against the Warhawks to take a 28-25 lead in the all-time series. FPI thinks this trend is likely to continue, giving Louisiana a 93.7% chance to win.
#11. Temple Owls (13)
Cincinnati beat Temple this week, so… Cincy dropped a spot and Temple went up two? Sometimes that’s how it works when the teams around Temple were taking worse losses and the team just behind the Bearcats earned a more impressive win. Temple outgained Cincinnati 310-210 in total yards in the game, earned 20 first downs to their fourteen, drew three fewer penalties for 35 fewer yards and the turnover battle was a 1-1 draw. Three turnovers on downs proved costly for the Owls as they couldn’t get on the board until the fourth quarter. The loss was sealed when Anthony Russo made his only big mistake in the game, an interception made by Darrick Forrest with 1:19 left in the game, allowing the Bearcats to kneel out the clock. Russo ended the game 24-43 through the air for 228 yards and a touchdown to go with the costly pick. Temple comes back home to face UConn in their season finale. Their former Big East foe is returning to the Big East conference for next season, but as they no longer sponsor football the Huskies will become an independent for football. Temple will have the opportunity to send them off to independent status with a loss in each of their final nineteen AAC games dating back to October 2017. 2020 will be the first time since 2011, when Temple was in their final year in the MAC for football, that the two schools haven’t played each other. Temple owns a 13-6 advantage in the all-time series including a 5-2 mark since 2012.
#12. Western Michigan Broncos (14)
Western Michigan had a bye week to prepare for their game this Tuesday against Northern Illinois with a chance to clinch the MAC-West with a win. They’ve been relying on LeVante Bellamy all year, and they’ll hope he can carry them to another win to secure an extra game for himself and his fellow seniors with a chance to end their careers as MAC champs. Bellamy enters the week tenth in the nation with 1,284 rushing yards on the year with an FBS-leading 21 rushing touchdowns. Jon Wassink has been a valuable leader at QB as well, throwing for 2,719 yards with a 19-7 touchdown-interception ratio so far. They’ve needed that offense to power them to victory as their defense and special teams rank 96th and 120th, respectively, in ESPN’s team efficiency ratings. The senior class has a chance to start and end their career as MAC champions, as the fourth-year players were freshmen during the 2016 season when the Broncos went 13-1 with a MAC championship and a Cotton Bowl appearance. Head coach Tim Lester is trying to prove that it wasn’t all about PJ Fleck, who’s now having a breakout season with Minnesota, and that Western Michigan can become a MAC power. FPI gives WMU a 75.8% chance to beat the Huskies.
#13. Florida Atlantic Owls (On The Bubble)
Florida Atlantic jumps into my rankings after beating UTSA and benefiting from the other top teams in the Conference USA going down to clear their path to the championship game. They now sit at 6-1 in-conference and in sole possession of first place in the East division after their 40-26 win over the Roadrunners that wasn’t as close as the final score. The Owls outgained UTSA 526-401 in total yards and forced three turnovers while giving up just one, as they had a 40-18 lead before the Roadrunners scored a touchdown with 3:01 to play that was too little, too late to make a real difference in the game. The only people that touchdown hurt were people who bet on FAU against the spread or the under, as it tipped both of those scales the other way. Owls QB Chris Robinson was 27-41 through the air for 336 passing yards and a touchdown, while FAU had three rushers (James Charles, BJ Emmons, Malcolm Davidson) run for at least 50 yards, while Emmons found the end zone twice with Charles and Davidson both having a score as well. Senior wideout Harrison Bryant had arguably the best game of his career, setting career highs in receptions (10) and yards (182) while scoring on their one passing touchdown of the game. It’s only arguably his best game because he had a 133-yard, two-touchdown performance against Old Dominion last year. FAU is now a win or Marshall loss away from a spot in the C-USA championship game as they face Southern Miss at home in the season finale, where FPI gives them a 71.2% chance to win.
#14. Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (NR)
Hawai’i pulled out a win over San Diego State to win the Mountain West-West division and will now have a rematch with Boise State in the back of their mind as they take on Army in the season finale this week. They managed to play a bend-don’t-break defense against the Aztecs, only forcing one three-and-out and no turnovers but holding them to just eleven points in the 14-11 win. It was a bit concerning for the Rainbow Warriors offense, as they had been held under 30 points just twice in their first ten games before scoring 35 combined points in their last two games. But the defense has stepped up, allowing just seven points in the win over UNLV and eleven points in the win over SDSU to seal the Mountain West-West. This makes it three wins in a row for Hawai’i after it looked like their conference hopes might be dashed after losing three out of four games in-conference. Fortunately for them, no one was able to take control of the division and they were able to come back and win it. They won the game against SDSU in large part due to their success on third downs, where their offense was 9-14 while their defense held the Aztecs to 6-14. It was the biggest difference in favor of the Rainbow Warriors in a game where the total yardage differential was less than 30 yards and Hawai’i actually lost the turnover battle. They’ll see how their defense is able to handle Army’s triple-option attack this weekend after they failed to contain Air Force’s in their 56-26 loss to the Falcons earlier this year.
#15. San Diego State Aztecs (12)
San Diego State lost their chance to win the Mountain West this week and is in serious danger of losing three of their last four games of the year as they prepare to host a BYU team that has been playing their best football of late. They saw a similar collapse last year, losing their last four games (including their bowl game) and five of their last six that also started with a disappointing loss to Nevada after a 6-1 start. In the game against Hawai’i, they had a chance to tie the game with a 48-yard field goal with less than ten seconds left in regulation, but Matt Araiza couldn’t hit it, and Hawai’i escaped with the Mountain West-West crown. They also had the ball in the red zone in the final minute of the first half, but a false start penalty helped keep them out of the end zone and forced them to just kick a field goal. That first half-closing drive had been set up by Luq Barcoo’s eighth interception of the year, as he continued to be a ball hawk and create big plays for their defense, but they ultimately came up short as their run game was easily outproduced by Hawai’i. The passing game was fine, as Ryan Agnew threw for 229 yards without getting sacked, but the running attack failed to reach 100 yards, and they averaged just 3.4 yards per carry while allowing 4.3 on average to the Rainbow Warriors. They’ll need to beat BYU and win a bowl game to get back to ten wins after having three consecutive 10+ win seasons from 2015-2017.
Marshall (11), Southern Miss (15)
On the Bubble
Marshall, Central Michigan, Miami (OH), UAB, Wyoming
Group of 5 Conference Championship Watch
So there we have it. By week’s end, we’ll know the conference championship game matchups to finish out the season and where everyone who isn’t playing in a championship game will be waiting for the bowl selections to come out. We’ll have a better idea of who should be #1 here by the end of Friday as Memphis and Cincinnati will have had their matchup that was a de facto fight for the top spot. The Conference USA will have finally sorted itself out, as it will drop from five potential champs to two as the division winners will be set. We’ll preview the conference championship games in our article next week along with our top 15 Group of 5 teams.