Welcome to this week’s Good news bad new5 column. Read fast, there is a pretty big Fun Belt game going on right now! (App St. at Louisiana)
Good news: Houston is more than a basketball school.
The Cougars went to the Final Four in March, joined the Big 12 in September, and for the moment, sit atop the American ahead of ranked teams Cincinnati and SMU. The Cougars are quietly sitting at 5-1, 3-0 in conference play, after beating Tulane Friday night 40-22. This is not an “All gas no breaks” version of the Cougars, relying on a solid defense and Freshman running back Alton McCaskill primarily, but the formula is working. Play to your strengths. Their status near the top of the conference is sustainable, as their schedule is pretty favorable (East Carolina, SMU and Memphis at home, USF, Temple and UCONN on the road, no Cincinnati until maybe the conference championship). 10-2 is totally conceivable. Houston is having themselves some kind of year.
Bad news: Navy’s offensive line might get their quarterback injured.
Full disclosure: I went to the Navy-SMU game Saturday. The reality is that Navy hung with the Mustangs for the duration of the game, to the point where it looks like the offense might have figured some things out after firing their offensive coordinator a few weeks ago. But late in the game when the Midshipmen needed to make a couple plays to drive the field, the offensive line could not hold up their end of the bargain. Tai Lavatai is going to be ok with more experience and the defense is pretty solid, but that offensive line is ROUGH. (Also, you should absolutely go to a Navy football game if you get the chance.)
Good news: Charlotte has something brewing.
The 49ers are sitting atop the C-USA East Division at 2-0 following a 45-33 win over Florida International team (that is pretty fun if you look big plays on offense). The division is not exactly daunting but you can see the foundation of something special with the combination of coach Will Healy and quarterback Chris Reynolds. If you squint real hard watching them play, they give off Coastal Carolina vibes, minus the mullets and cutting the heads off stuffed animals with chainsaws. I could see winning the division and a bowl bid being a springboard to a big 2022.
Bad news: UTSA still is not getting the appropriate amount of recognition.
As your resident hipster UTSA fan (I liked them before it was cool, remember?) I have said all I can say about the Roadrunners. While non-conference wins against Illinois and Memphis are not the sexiest, they are the best team in the conference and have a very good chance of running the table. The conference needed a team to rise to the forefront for exposure purposes and they have it. #RanktheRoadrunners.
Good news: This conference is drunk.
Conference doormat Akron won (a road game no less). Conference favorite Western Michigan lost (a home game no less). I couldn’t tell you who the best team is, though I would guess Kent St. I couldn’t tell you who the worst team is, though I would guess Ohio. I have no idea what is going to happen on a week to week basis. But that’s part of what makes MACtion so much fun. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Bad news: If you enjoy winning money gambling, this is not the conference for you.
Because of the absolute uncertainty of this conference on a week-to-week basis, I personally would not gamble a single penny on this conference. Overs during MACtion seem like a certainty, but we aren’t there yet. There’s just not enough consistency to trust anybody at this point.
Good news: Boise St. owns the state of Utah.
One of the many surprises of last Saturday was Boise St. defeating BYU 26-17 in Provo. It’s hard to get a read on the Broncos, as they sit at 3-3 with losses to UCF (who was really good with Dillon Gabriel, an undefeated Oklahoma St. by one, and Nevada, who may be the class of the conference. While I personally think the outcome was more a product of BYU hurting at the quarterback position than anything else, the fact is that Boise St. proved that they are still a force to be reckoned with in the Mountain West.
Bad news: San Jose State better enjoy last year.
San Jose St. won the conference last year? That did happen right? Look, I understand that when Nick Starkel got hurt against Western Michigan the Trojans lost one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, but this team is starting to resemble the team that they were before last year’s magical run. Saturday they lost 32-14 to a Colorado St. team that hasn’t exactly set the conference on fire this year. With no update on Starkel’s injury to be found, chances are it is serious enough that it will cause SJSU to get lost in the shuffle in a very good conference.
Good news: I see you Texas St.
One of the more entertaining games of the weekend was Texas St. and South Alabama going 4 overtimes to beat South Alabama 31-33. With road games at Louisiana and at Coastal Carolina on the back half of their schedule, I don’t think Texas St. will be a player in the Sun Belt this year. But at 2-3 with both of their wins coming in overtime, they won’t be boring to watch. And they are currently 1-0 in conference, which is something to build on going into a winnable game this Saturday against Troy.
Bad news: UL Monroe might’ve peaked.
At the end of September, UL Monroe was sitting at 2-1 with a win over Troy on their resume. Since then, things have taken a turn. Their quarterback Rhett Rodriguez suffered a serious lung injury that kept him in ICU for several days (he has since returned home to recover). On the field, the team has struggled, but mostly on the defensive end, giving up 50-burgers to both Coastal Carolina and Georgia St. in October. The schedule does not let up, as they face Liberty this Saturday and still have games at Louisiana, at App St. and at LSU. Terry Bowden has his work cut out for him.
5 Games to keep an eye on:
1. App. St. at Louisiana (Tonight) – This is the game that will likely determine the biggest challenger to Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt.
2. Kent St. at Western Michigan – I am bullish on both these teams still being the Top 2 in the conference. Even if I have no idea who will win, expect a lot of points. (Or don’t. Who really knows with the MAC.)
3. Air Force at Boise St. – Did the win over BYU jumpstart something for Boise St.? We will find out against a 5-1 Air Force squad.
4. UCF at Cincinnati – The game has definitely lost a bit of luster due to Dillon Gabriel’s injury, but Gus Malzahn may have a trick or two up his sleeve.
5. Louisiana Tech at UTEP – The Miners are 5-1 and looking to become bowl eligible against a very good Louisiana Tech team that is better than they 2-3 record indicates. (A tough non-con schedule provided losses to Mississippi St., North Carolina St. and SMU.)
Top 10 Group of 5 teams:
1. Cincinnati (5-0) – If beating Temple 52-3 is what constitutes a letdown then….
2. Coastal Carolina (5-0) – I don’t care for all the gimmicks (mullets, weird postgame celebrations, etc.) but the offense is a machine.
3. UTSA (6-0) – See #4.
4. SMU (6-0) – PUT SMU AND UTSA IN THE COTTON BOWL YOU COWARDS!
5. San Diego St. (5-0) – Every conference needs a “play great defense and run the ball” team to be successful to counter the high octane offense. SDSU is that team.
6. Nevada (4-1) – Any chance a one-loss Nevada hosting an undefeated San Diego St. could get a College Gameday visit? No? Well it would still be awesome.
7. BYU (5-1) – If Jaren Hall is full healthy, then game against Baylor this weekend should be interesting. But the narrative that BYU deserved to be the non-Power 5 to be considered over Cincinnati was a bit far-fetched from jump.
8. Liberty (5-1) – They struggle against the tougher opponents on their schedule, but beat the teams they are supposed to.
9. Houston (5-1) – Houston is the San Diego St. of the AAC if that makes any sense.
10. Appalachian State (4-1)/Louisiana (4-1) Winner – Tonight’s game will determine #2 in the Sun Belt and #10 in this completely subjective internet poll ranking teams outside of the Power 5. Pretty, pretty big game.
What teams are over/underrated? Which games involving G5 teams pique your interest? Hit me up in the comments.