Welcome back to the G5 Top 25. Apparently if I go away for one week, it breaks Air Force. Sorry, Falcon fans. This one’s on me. Life happened. But we move on to this week and see who rules the roost in the world of the Group of 5.
1. James Madison (10-0) – In a world that so easily divides between the haves (the Power 5) and the have-nots, it seems poetic that the top team in the G5 may not even go to a bowl game at all.
I tend to think that somehow, someway, James Madison will get into a bowl (probably because of all the mediocrity in the Power 5). But until then, they need to bond together to destroy everyone in their path. Like a much more likeable Michigan. They host App State this Saturday before wrapping up their season – perhaps for good – at Coastal Carolina. Even if they can’t play in the conference championship game, they will have a say in who does.
2. Tulane (9-1) – The Green Wave currently sit in the driver’s seat for a NY6 bowl, but they aren’t exactly playing like they want that spot. Sure, they are undefeated since losing to Ole Miss in September, but they aren’t putting conference opponents away like one would expect. (You are probably quite profitable if you are betting on their opponents to cover.) They have won their last 3 games (Against Rice, East Carolina and Tulsa) by a combined 7 points. While their season finale at home against UTSA will likely determine a spot in the AAC Championship game, they would be wise to make a statement at Florida Atlantic this week.
3. Liberty (10-0) – The Flames have established themselves as the class of CUSA, such as that is. But they also dipped into the Sun Belt and lit up Old Dominion Saturday in a 38-10 win. They have another non-con game at home against UMass before ending the regular season at UTEP. Then they try to make a statement to the NY6 committee in the conference title game against New Mexico St. They probably need a lot of 2-loss Group of 5 teams to play in a big bowl, but they would be a fun representative.
4. Toledo (9-1) – In a conference that has built its reputation on being wild and unpredictable, Toledo is taking away a lot of suspense in the 2023 MAC season. After a season opening loss at Illinois (that frankly, they should have won) they have beaten everyone on their schedule. They are the class of the conference, and if they are able to win their last three games (at Bowling Green, at Central Michigan, MAC Championship game) they will have an argument to make as the G5 Representative in a NY6 Bowl.
5. SMU (8-2) – The best game in the G5 this upcoming week is probably SMU at Memphis, with the winner likely earning a spot in the AAC Championship game. SMU is doing to conference foes what Tulane should be doing quite frankly, putting games generally out of reach early and keeping them there. They have scored at least 31 points in every conference game, and expect the same this week against Memphis (who just gave up that many to Charlotte) and likely in the season finale at Navy.
6. UTSA (7-3) – Speaking of teams lighting up the scoreboard against their AAC foes, I present the UTSA Roadrunners.
Things looked a little bleak in September, with losses to Houston, Army and Tennessee on their resume. But since then, they have been making their mark in their new conference quite easily, scoring 34 points in every game since that Tennessee loss. A lot of the success can be attributed to quarterback Frank Harris returning from injury but the defense has been playing very well too behind Trey Moore and his 14 sacks. With wins at home Friday night against South Florida and at Tulane, they will ensure their spot in the AAC Title game. After that, who knows.
7. Memphis (8-2) – Memphis sits at 8-2 and within striking distance of a birth in the conference championship game, but they are not making it easy. Specifically their defense, as they narrowly escaped Charlotte with a 44-38 overtime win Saturday. With SMU coming into town this week, they better shore up a defense that has given up 42 to North Texas, 50 to South Florida and 38 to Charlotte in the last 3 weeks.
8. Troy (8-2) – If Memphis needs tips on how to play defense, perhaps they should watch film of Troy, who is absolutely locking their opponents down on that side of the ball.
Winners of 7 in a row, they have clinched the Sun Belt West division after their 45-14 win at UL Monroe Saturday. They have a home game this Saturday against a Louisiana team that doesn’t quite look the same without quarterback Zeon Chriss and a Southern Miss team looking to get their season over with. This has a chance to be a 12-win team when all is said and done.
9. UNLV (8-2) – After the wild Saturday night in the Mountain West that saw Air Force and Fresno St. get handled by inferior opponents, it’s fair to say that the best team in the conference is the…checks notes…UNLV Rebels.
With losses only at Michigan and at Fresno St., UNLV is handling their opponents with terrific defense and efficient, if not occasionally explosive. offense. Friday night they disposed of Wyoming 34-14 in a game that saw UNLV score 21 points in the opening quarter and never really look back. This Saturday they head to Colorado to take on an Air Force team that is in free fall. The winner will be in the Mountain West title game, and the loser might find their way in as well with some help.
10. Fresno St. (8-2) – I understand the offense struggling Saturday night in Fresno St.’s 42-18 loss at San Jose St. Quarterback Mikey Keene got injured and they just looked out of sorts from the jump. But the defense, that’s another story.
Spartan running back Kairee Robinson rushed for 200 yards and two scores on the Bulldog defense. Quali Conley rushed for another 93. It’s one thing to give up 313 yards on the ground to Air Force, that’s what they do. But San Jose St. is not quite the same offense. That was just bad defense, and they should really get that shored up if they want to play for a MW championship. They host New Mexico this Saturday in a game that should get them right before the season finale at San Diego St.
11. Air Force (8-2) – I’m not mad. Just disappointed. You could kind of see the signs anyway.
Wyoming and Colorado St. came close to beating Air Force, but neither team could get over the hump. Quarterback Zac Larrier got injured in the Wyoming game, and they haven’t really looked the same since. He’s been in and out of the lineup, but didn’t play in Saturday’s (I guess technically Sunday for most of us) 27-13 loss to Hawai’i. The good news is that they can still win the conference, but need to figure things out quickly with game at home against UNLV and at Boise St. to close out the season.
12. New Mexico St. (8-3) – We finally have an answer to the year-long question “Who is the second best team in Conference USA?” The answer is New Mexico St.
Winners of 6 in a row after their 38-29 win at Western Kentucky, the Aggies clinched a birth against Liberty Dec. 1. They were handled 33-17 in their first meeting, but this might not be the same team the Flames faced in September. Diego Pavia is generally playing mistake free football, throwing 19 TDs and only 6 INTs while rushing for 5 more scores. This team is fun and feisty and may give Auburn fits this Saturday.
13. Miami OH (8-2) – The RedHawks are quietly sitting at 8-2 with losses only to “the other” Miami and Toledo. Last week during MACtion, the defense pitched their second conference shutout, beating Akron 19-0. (They also held Kent St. to 3 points.) The defense merely needs to show up like that Wednesday against Buffalo to clinch a MAC East title.
14. Coastal Carolina (7-3) – Controlling their own destiny in the Sun Belt East for a conference title birth is familiar face Coastal Carolina. They certainly don’t look like the same team from the past couple seasons with Jamey Chadwell and Grayson McCall running roughshod throughout the division, but here they are. The Chanticleers are winners of 5 in a row after their 31-23 win against Texas St. While they are technically in control of their own destiny, they will have to earn that spot. This week they head to Army, which is never easy, then they host James Madison in what could be the Dukes personal bowl game.
15. Ohio (7-3) – Ohio sits at 7-3 after their 20-10 win last week at Buffalo. With games remaining at home against Central Michigan and at Akron, they need help to make a conference title game (and rematch with Toledo). But this is a good team. There’s kinda not much else you can say about them at this point. Have fun at the Motor City Bowl or whatever.
16. Jacksonville St. (7-3) – Jacksonville St. had a bye week after giving South Carolina fits last week. They wrap up a successful first season at the FBS level with games against Louisiana Tech and at New Mexico St. in a game that matters much more the JSU than NMSU. (New Mexico St. has already clinched a birth in the title game since Jax St. is not eligible.)
17. Wyoming (6-4) – After a terrific start, the Cowboys have faded down the stretch, losing 3 of their last 4. But they have a chance to right the ship with games at home against Hawai’i and at Nevada. An 8-4 season would be a successful one.
18. Texas St. (6-4) – The Bobcats have alternated wins and losses their past 6 games after their 31-23 defeat to Coastal Saturday. They are currently bowl eligible, so the first season for GJ Kinne has to be considered a mild success, But they want to close the season out strong with games at Arkansas St. and South Alabama.
19. Georgia Southern (6-4) – With a Sun Belt title game in their sights, the Eagles are going the wrong direction. They have lost their last two to Texas St. and Marshall, putting their chances at winning the East Division in serious danger. They have a chance to slide in through the back door still, but need to win out starting this Saturday against Old Dominion, and have James Madison do what they have been doing all season.
20. Bowling Green (6-4) – The hottest team in the MAC not named Toledo is probably Bowling Green, who have won four in a row. While they have feasted on the bottom of the conference (Ball St., Akron, Kent St.) they did also beat Georgia Tech earlier in the season, so there is certainly something here. They get a chance to really make a statement this Tuesday by ruining Toledo’s hopes for a NY6 bowl.
21. Appalachian St. (6-4) – Winners of their last 3, App St. became bowl eligible after their 42-14 win over a fading Georgia St. team Saturday. They also have a shot at representing the East in the Sun Belt Championship game, but it required a win at James Madison this Saturday first and foremost then a win at home against Georgia Southern.
22. Georgia St. (6-4) – When they won their sixth game to become bowl eligible a few weeks ago, coach Shawn Elliott exclaimed “So what. Now What?” That read like they had bigger goals in mind, but in reality it now feels like they don’t know that they should keep winning games. Yes, the back half of the schedule was always going to be more difficult, but after the way they started the season, back to back 42-14 losses (to JMU and App St.) are a bad look. But who knows, maybe they fix things this Saturday…in Baton Rouge against LSU. At least Darren Grainger and Jayden Daniels should put up numbers in a fun quarterback matchup.
23. Western Kentucky (5-5) – This is kind of just a team that I can’t quit, even though I probably should. Losers of 3 of their last 4, the Hilltoppers are the epitome of mediocre and lost their chance at a CUSA title birth after their 38-29 loss at home to New Mexico St. They need to focus on bowl eligibility by winning either of their last two against improving Sam Houston or FIU.
24. Marshall (5-5) – Sure they had lost 5 in a row before Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern. And starting quarterback Cam Fancher was out with injury. But after taking the opening kickoff for a touchdown, you could tell they weren’t losing the “We Are … Playing For The ’75′” game in honor of the 75 persons lost in the 1970 plane crash.
Rasheen Ali ran for 3 scores in the 38-33 victory to remind everyone that he is Him and the defense came up with timely stops against a high-powered offence. The Herd have two chances to become bowl eligible – at South Alabama this Saturday and at home against Arkansas St.
25. South Florida (5-5) – USF moved to within one victory of bowl eligibility after their 27-23 win against Temple Saturday, not bad for their first season under new head coach Alex Golesh. They take a swing at a big fish Friday night on national television at UTSA, but close out the regular season in a much more realistic opportunity for victory against Charlotte.
So there is this week’s Top 25. Who is overrated? Underrated? Let us know on any of the @walkonredshirts socials. Also, we have partnered with Underdog Fantasy to help give you our Underdog picks for each weekend! Sign up today with Promo Code WALKON and get your first deposit doubled up to $100! Sign up HERE.