Well that was an interesting Saturday if you are a fan of Group of 5 football.
Let’s ignore the fact that my #1 team last week got drubbed 63-10 in Columbus. (Please? I have to maintain a shred of credibility here.) There were some very impressive performances, perhaps more so by the Mountain West than any other conference. All told, there were 5 wins by Group of 5 teams against a Power 5 opponent, not to mention game attempts by teams like South Florida, Georgia Southern, Old Dominion and of course Colorado State. So with all that in mind, here is this week’s (apparently controversial if Reddit is to be believed) G5 Top 25.
1. Fresno St. (3-0) – Considering the last two teams at the top of this poll have lost, this may not be an ideal place to reside, but congrats Fresno St. I guess. This position is earned based on two victories over Power 5 opponents on the road, including Saturday night’s 29-0 drubbing in Tempe in which the defense created 8 turnovers. Even if Purdue and Arizona St. are not high level opponents, those wins were certainly both impressive in their own ways. Moving forward, the Bulldogs have home games against Kent St. and Nevada to wrap up September before the conference slate beefs up significantly. There are landmines, sure, but Mikey Keene is certainly playing well enough to lead this team to a NY6 Bowl birth.
2. Tulane (2-1) – Sure, they played a really bad 4th Quarter against Ole Miss, but this team (without star quarterback Michael Pratt the last two games) has proven they are a very, very good team. Saturday they smothered Southern Miss 21-3 in Hattiesburg behind a defense that held the Golden Eagles to just over 200 total yards and kept star running back Frank Gore from getting going (16 yards on 13 carries). Next up is a tune-up game against Nicholls before conference play gets going.
3. James Madison (3-0) – Last week I said that a win at Troy would shoot JMU up these rankings. This felt right after the Dukes out-Troyed Troy, winning 16-14 in Alabama Saturday night. I’ll be honest, I needed to see more this year from them to prove that they were not a one-year wonder, but wins at Virginia and at Troy – both done by very different means – have convinced me. I don’t think they get through the conference without a blemish because the Sun Belt is just so deep, but this program is legit.
4. Liberty (3-0) – Any of these top 4 teams feel interchangeable if I am being honest, but the Flames don’t have a win to really hang their hat on, so here we are. It feels like the Flames might be head and shoulders above the rest of CUSA behind an offense that is humming behind quarterback Kaidon Salter, who accrued over 400 total yards and threw for 5 TDs in Saturday’s win over Buffalo. I’m a touch worried about the defense, but it may not matter. This Saturday they travel to Miami to take on a surprisingly dangerous FIU (more on them later).
5. Memphis (3-0) – I don’t think Memphis played all that well Thursday night against Navy, but they were able to come out of the game with a 28-24 win. A defense that had not given up an offensive touchdown through their first two games (albeit against Bethune-Cookman and Arkansas St.) give up several big plays to Navy on the ground and through the air. This is a game that they could have easily lost, but they found a way. Running back Blake Watson (Old Dominion transfer) is a stud, rushing for 169 yards on just 10 carries. We find out a lot about Memphis the next few weeks, as they face Missouri, Boise St. and Tulane in the next 3 games. (The last two at home.)
6. South Alabama (2-1) – It’s not that South Alabama won at Oklahoma St., but rather the rather dominating way they did so. USA went into Stillwater and left with a 33-7 win over a Cowboy squad that was ripe for the picking without a quarterback established. Looking ahead, I have some concerns about the Sun Belt West with teams like Troy and Southern Miss underwhelming to this point, and their Week One loss at Tulane is going to continue to age relatively well, so I think this is still the top of the division. After a home game against Central Michigan, South Alabama takes a swing at James Madison on Sept. 30.
7. Air Force (3-0) – Somewhat quietly, the Falcons are out to a 3-0 start in part due to a schedule that has not offered the challenges that Fresno St., Boise St. or Wyoming have faced. But this is a typical Air Force Falcon squad who is running through their opponents and playing outstanding defense to compliment. There are definitely challenges forthcoming, including a Friday night game this week at San Jose St., but if you squint hard enough, there is a path to an undefeated season. (No Fresno St. helps.)
8. SMU (2-1) – A 69-0 (nice) win over Prairie View does nothing other than provide a cheap joke. But they did hold an Oklahoma offense that may be scary to under 30 points, so that feel like something to hang their hat one. This Saturday they take on TCU in a game that should be fun and could tell us a lot about this squad moving forward.
9. Georgia St. (3-0) – I took a big swing last week ranking Georgia St. high after their win over UCONN, and they did nothing to disappoint after going to Charlotte and beating the 49ers 41-25. Yes, I understand the Sun Belt East is completely wide open. And yes I understand the schedule has not been the most challenging. But I also think that Darren Grainger is really, really good. Receivers Robert Lewis and Tailique Williams are really, really good. The rushing attack is really, really good. And the defense is…fine. We will see what they are truly made of Thursday night at Coastal Carolina. Don’t make me out to be a fool Panthers!
10. Marshall (2-0) – The Thundering Herd had a bye week this week, so there is nothing to really move them up or down too drastically other than other teams performances. This Saturday they host Virginia Tech in a game that they should, quite frankly, win relatively handily.
11. Toledo (2-1) – Reasonable minds can disagree on whether or not Toledo, Ohio or even Miami or Eastern Michigan are the best team in the MAC. And while I will listen to arguments about any of the above, I just think Toledo would beat the other teams. Their 21-17 win over San Jose St., but when put up against a 10-7 victory over Iowa St., a 19-17 win over UMass and a 31-24 overtime win over Cincinnati, we are splitting hairs a bit. Conference play begins in the MAC this Saturday (however, it is not MACtion in its purest form) at home against Western Michigan.
12. Appalachian St. (2-1) – In some ways, this is a pretty typical App St. team. They have a terrific running back in Nate Noel, who had his third 100-yard performance in as many games, rushing for 178 yards in their 43-28 win at home against East Carolina. However, in a crowded Sun Belt East, you have to look for what stands out. I don’t love their defense giving up at least 24 points in each of their games, so that’s an issue. This Saturday at Wyoming would be a nice showcase for quarterback Joey Aguilar. A win here, and I will feel a lot better about the Mountaineers going forward in conference play.
13. Ohio (3-1) – With everything that happened Saturday, it’s easy to forget the 10-7 Bobcats win over Iowa St. that may have set football back 100 years. Quarterback Kurtis Rourke is not putting up the numbers many people expected in the preseason, but this team clearly is better with him in the lineup than without. And the defense is very, very good. They travel to Bowling Green this week for their conference opener before a well-earned bye week.
14. Western Kentucky (2-1) – Apparently heavy is the head that wears the crown. I put them #1 last week, and while I didn’t expect them to go into Columbus and beat Ohio St., that was disappointing. I think they take their kick in the teeth and brush it off, but this week they go to Troy in a game that the Trojans feel like they need to right their own ship.
15. Wyoming (2-1) – For a half, it looked like Texas might suffer a post-Alabama hangover and resort back to the Texas of old. Alas, it was not meant to be, as the Longhorns turned it on in the second half on their way to a 31-10 victory. Much like WKU, it would be best to brush this loss off, because 1 loss could become 2 with App St. coming into town next week.
16. Georgia Southern (2-1) – We probably need to have a longer discussion about this Georgia Southern team, but I’m not ready to right now. They were hanging with Wisconsin well into the third quarter, even leading 14-7. The defense was playing better than they had in a very long time and if that version sticks around, a lot of questions on that side of the ball will go away. But MAN, Davis Brin has got to stop throwing interceptions. It was a bugaboo with him at Tulsa, and continues now. He has got to be more efficient, because the talent is there. A bounce back game at Ball St. takes place this Saturday before conference play gets wild.
17. UNLV (2-1) – In one of the more entertaining games that could easily have gone under the radar, the Rebels defeated SEC fore Vanderbilt 40-37 in Vegas. Going forward, they may be without quarterback Doug Brumfield, who left the game in the first quarter, but freshman Jayden Maivia played well in his absence, throwing for 261 yards and a touchdown and putting them in position for the game winning field goal. Games at UTEP and at Nevada with a home game against Hawai’i sandwiched in between give them a chance to accumulate wins. So let’s just keep an eye on this team in an increasingly interesting Mountain West.
18. Miami OH (2-1) – In the second game involving a MAC team beating their Big XII opponent Saturday, Miami went to state rival Cincinnati and came away with a 31-24 overtime victory, breaking a 16 game losing streak in the process. Brett Gabbert played as well as fans of the RedHawks expect him to, throwing for 237 and rushing for another 75 yards. I like Miami, but that Week One loss to the other Miami knocks them down a notch below their MAC brethren. They get a paycheck game against Delaware St. this week before conference play.
19. Coastal Carolina (2-1) – After their week one performance at UCLA the Chanticleers have been pretty quiet the last couple of weeks, beating Jacksonville St. and Duquesne relatively handily. Things will intensify very soon, as they host Georgia St. this Thursday before 3 straight conference road games. Things are about to get real fun real quick in the Sun Belt.
20. Rice (2-1) – A 59-7 win against Texas Southern is nice, but this is where the Owls really validate their win over Houston last week and find their place in the American conference. They head to South Florida to take on a USF team that game Alabama all they could handle in a 17-3 game. However, it can easily be argued that Rice QB JT Daniels is better than anyone the Bulls faced Saturday. These are the games the Owls need to win.
21. Texas St. (2-1) – Damn, Texas St. Those Jackson St. defenders have families.
The Bobcats put up 56 points in the first half against Coach Prime’s leftovers, winning 77-34. I don’t know if the two-quarterback system of TJ Finley and Malik Hornsby is sustainable, but Finley threw for 250 and 3 TDs and Hornsby ran for over 100 yards. The offense is going to scare a lot of their opponents going forward and the Sun Belt West offers them a path to success the East might not. This week they go to Nevada to take on a Wolf Pack team that scared Kansas Saturday night but ultimately Texas St. needs to beat to establish themselves as a force.
22. Eastern Michigan (2-1) – Their 19-17 win over UMass Saturday was the most “Eastern Michigan” game ever. It was ugly but it was a win. Moving on. This Saturday they travel to Jacksonville St. in a fun game.
23. Florida International (3-1) – We are probably treading into “pleasant surprise but is it sustainable” territory at this point. But FIU is 3-1, and almost 4-0 if they would have held on Week Zero at Louisiana Tech, after a 24-17 win at Connecticut. Freshman Keyone Jenkins has taken hold of the quarterback position and played his best game, throwing for 284 and two scores. If he keeps improving there is something there for sure, but a home against Liberty will certainly test them.
24. Jacksonville St. (2-1) – A bye week this week game the Gamecocks a chance to exhale a bit as their entry into the FBS has been generally successful to this point. A non-conference game at home against Eastern Michigan will be interesting before conference play hits high gear.
25. Colorado St. (0-2) – Putting an 0-2 team in my rankings goes against almost everything that I stand for, but after that game against Colorado, I had to at least acknowledge them. They played hard, man. But Shedeur Sanders is different. They need to bounce back next week at Middle Tennessee St. to get any consideration for these rankings in the foreseeable future though.