One of the biggest early season stories in college football is the success of the Pac….however many. And, honestly, it is good to see. For one, we don’t have to talk about an east coast bias for the time being. But while the nation is talking about Oregon and Colorado and USC and Washington, I’m here to remind you all of something.
There is a Group of 5 equivalent in the Mountain West.
Within our world, established powers USC and Oregon are replaced with Fresno St. and Air Force. Washington St. is a fun up-and-comer. So is UNLV. UCLA is a quiet but scary dark horse. So is Wyoming. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, we’ve seen Boise St. play Washington and it wasn’t pretty, but you get the idea.
So with that in mind, here is this week’s G5 Top 25. And yes, there is a likely West Coast bias. Enjoy it while it exists.
1. Fresno St. (4-0) – They were #1 last week, and a 53-10 win over Kent St. gives me no reason to take them out of the top spot, despite seemingly more impressive performances this week. The Bulldogs body of work lends themselves to this spot. Conference play begins this Saturday with a home game against Nevada then really gets interesting with two road games in early October. We’ll get there.
2. Tulane (3-1) – The Green Wave got a chance to fine tune some things before conference play with a 36-7 win over Nicholls Saturday. Quarterback Michael Pratt is back and was able to shake some rust off. Again, not the most impressive victory of the weekend. But Tulane has established themselves. This Saturday they open conference play at home against UAB.
3. James Madison (4-0) – I have JMU at 3 and there is a very real chance that I have still underrated them. In the past 3 weeks they have beaten a Power 5 foe (it was Virginia but still), the defending champion in their own conference and a Mountain West team (which I’ve already waxed plenty poetic about). All those games were on the road. JMU has won shootouts (including 45-38 Saturday at Utah St.), they have won defensive battles. JMU is not scared. I respect that a lot. And if you were expecting a break, I present to you Saturday’s home matchup against South Alabama.
4. Air Force (4-0) – An interesting debate (even if it is internally) may be on the horizon. I said last week that there is a very real chance that this Air Force team could go undefeated. I stand by that statement, but one of the reasons that feels plausible is that there is no Fresno St. on the schedule. The first half of Friday night’s game at San Jose St. looked dicey, as the Spartans were cooking on offense. But Air Force completely overwhelmed them in the second half on their way to a 45-20 victory. I stand by my previous statement. This team is very dangerous.
5. Georgia St. (4-0) – I’m taking a bit of a victory lap on this one. Sure, it was just a victory over UCONN three games ago. But I saw something different in this Panther team that was missing last year. They have since followed that up with wins at Charlotte and at Coastal Carolina, opponents that beat them in 2022. Look, I don’t know if they are going to win the Sun Belt East. That division is loaded. But Darren Grainger is well on his way to establishing himself as the best quarterback in the conference, and that can take a team a long way. Let’s just say, I’m feeling pretty good about that future I told you all about. This Saturday’s game at home against Troy will be one to watch.
6. Liberty (4-0) – This is purely an eye-test ranking, as their schedule will not do them any favors going forward. They are likely to steamroll CUSA with a pothole or two maybe along the way. But make no mistake, they are really good. They hang their hat on their running game and had two backs – Billy Lucas and Quinton Cooley – rush for over 100 yards in Saturday’s 38-6 drubbing of FIU. Quarterback Kaidon Salter also rushed and threw for 2 TDs. In October, CUSA will have their conference games televised on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The Flames are a team to tune in for.
7. Marshall (3-0) – Saturday’s 24-17 win over Virginia Tech wasn’t an upset. In fact, I told you it would happen in last week’s Gee, Five Thoughts column. Rasheen Ali is carrying this offense for the time being, rushing for 174 yards and two scores Saturday. But I still have concerns about Cam Fancher and his ability to win a game when Ali is not firing on all cylinders, especially in a division with Grainger, Davis Brin and Grayson McCall in it. But with arguably the best defense in the division, it may not matter. Next week they host Old Dominion.
8. Memphis (3-1) – It took a while, but I’ve come around on this Memphis team. In fact, I would say they looked better in a loss Saturday to Missouri than they did a week prior in a win at home against Navy. They hung with Mizzou all game long before falling 34-27 in St. Louis. The #2 team in the AAC is up for grabs, and Memphis looks the part. The next two games at home against Boise St. and Tulane will tell us a lot about this team.
9. Wyoming (3-1) – While the Cowboys’ 22-19 win over App State seemed bizarre, with a blocked field goal being returned for a score with 2 minutes to go the decider, there was something oddly comforting about it. Wyoming is a team primarily known for their defense and running game and both showed up in spades. The Pokes built their entire offense out of running back Harrison Waylee, who single-handedly was responsible for 163 of their 208 total yards. The team generated only 7 first downs all game, quarterback Andrew Peasley was 5-15 for 31 yards and an interception, AND THEY WON. True sicko stuff. It’s never pretty, but this feels like the third best team in the Mountain West for the time being. Let’s see how far their approach gets them. Saturday they host New Mexico.
10. Ohio (4-1) – Welcome to the MAC portion of the column.
There has been a shift in my opinion at the top of the league. Toledo struggled for a half against Western Michigan, while the Bobcats took care of business at Bowling Green 38-7. Kurtis Rourke had his best game of the season, going 14 for 16 for almost 200 yards and 3 scores. They aren’t asking him to do too much, but don’t really need him to. With games upcoming against Kent St., Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, we may not see them lose for a while.
11. Georgia Southern (3-1) – Saturday’s 40-3 drubbing of Ball St. in Muncie was the game where everything clicked.
The offense looked crisp, as Brin threw for 344 yards, 4 TDs and more important, no interceptions. The defense picked off Kadin Semonza twice and held an admittedly bad Ball St. offense to under 200 total yards. It was a dominant performance all around. Exactly what Georgia Southern needed heading into conference play this Saturday when they host Coastal Carolina. This team has a very high ceiling.
12. Toledo (3-1) – Something seems a little off about this Rocket team.
The first half of Saturday’s game against Western Michigan, they struggled. Dequon Finn threw two picks, then ultimately got hurt. In came Tucker Gleason, and it seems like a switch was flipped. Gleason threw 2 TDs and running back Peny Boone rushed for over 200 yards and the (rocket) ship was righted as Toledo won 49-31. The schedule is pretty light for the foreseeable future, but a slow start like the one they got off too will come back to bite them against the better teams in the conference.
13. Texas St. (3-1) – The Sun Belt West is becoming every bit as interesting as the East Division. What appeared to be a two-horse race between Troy and South Alabama has seen new challengers rise up in Texas St. and another team I’ll mention later. It took the Bobcats a while to get going at Nevada, in fact, they decided to just take the first half off, spotting the Wolf Pack a 17-0 lead. But in the second half, we saw the Texas St. team many expected. outscoring Nevada 35-7 in the second half. When this team is clicking, they are scary. It just sometimes takes a while to get going. Running back Ismail Mahdi is a name to remember, as he rushed for 216 yards and two scores. If he can consistently balance out quarterback TJ Finley and that passing attack, this might be the team to beat in the West. They begin conference play Saturday at Southern Miss.
14. Jacksonville St. (3-1) – In one of the more surprising outcomes to me Saturday, Jacksonville St. out-Eastern Michiganed Eastern Michigan, shutting out the Eagles 21-0. There is not much of a passing game to be found, but quarterback Logan Smothers and running back Malik Jackson each rushed for over 100 yards against a team that prides itself on their defense. Thursday night they play fellow FBS newbie Sam Houston in a game that will tell both teams where they are in their program development.
15. Miami OH (3-1) – Not a ton can be taken from the RedHawks 62-20 win over Delaware St. Saturday. Conference play begins Saturday at Kent St. This is pretty clearly the third best team in the conference, but back-to-back games at home against Toledo and at Ohio in late October can prove differently.
16. UNLV (3-1) – The Rebels improved to 3-1 after a 45-28 win at UTEP that is honestly more impressive than it might sound. It would be easy to assume that traditionally bad UNLV would follow up a win against Vanderbilt with a loss, but this team feels different. They are led by two freshmen, quarterback Jayden Maivia and running back Jai’Den Thomas, who rushed for 100 yards and 4 scores. There are building blocks here to work with. They open conference play Saturday at home against Hawai’i.
17. SMU (2-2) – SMU has been a tough team to figure out. They are certainly better than a lot of the teams ranked above them, but they have had two opportunities to show they belong with the Power 5 foes that will soon be considered their peers but have looked pretty bad in both of those games. Saturday they took an Iron Skillet to the dome courtesy of TCU 34-17. They are probably destined to be a team that beats who they are supposed to and loses to teams that are on a higher level. Their conference slate is pretty smooth sailing early on, starting with this Saturday at Charlotte.
18. Appalachian St. (2-2) – I talked about Saturday’s game in Laramie earlier, but from the perspective of the Mountaineers, that game was theirs for the taking. But that kind of seems to be the theme of App State. They have played well enough to be 4-0, but they are 2-2 headed into conference play. I still think Nate Noel is really good and am still unsure about Joey Aguilar at QB. It’s like Marshall with a defense not as good as theirs. They start conference play Saturday at UL Monroe, and they should win that game. But close no longer counts. We are quickly running out of games they should win.
19. Boise St. (2-2) – Welcome back Boise St. Your absence has been felt. However, a loss this week at Memphis and you probably leave the rankings again.
Running back Ashton Jeanty had his coming out party Friday night agaisnt San Diego St., rushing for 205 yards and two scores. He is the guy the offense should be built around while George Holani heals up from injury and Taylen Green continues to develop at quarterback. The game at Memphis might be the G5 Game of the Week.
20. Troy (2-2) – The Trojans are starting to resemble themselves again. Troy was able to bounce back after two consecutive losses with a 27-24 win over Western Kentucky Saturday. It was a game which saw them completely shut down the Hilltopper running game (13 yards on 13 carries) and saw their own running back Kimani Vidal go for 156 yards and two scores. (Good luck naming the first team all-conference running backs this year.) This Saturday they go to Atlanta to take on Georgia St. in a game that is vital for both teams.
21. Louisiana (3-1) – If you’ve gotten this far you may recall in the Texas St. section that I mentioned new challengers in the Sun Belt West. This is who I had in mind. While currently being 0-1 with a loss to Old Dominion on their resume doesn’t exactly help my argument, that was before the Zeon Chriss Experience. Chriss – a freshman from Baton Rouge – was inserted into the starting lineup after that ODU loss and has provided a much needed spark to the Ragin Cajun offense. While he has made his share of mistakes, he has rushed for 2 TDs in his two starts, wins over UAB and Buffalo. This Saturday they head to Minnesota to take on a Golden Gopher team that is beatable.
22. South Florida (2-2) – Unless you got an incredible amount of pleasure from watching Colorado get curb stomped or Lane Kiffin get his comeuppance, the most entertaining game from the 3:30 window yesterday might’ve been USF’s 42-29 win over Rice in Tampa. Quarterback Byrum Brown is a name to remember, as he threw for 435 and 2 TDs and rushed for 82 yards and another score. I’m not saying he is Hendon Hooker, but the former Tennessee offensive coordinator needed someone with a similar skillset to run his offense. He may have found the guy. If the defense that showed up against Alabama plays to a similar level, this could be a bowl team. They look to go 2-0 in conference play Saturday at Navy.
23. Central Michigan (2-2) – Possibly the most surprising outcome in the G5 this past weekend was Central Michigan’s 34-30 win over South Alabama in Mobile. The Chippewas may have found something at quarterback in Jase Bauer, who actually started the week before at Notre Dame. But maybe his performance against the Jaguars was a better gauge of what he can do. Bauer, who has replaced Bert Emanuel at the position, threw for 224 and a score, but also rushed for 55 yards and found the end zone 4 times on the ground. CMU begins conference play Saturday at home against Eastern Michigan.
24. South Alabama (2-2) – I think USA is still really good and will be toward the top of the Sun Belt West. But I couldn’t rank them above CMU given what happened Saturday and I can’t ignore the fact that they play JMU on the road this Saturday, so here we are. The stars showed up for the Jaguars, so it’s not like they played badly. Carter Bradley threw for 2 TDs and didn’t turn the ball over. La’Damian Webb rushed for 2 TD and Caullin Lacy caught 2 as well. I guess when Jase Bauer decides to go off, nothing can be done about it. They might want to get their rush defense figured out because JMU will exploit them even further.
25. Western Kentucky (2-2) – Just two short weeks ago, this team was at the top of these rankings. Now they are at the bottom and have me openly asking if Jacksonville St. is better than them. Life moves at you fast I guess. Thursday night they host Middle Tennessee State in their conference opener.
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.