We have reached the point of the season where things start to get clearer. But also very, very muddled.
For the most part, teams have played at least one conference game. And for the most part, teams in the Group of 5 have played at least one Power 5 team. So we have a decent sample size of what a team is. But winning one of those and losing the other can really skew your perception of a team.
Let’s take the top of the MAC for example. Ohio, Toledo and Miami OH have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. (Central Michigan is playing well too but for the purposes of this exercise let’s just say 3.) Ohio lost Week Zero to a San Diego St. team that is struggling in large part to Kurtis Rourke getting injured and bounced back to beat a Power 5 squad (Iowa St.). Toledo lost to Illinois on a last second field goal but have won every game since. And Miami OH got boatraced by the other Miami Week One but have won out since in mostly impressive fashion, including a win at Cincinnati. So not only are you comparing resumes of teams within each conference but also doing so over 5 conferences. It’s comparing Fuji apples to Golden Delicious apples to oranges to tangerines to kumquats.
So with that in mind, here is this week’s Group of Five Top 25.
1. Fresno St. (5-0) – I honestly thought about making a change at the top after Fresno’s 27-9 win over Nevada because I think Air Force is playing the best out of any team in the G5 right now. If you want to argue about it, I’m not hard to find on social media. As it is, Fresno St. still has the more impressive resume over the course of the season, beating two Power 5 teams. Oddly enough, both teams play Wyoming next (Air Force has a bye this week and play them Oct. 14) so we will have that as a comparison metric in the future.
2. Tulane (4-1) – The Green Wave got punched in the mouth Saturday by UAB, trailing 20-14 at halftime. I love the way they responded, completely locking down the Blazer offense in the second half on the way to a 35-23 win in New Orleans. Freshman running back Makhi Hughes may have had a breakout game, rushing for 123 yards and two scores. Tulane gets a bye week before a big game Friday, Oct. 13 at Memphis.
3. Air Force (5-0) – The Falcons 49-10 win over San Diego St. is impressive enough on its own. But they are actually more balanced in their attack compared to previous games. Sure, the rushing attack got theirs, but quarterback Zac Larrier threw for 189 and 2 scores and the defense got in on the action with an interception return for a touchdown. This team is well-rounded for a Service Academy and can beat you in many different ways. I feel more confident saying they can win out every week.
4. James Madison (5-0) – This might be the best resume out of any team to this point. A win over a P5 team and two convincing wins over arguably the two best teams in the Sun Belt West. But all 4 of the teams at the top could be viewed as interchangeable and I don’t love that the last two games the Dukes have been outscored in the second half to make those scores closer than they should be. (They’ve actually been outscored in their last 4 contests in the second half.) Regardless, JMU is another team that has a bye week before their next Conference Game of the Year at home against Georgia Southern.
5. Memphis (4-1) – The most impressive win for me Saturday was Memphis holding on to beat Boise St. 35-32. The Tigers trailed late into the third quarter before a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown turned the tide in their favor for good. For the most part, quarterback Seth Henigan has played well this season but the real story for me is running back Blake Watson, who rushed for 113 yards and two scores Saturday, and receiver Roc Taylor, who had his second consecutive 100-yard game (5 catches for 102 yards and a score). This is a very balanced team and one that is clicking before their showdown against Tulane Oct. 13.
6. Liberty (4-0) – Liberty had a bye week this weekend before a stretch that sees them play 3 games in 12 days. (Weeknight CUSA football is going to test our college football fandom.) They begin that this Thursday at home against Sam Houston.
7. Georgia Southern (4-1) – This is a team that is one bad half away from being undefeated. And not like Ryan Day’s definition of “one bad half” where it is really two bad halves two consecutive years against your biggest rival and other loosely defined bad halves that didn’t affect the outcome of the game, but I digress. This team is humming ever since their loss at Wisconsin. Saturday, Davis Brin threw for 3 scores, Khaleb Hood had 12 catches foe 131 yards and a score and the defense picked off Grayson McCall 4 times in their 38-28 win over Coastal Carolina. They too get a bye this week before their showdown at James Madison.
8. Marshall (4-0) – The Thundering Herd quietly moved to 4-0 after an entertaining 41-35 win at home against a feisty Old Dominion. I’m not used to seeing the run defense play poorly, but shout-out to ODU running back Kadarius Calloway, who rushed for 236 yards and 3 scored on just 11 carries. But Marshall has their own rushing attack to lean on, as quarterback Cam Fancher rushed for over 100 yards and Rasheen Ali scored twice. Saturday they take on their second ACC opponent of the year as they head to Raleigh to take on NC State.
9. Wyoming (4-1) – Wyoming moved to 4-1 thanks to a 35-26 win over New Mexico Saturday in Laramie in a game that wasn’t really expected to be a shootout. Then again, are you ever really surprised when a shootout breaks out if Cowboys are involved?
Anyway, Harrison Waylee is establishing himself as the best offensive weapon. He’s played in 3 games and rushed for over 100 yards in each game. (191 yards and a score against the Lobos.) This Saturday they host Fresno St. in a game that I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while.
10. Ohio (4-1) – The Bobcats had a bye week and get something resembling a bye week next week as well as they host Kent St.
11. SMU (3-2) – We’ve probably found SMU’s sweet spot for the foreseeable future. They are very good, but their resume is going to hinder them some. They lost to both Power 5 opponents they had and don’t play Tulane at all. Their toughest AAC challenge is Nov. 18 at Memphis in a game that may determine a conference title game birth. The Mustangs are good. Jaylon Knighton is a stud (11 carries for 150 yards and a 95 yard TD in their 34-16 win over Charlotte). But at this point, they may not overly impress too often.
12. Texas St. (4-1) – I think this is the best team in the Sun Belt West. But here is the hottest take I can offer:
This team could win out.
The West division is clearly the weaker of the two Sun Belt divisions. And the 3 toughest games remaining on their schedule (Troy, Georgia Southern and South Alabama) are all being played in Texas. This offense is humming, scoring 42 points before Southern Miss knew what hit them. Quarterback TJ Finley is playing mistake-free football, throwing for 10 scores this season and only 1 interception. Running back Ismail Mahdi has scored 6 TDs in their last 3 games. They travel to Louisiana Saturday in what could be a fun showcase for both teams on ESPNU.
13. UNLV (4-1) – One of the more impressive coaching jobs has been what Barry Odom has done in Vegas. The Rebels moved to 4-1 after their 44-20 win over Hawai’i Saturday. Offensively, they are rushing the ball well behind backs Donavyn Lester and Jai’Den Thomas and freshman Jayden Maivia has been playing decent football. The defense is not great, but that it Odom’s specialty. They should continue to improve. With games upcoming at Nevada and at home against Colorado St., there is a very real chance this team becomes bowl eligible before their game Oct. 28 at Fresno St.
14. Miami OH (4-1) – The RedHawks had some work to do to get the taste of that 38-3 loss in Florida out of our collective mouths. But we are getting there with them. I think they have a very good defense and I think Brett Gabbert is one of the top QBs in the conference, but their 23-3 win against Kent St. was kinda just what they were supposed to do rather than some impressive statement. Let’s see how they fair Saturday against a Bowling Green team that just beat Georgia Tech.
15. Troy (3-2) – That was the kind of performance I was expecting from Troy. The rushing attack led by Kimani Vidal was terrific, Gunner Watson played fine and defense put out their best performance of the season in a 28-7 win over Georgia St. This Saturday they host an improving Arkansas St. in a decent measuring stick more so for the Red Wolves.
16. Toledo (4-1) – You can’t argue with the results, but I’m not loving what I am seeing from this Rocket team.
When healthy, Dequan Finn is playing well. He accounted for 342 total yards and 3 scores in Saturday’s 35-33 win over NIU. And running back Peny Boone has rushed for almost 450 yards in the past 3 games. But the defense is has given up at least 30 points to both of their conference opponents. It could be a case of life in the MAC, but it may catch up with them at some point. They travel to UMASS next week and Ball St. the following week in a couple games that can help shore up a couple concerns.
17. Georgia St. (4-1) – The Panthers were playing with a bit of house money coming into Saturday’s game against Troy. They were off to a 4-0 start that few people expected, so a win was probably asking a lot. But I was certainly hoping for a more competitive outcome than that. They have a bye week before Marshall comes into town.
18. Western Kentucky (3-2) – Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of this team. They haven’t been the offensive juggernaut that fans have gotten used to seeing from this Tyson Helton-led team. (Some are saying that his brother Clay has the better offense. It’s me. I’m “some”.) They easily handled Middle Tennessee St. 31-10 Thursday night and travel to Louisiana Tech Thursday. This is probably the clear second best team in CUSA, for whatever that is worth.
19. Jacksonville St. (4-1) – If last Thursday’s Jacksonville St.-Sam Houston game is any indication of what to expect from weeknight CUSA football (Which needs a catchy MACTION-type nickname) then it has a chance to be pretty fun.
Thursday the Gamecocks pulled out a 35-28 overtime win, establishing themselves as the best of the FBS newcomers. To take the next step, they need to go to Murfreesboro and beat a mid Middle Tennessee St.
20. South Florida (3-2) – It’s very early, but sitting at the top of the AAC standings are the South Florida Bulls, and I think this start is sustainable.
Their victories have come against Rice and at Navy, two very different styles of offense. While they themselves have put up 40 points against both opponents. Coach Alex Golesh has done a good job of implementing the offense he brought from Tennessee to Tampa. Quarterback Byrum Brown has continued to play outstanding football, throwing for 773 yards and 5 TDs in those two conference games. There is no Tulane or SMU on this schedule and this Saturday they head to UAB for what should be a fun, but ultimately winnable game. This should be a bowl team, which is an accomplishment.
21. Central Michigan (3-2) – The MAC team that might be playing the best football right now is Central Michigan. The Chippewas were able to gut out a 26-23 win over Eastern Michigan Saturday. Their diverse rushing attack is where CMU is making their hay with duel-threat quarterback Jase Bauer making enough plays. I like this team even more than I did when I thought Bert Emanuel was going to be the most electric player in the conference. Their next three games are at Buffalo, at home against Akron and at Ball St. They should be bowl eligible by MACTION season.
22. Appalachian St. (3-2) – The most entertaining game bar none this weekend was Appalachian St. winning 41-40 at UL Monroe on a walk-off 54-yard field goal by Michael Hughes. Quarterback Joey Aguilar had probably his most productive game to date, throwing for 335 yards and 3 scores. Running back Nate Noel did his thing, yet again rushing for over 100 yards. They host Coastal Carolina on Tuesday, Nov. 10. Say what you will about this team and where they fit in the Sun Belt East, but they make things interesting.
23. Rice (3-2) – The Owls moved to 3-2 after a hard fought 24-17 win over East Carolina Saturday night. It’s wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing game. JT Daniels was a modest 18-32 for 232 and two TDs. Star receiver Luke McCaffrey only had one catch for 5 yards. But the defense played very well, sacking Pirate QB Alex Flinn 3 times and picking him off once. They host UCONN Saturday to take on a winless Huskie team that they would be wise (that’s an Owl joke people) not to lose to.
24. Tulsa (3-2) – Tulsa has been a bit of a blind spot for me to this point, but their resume is what I would want from a team like them. They lost to Washington and Oklahoma which, ok. And they have handled Northern Illinois and Temple the past two weeks. This Saturday they take on Florida Atlantic in Boca. I see you now, Golden Hurricane.
25. Louisiana (3-2) – If I’m being completely honest, I wanted to put UL Monroe here, which I’m sure would’ve added fuel to an already heated rivalry. But moral victories are pretty much all weighed the same here and I objectively think Louisiana is a better team, so here we are. The Ragin Cajuns had a chance to make a statement by going to Big 10 country and coming back with a win. Instead they lost 35-24 at Minnesota in a respectable performance. Zeon Chriss has to clean up the mistakes because Texas St. will make them pay this Saturday.
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.