As we head into the home stretch and teams are finally able to proclaim bowl eligibility, let’s take a look at the weekend that was in the Group of 5.
1. Troy: Ache-Men
(Say it out loud, give it a second to marinade, then appreciate the brilliance.)
Troy established itself as the top team in the Sun Belt West with their 10-6 victory on the road against division darling South Alabama. As the score would indicate, the Trojans won with a great effort from their nasty defense. Carlton Martial and Richard Jibunor are future pros in the Front 7, and corner O’shai Fletcher and Reddy Stewart may be as well. They hassled Carter Bradley all day and made it a struggle for the Jaguar offense all game long.
The Trojans are bowl eligible at 6-2 and 4-1 in the conference with their lone loss the ultimate “What-If” game against App St. where they lost on a Hail Mary. They actually don’t play again until Nov. 5, when they travel to Louisiana. After that it is home games against Army and UL-Monroe before ending the season at Jonesboro against Arkansas. It would be nice if they could use this time to figure out their quarterback situation, as it is really keeping them from unlocking their full potential. But with that schedule, it may not matter. They could (and maybe should) end up 10-2 and Sun Belt Champions regardless thanks to that defense.
2. North Texas is Wile E. Coyote
If you have seen any Wile E. Coyote cartoon you know the premise. He thinks he has a good idea, but then something ultimately goes wrong, making the coyote look bad. If you saw any of the UTSA-North Texas game, it looked a lot like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon.
The coyote sets a trap, it starts off well, but then the Roadrunner(s) figure things out. In the cartoons, it’s usually painting a wall that looks like a road with an anvil dropping overhead or whatever. But Saturday the trap was playing solid defense and keeping the offense grounded for 3 quarters. Ultimately the Roadrunners figured things out and just outran their foe to the tune of 257 yards, then trusted their high-powered passing attack when it mattered, as Frank Harris connected with De’Corian Clark with 15 seconds left.
The Mean Green had a plan on defense, but the Roadrunners were too much and eventually forced their foe off the cliff. Meep. Meep.
3. This Week’s Edition of “Whose Division is it Anyway?”
Let’s take a glance at the MWC West Division….
Your current leader is a Fresno St. team that this month has lost to UCONN and Boise St. by 20. (Both without star quarterback Jake Haener but still…) They may have righted the ship a bit by beating San Jose St. last week and following that up with a convincing win over New Mexico on Saturday. If they can get by a San Diego St. team that is getting right themselves, the schedule is not overly daunting in November. UNLV has fallen back to Earth after a hot start due to an injury to quarterback Doug Brumfield. (Reportedly a concussion.) If he returns, a division title may be out of the question but a bowl certainly is not. If Haener isn’t coming back, I tend to think the division favorite is San Diego St., who may have found something since Jalen Mayden has taken over at quarterback and Braxton Burmeister moved to wide receiver. Hopefully San Jose St. can rally emotionally after the tragic death of Camden McWright.
4. Move Over Josh Allen
Usually the MAC can be counted on for unpredictability. Maybe not so this year, as arguably the hottest team in all of the G5 are the Buffalo
After an 0-3 start, including a loss to Holy Cross, the Bulls have rattled off five consecutive wins, including a 34-27 victory of Toledo on Saturday. I’m trying to avoid the “stampeding” line about how they got the win, but when you score 24 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to overwhelm your opponent, the analogy just kinda fits.
The defense has been terrific lately for the Bulls, forcing Toledo quarterback Daquan Finn into four interceptions. The offense is efficient more than it is explosive, with multiple threats in the running game and at wideout. Cole Snyder has been fine at quarterback. He’s not putting up eye-popping numbers, having only thrown for more than 300 yards once (in the loss to Holy Cross) but he isn’t making many mistakes either. They can almost put the East Division away before MACtion even begins with a win at Ohio next weekend.
The MAC: Always wild.
5. Looking Ahead
The highlight of the schedule is probably Cincinnati at UCF (3:30 Eastern, ESPN). But if you are looking for other games that should be entertaining, look no further than the always unpredictable Sun Belt East. Coastal Carolina travels to Marshall, while Old Dominion heads to Georgia St. For a West Division clash, tune in to ESPN2 Thursday night to watch two surging squads – Southern Miss and Louisiana. For the Sickos out there, a Charlotte team that just fired Will Healy after losing to FIU goes to Rice.
Maybe ESPN will even promote it correctly.