Even though the Gang of Five will probably get shut out of the College Football Playoff, there’s still plenty to play for. After all, the highest ranked team from this group will get the chance to square off against one of the big boys in a New Year’s Day Bowl Game.
With that in mind, I’ll be providing a list of the top seven “mid-major” teams each week. Please keep in mind that this list is fluid and is likely to change from week to week.
Here’s the initial installment:
* Please note that BYU is not included in these rankings since the Cougars cannot capture this bid.
1. Boise State (1-0) — As I wrote in my week one takeaways piece, the Broncos’ hopes of qualifying for the playoffs took a huge hit this weekend because of the Pac-12’s struggles in non-conference play. However, Boise did look solid against Washington in the first half before easing off the gas over the final 30 minutes of the contest. While it might not resonate very much after week 1, this victory over the Huskies will look more impressive as the season wears on. Given that the Broncos have the best resume (so far), they’ll debut atop the standings in the initial poll.
2. Houston (1-0) — The Cougars rolled up 627 yards in Tom Herman’s debut, coasting to 52-24 win over Tennessee Tech. Although the final score doesn’t look very lopsided, the outcome of this game was never in doubt, as UH opened up a 45-10 lead before calling off the dogs in the fourth quarter. The run defense played like a championship unit throughout the contest, allowing just 29 yards on 33 carries. Since I think the Cougars will win the AAC, they’re at No. 2 this week.
3. Temple (1-0) — The Owls were the most pleasant surprise from the opening week of the season, whipping Penn State 27-10. Temple’s defense dominated the game for the final three and a half quarters, limiting the Nittany Lion offense just 52 yards during that span. The Owls’ victory — it’s first over Penn State since 1941 — over a solid Big Ten team gives it a better resume (thus far) over everyone but Boise State. However, if TU continues to play defense the way it did this weekend, it could find itself at the top of standings by the end of the season.
4. Colorado State (1-0) — It wasn’t perfect (4 fumbles lost), but the Mike Bobo era at Colorado State got off to a successful start as the team throttled Savannah State 65-13. Nick Stevens showed that he has what it takes to lead the Ram offense this fall, throwing for 289 yards and 5 TD’s before leaving the game in third quarter. On other side of the ball, CSU’s defense looked much better than it did last year, limiting the Tigers to just 3 of 18 on third down conversion attempts. If — and it’s a big if — the Rams can beat Boise, they could earn the top spot.
5. Utah State (1-0) — After reading about Colorado State, I’m sure many of you are thinking, “big deal, it’s just an FCS opponent.” While there’s probably some validity to that line of thinking, it’s worth noting that not everyone destroyed their FCS opponents this weekend. In fact, the Aggies — who I expect to compete with Colorado State and Boise State for Mountain West supremacy — needed a fourth quarter punt return for a touchdown to beat Southern Utah 12-9. Although this clunker didn’t win the team any style points, I’m keeping USU in the top seven because it found a way to win, which is the only metric that really matters. Besides, a victory over Utah on Friday night would make people forget all about the season opener.
6. Marshall (1-0) — Defending C-USA Champion Marshall pulled off a mild upset this weekend, defeating Purdue 41-31. Better known for their explosive offenses, the Thundering Herd defense was the difference in this game as Tiquan Lang returned two interceptions for a touchdown, including a pick six that ended any hope of a Boilermaker comeback. However, quarterback Michael Birdsong — who had the unenviable task of replacing two-time Conference USA Player of the Year Rakeem Cato — also turned in a solid outing, completing 23-of-36 passes for 234 yards and 2 TDs. With solid performances on both sides of the ball against a Big Ten squad, it wouldn’t surprise me to see MU repeat as league champs.
7. Western Kentucky (1-0) — With so many talented teams to choose from, picking the final team in the poll is usually a very difficult task. However, the Hilltoppers made the choice a lot easier this week by defeating Vanderbilt 14-12. Although WKU was actually outgained by a 393-247 margin, the team came up with plays when it needed them the most, forcing three turnovers and breaking up a potential game-tying two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. Pulling out a win like that on the road against an SEC opponent, is just enough to capture the final slot in this week’s poll.
Others receiving consideration: Navy, Cincinnati, Toledo, Western Michigan, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia Southern