Now that the calendar has turned to October, College Football Playoff speculation is heating up, but lost in the shuffle to secure a semifinal invitation has been the play of a handful of impressive Group of 5 programs.
A few, namely Houston, may have national championship aspirations of their own, but a New Year’s Six bowl game may not be a bad consolation prize. Here’s a look at the cream of the crop outside the Power 5.
In just 19 games as the Cougars’ head coach, Tom Herman has elevated Houston’s expectations from a bowl game to “CFP or bust.” The Coogs have knocked off five ranked opponents in their last 10 games by an average margin of 11.4 points. Herman’s inventive, up-tempo offense is the perfect fit for Greg Ward Jr., and Todd Orlando’s aggressive defense has resulted in the 12th-highest “Havoc Rating” in the nation.
Equally impressive is that despite dialing up a healthy amount of blitzes, Houston leads the FBS in rushing yards allowed at just 42 per game. Top to bottom, the program is the class of the Group of 5, and the Cougars are well positioned for a CFP invite should they handle Louisville at home Nov. 17.
The Broncos continue to go about their business in a workman-like manner, just off the national radar. Boise State has quietly scored a pair of victories over Pac-12 opponents (Washington State, Oregon State) and is well positioned to leapfrog Houston for a New Year’s Six bowl game should the Coogs stumble down the stretch.
Bryan Harsin’s team will be favored in all eight of their remaining regular season games – likely by double digits in each, with the exception of BYU. The Broncos’ big three of Brett Rypien, Jeremy McNichols, and Thomas Sperbeck give them a potent offense, and Andy Avalos’ defense is allowing just 2.4 yards per carry through four games. A looming MWC title game tilt with San Diego State could help an undefeated Broncos team crack the top 10.
It’s been a few years since MACtion has produced a true powerhouse team, but P.J. Fleck’s bunch seems to be the real deal. Western Michigan has already knocked off two Big Ten opponents on the road (Northwestern, Illinois) and has done it behind brilliant quarterback play. Zach Terrell has an immaculate 12:0 TD:INT ratio, and the defense has excelled at taking the ball away.
The Broncos’ aversion to turnovers, mixed with their explosiveness on the perimeter, has resulted in the third-highest scoring margin (+20.5) among Group of 5 programs. The day after Thanksgiving, WMU hosts Toledo in what could be the conference’s first battle between ranked opponents since 2012. A win against the Rockets and a subsequent victory in the MAC title game could vault the Broncos into the top 15.
San Diego State
The Aztecs’ 13-game winning streak was snapped over the weekend, but they still control their own destiny within the MWC. To put their cushy schedule in perspective, their most challenging conference game could be a trip to Laramie in late November to take on Wyoming. It appears San Diego State has a red carpet to the MWC championship game, where it will likely find an undefeated, top-15 Boise team waiting. If that’s the case, college football fans are in for a treat.
A SDSU-BSU MWC championship game could prove to be a showcase for two future NFL running backs. SDSU’s Donnel Pumphrey leads the nation in rushing yards through five games and has accomplished that without a tremendous workload. Pumphrey, who averages 7.7 yards per carry, continues to split reps with Rashaad Penny. Another big season for the Aztecs’ Rocky Long should put his name in the running for the top job openings in college football.
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Source: The Score