Just two weeks into the college football regular season has seen two of the top Group of Five contenders for the New Years Six take a fall. Last night saw both Cincinnati and No. 20 Boise State lose to drop to identical records of 1-1. There is still plenty of football to be played, and Boise State and Cincinnati may still end up being the top two teams in the Group of Five mix, but their early stumbles provide an early shake-up in the underrated Group of Five conversation and competition moving forward.
The American Athletic Conference was full of intrigue on Saturday. The big winners in the conference were Houston and Temple. Both won huge games on the road, although each was important for different reasons. For Houston, a win on the road against Louisville of the ACC gave Tom Herman and his new program a nice road win against a power conference opponent. I called for a big year from Houston in the regular season, with just one loss en route to the first American Athletic Conference championship game. As it turns out, I still feel good about that outlook in conference play, but Houston just won the one game I predicted them to lose. If Herman can keep it going, Houston will be the rising favorite for the New Years Six bid.
Temple’s win was also key. With the road win at Cincinnati the Owls have done a couple of things they never did under Al Golden; beat Penn State and win a big conference game. Kudos to Matt Rhule for getting Temple to take those steps forward that have stood in the way for so long. The win against the preseason conference favorites puts Temple in first place in the division, and the Owls will later host UCF and Memphis in conference play. Temple does not have Houston or Navy on the schedule (and a home game against Notre Dame already looks more interesting given this weekend’s developments). Maybe Cincinnati proves to be the better team over the course of the season, but they are now playing catch-up against a Temple team that has a legitimate defense led by Tyler Matakevich.
At the end of the year, a 12-1 Boise State team with a Mountain West Conference title will be tough to pass on by the selection committee, but that leaves a slim margin for error for the Broncos. Boise State gets a slight benefit by way of reputation, something other Group of Five programs do not have. For now though, Boise State will have to chase down Air Force, who got off to a 1-0 start in conference play with a win over San Jose State.
The biggest surprise of the weekend in the Group of Five pack was Toledo heading down to Arkansas and coming home with a good defensive win. The Rockets, playing without its top offensive player (running back Kareem Hunt was suspended), managed to upset the Razorbacks on the road. Arkansas entered the game with a top 25 ranking, which means Toledo now owns the most impressive win in the Group of Five. For now, that’s enough for me to put them atop my latest Group of Five ranking.
The College Football Playoff selection committee does not have to worry about ranking teams for another couple of months, but here is how I would rank the top five Group of Five teams at this point in the season, taking into account wins and losses over perceived talent.
- Toledo (1-0): Most impressive win of the bunch, at ranked Arkansas.
- Temple (2-0): Dominated Penn State, won on road at Cincy
- Houston (2-0): Nice win at Louisville, although Cardinals are now 0-2
- Air Force (2-0): First-place in Mountain Division of MWC
- Memphis (2-0): Blowout win at Kansas, but it was Kansas
Northern Illinois just missed my cut. So did Navy, after appearing in my ranking last week. Boise State and Cincinnati drop out of my top five for now based mostly on losing, but they are certainly on the radar. Meanwhile, Conference USA’s Western Kentucky is floating back there as well, with the overall strength of C-USA still a concern. The committee did not give the conference much respect last season. Nobody in the Sun Belt Conference reached Week 3 without a loss.