As we get to the middle of October the separation between contenders and pretenders is starting to take form in the national championship and playoff picture. The same is true of the Group of Five race. This weekend saw one undefeated Group of Five contender go down on the road with Navy not able to keep up the pace with Notre Dame in South Bend, but otherwise it was more of the same in this weekly jockeying for position in the Group of Five pecking order.
Toledo went down early against Kent State but ripped off 38 unanswered points for a 38-7 victory over the Golden Flashes. Things are looking solid for Toledo,already with a road win at Arkansas and a home win against Iowa State for a pair of Power 5 victories. The Arkansas win occurred when the Razorbacks were a top 20 team and Toledo was without its top player, running back Kareem Hunt. Arkansas is now just 2-4 overall and is in danger of not qualifying for a postseason bowl game. Is that still the best win out there for Group of Five contenders? It may not be anymore (I’ll get to that later). However, things appear to be falling into place for Toledo with about as favorable schedule as it could get the rest of the way in conference play. Toledo has a road trip to Bowling Green in mid-November and home games against Northern Illinois and Western Michigan that can still be tricky, but Toledo is eyeing up a potential undefeated season, which will make them a strong candidate for the College Football Playoff selection committee when it comes time to awarding a spot in the New Years Six (no, we will not be discussing playoff chances here). But will that be enough to guarantee Toledo a spot in a big bowl game?
It is time to give the Temple Owls a bit more props for their body of work. The season-opening win against Penn State was a bit of a stunner, but week by week that win against the Nittany Lions is beginning to look like the best win on paper that any Group of Five team may have. Penn State improved to 5-1 yesterday, which helps boost Temple’s performance to date. Toledo has been riding the road victory at Arkansas for a while, and that may still carry more weight in the long run, but Temple’s dominating win over a 5-1 Penn State looks even better than Boise State’s wins over Washington and Virginia, Memphis victories over Kansas or Toledo’s win over Iowa State. The question is whether or not Temple will keep this going. If the Owls can avoid slipping up in conference play the next two weeks at home against UCF or on the road at East Carolina, Temple will prepare for a showdown in Philadelphia with Notre Dame on Halloween. The Irish, now 5-1, host USC next week and get a bye week before making the road trip to Philly. Unbeaten Temple vs. 6-1 Notre Dame is a very real possibility, and that would be a major game in the Group of Five discussion, and a possible gamechanger. But let’s cross that bridge if we get there.
What about Boise State? The Broncos are ripping through the competition now. Despite a mild setback at BYU earlier in the season, the Broncos carry a 5-1 record and have outscored opponents 244-72, and 96-10 in Mountain West Conference play. The Broncos have the most notable brand going among Group of Five contenders outside of Navy, but the overall performance of the Mountain West Conference coudl come back to haunt Boise State even with one loss. The loss to BYU likely means Boise State will end up needing some assistance in the American Athletic Conference (which scored a nice victory over the ACC with USF blasting Syracuse). A one-loss Boise State may be able to sneak by one or two conference champs in the MAC and AAC, but it is far from a given. Boise State needs to continue shredding conference opponents and wait for something to happen in the MAC or AAC. It is far from impossible with so much football to be played. Remember that Memphis, Houston and Navy all play each other in division play, Temple is scheduled to play Memphis later this regular season. At least three AAC contenders are going to take a loss in conference play, and it is possible all four could take a hit.
Once again, here is how I would be ranking the Group of Five contenders at this point in the season, with consideration given to record, overall body of work and conference competition.
- Toledo: Still has best win of the bunch and Rockets looking to run through MAC
- Temple: The Owls are playing with the one of the best defenses in the Group of Five right now, and have a win against a Penn State team that is now 5-1.
- Memphis: The Tigers are still probably the team to beat in the American Athletic Conference and are undefeated to stay just ahead of Boise State.
- Boise State: The Broncos are dominating in conference play, which is exactly what they need to do.
- Houston: The Cougars had a tussle with SMU for a while, but pulled away for a solid win. Cougars can be explosive.
On the radar: Navy may have taken a hit in South Bend, but Midshipmen are still a very real contender in the AAC moving forward. Ohio is now 5-1 but lacking a signature win (lost to Minnesota 27-24). Bobcats get Bowling Green and Northern Illinois and could face Toledo in the MAC Championship Game. Bowling Green has two losses so is barely making a blip on the radar, but Falcons are worth paying attention to just in case everything falls apart elsewhere.