With conference play starting to pick up around the country, we should start to see some separation from some of these Group of Five contenders. The three-headed race in the American Athletic Conference’s West Division should be especially fascinating to watch unfold as Memphis, Houston and Navy are all off to undefeated starts and are a combined 13-0. Over the weekend Navy picked up a nice nonconference win against Air Force, which served multiple purposes of coming one step closer to winning the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy, scored a nice win for the AAC and also knocked the struggling Mountain West Conference down another peg.
Of course, the Mountain West Conference still has Boise State, and the Broncos have been on fire lately. After the setback against BYU in Provo, Boise State has traveled to Virginia to put up 56 points in a 42-point victory and just blanked Hawaii in conference play, 55-0. Boise State is now locked and loaded for a run through the MWC as some of the perceived threats to the Broncos continue to scuffle. A road game to Colorado State is not as imposing as it may have been last fall, and the same can be said for a road trip to Utah State the following week. Air Force might be the biggest challenge left for Boise State in conference play, but that will be played on the blue turf. And let’s be honest for a moment. In the eyes of the selection committee, a 12-1 Boise State team at the end of the season might be difficult to pass on when it comes time to make a call on the New Years Six bowl spot.
That said, Boise State still has some serious competition completely out of their hands. Toledo continues to put together a solid season and has a pair of victoroes over FBS schools just like Boise State (and a road win at Arkansas likely is better than Boise State’s wins against Washington or at Virginia to some). If the Rockets can run the table in the MAC or even suffer one close loss along the way to a MAC title, Toledo may actually be the frontrunner. That, of course, could also change depending on what happens in that AAC West.
Memphis had a close call at USF this weekend but managed to escape with a win. The offense Memphis has rolling will still be a serious challenge in conference play, but pay attention to what Houston and Navy are also doing. Only one of those three will even be eligible to play for the AAC championship, which makes this the best division race to following the Group of Five. In the AAC East, Temple appears to be in good shape after a blowout win in rainy Charlotte this week. The Owls still have a leg up on Cincinnati, and look to have the best defense in the division. Every other team in Temple’s division has already lost at least one game.
Now with one week of October football under our belts, here is how I would rank the current Group of Five contenders at this moment if I had a seat on the College Football Playoff selection committee.
- Toledo: Still owns the best victory over a P5 school in Arkansas
- Memphis: Offense still scary despite tight one at USF, gets Ole Miss next after a bye.
- Temple: Wins against Penn State and Cincinnati look a little better now, could be undefeated when Notre Dame comes to Philly
- Boise State: The best one-loss team in the Group of Five field and surging, but how much will MWC hold Broncos back?
- Navy: Midshipmen letting Keenan Reynolds do his thing, just beat Air Force by 22. Big win for AAC, tough loss for MWC
On the radar: Houston just misses my cut for now, but could easily work into the mix any given week. Keeping an eye on Western Kentucky, who plays LSU later this month. I’ll keep taking a flyer on Bowling Green but with two losses that leaves the Falcons with plenty of ground to make up. Not impossible, but certainly in need of some help in other places. Falcons also need to get by Ohio, who just barely puts a blip on the radar as well. Sorry Sun Belt. I just don’t see it happening yet.