Two weeks into the season, we’re starting to see the hierarchy of BCS Buster hopefuls shake itself out as contenders face pretenders both in conference battles and non-conference showdowns. The top squad benefited from a bye week, while the teams below shuffled up and down the ladder as tough losses and resounding victories helped to shake up the standings.
Of course, two weeks still provides only a limited glimpse of what is bound to happen. By the time October rolls around, several of these schools are destined to be down and out — and we very well might see one of the 13 one-loss mid-majors not featured in this week’s standings emerge as a legitimate challenger.
Remember, at this point last season neither Boise State nor Northern Illinois were among the teams considered BCS hopefuls after early losses to Michigan State and Iowa respectively. Nothing is out of the question anymore after the Huskies emerged from completely out of nowhere to claim the first-ever mid-major berth in the Orange Bowl.
One final chance remains for a mid-major to beat the BCS and force its hand. After this year, the path toward a legitimate playoff system begins with a four-team incarnation. Within the “College Football Playoff” system, a grand total of 12 slots will be available for spots in the six most-elite bowl games, and one of those spots will be guaranteed to the highest-rated champion of one of the five non-AQ conferences.
(Remember, the American Athletic Conference enjoys the Big East’s automatic qualifying spot in the BCS but will fall to mid-major status next season with the shift in systems. Thus teams like SMU and Houston and Cincinnati, treated like BCS schools this season, will be back among the “Little Sisters of the Poor” in 2014.)
The landscape is still a little fuzzy, but we’re starting to see the final BCS season adjust into focus. As more teams fell by the wayside this weekend, this week’s BCS Buster Power Rankings whittles down from an initial ranking of 25 teams to the top 20. We’ll stay at this level for the rest of September, before making a second cut down to 15 with the introduction of the first BCS standings in October…
1. Northern Illinois Huskies (MAC/1-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 1st
- THIS WEEK: idle
- NEXT GAME: Sept. 14 at Idaho
The Huskies were able to sit on the sidelines this weekend after knocking off Iowa in the their season opener, vanquishing the one opponent that foiled them in 2012. NIU probably didn’t need it, but they had an extra week to prepare for the road trip to Moscow to face winless Idaho next Saturday. The Vandals, coming off losses to North Texas and Wyoming, shouldn’t prove too much of a test for Northern Illinois; Rod Carey’s crew will probably have to wait until its back-to-back road games at Purdue and Kent State on the last weekend of September and first Saturday of October. Ball State and Toledo are always tricky November tilts, but Northern Illinois’ biggest test won’t truly come until the MAC championship game (should they make it to the December game as the West division representative for fourth straight year).
2. Fresno State Bulldogs (MWC/2-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 2nd
- THIS WEEK: win vs. FCS Cal Poly 41-25
- NEXT GAME: Sept. 14 at Colorado
They’ve already knocked off one BCS-conference opponent, surviving the visit from Rutgers on opening weekend, and Fresno State stayed undefeated after a visit from tough FCS opponent Cal Poly. Now the Bulldogs will play their first road game of the season, traveling to Boulder with a legitimate shot at knocking off Colorado at Folsom Field. Through two games, QB Derek Carr is completing over 71% of his passes and averaging 330 yards and four touchdowns each outing. Tim DeRuyter’s team has been solid so far, and with the Buffaloes and Boise State providing the next two challenges Fresno State has a pair of prime opportunities to vault into the national discussion before the calendar shifts over into October.
3. Bowling Green Falcons (MAC/2-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 6th
- THIS WEEK: win at Kent State 41-22
- NEXT GAME: Sept. 14 at Indiana
Bowling Green took charge of the MAC East race, winning a head-to-head showdown against Kent State for the Falcons’ first conference victory of the year. After trading the lead back and forth with the Golden Flashes during the first half, Bowling Green’s defense clamped down to shut out Kent State after halftime. After two convincing victories, Dave Clawson’s crew now gets the first of its two opportunities to prove itself against BCS-conference competition when they travel to take on Indiana next Saturday. Should the Falcons survive the trip to Bloomington, they’ll almost certainly be 6-0 when they face Mississippi State on October 12.
4. Marshall Thundering Herd (C-USA/2-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 5th
- THIS WEEK: win vs. FCS Gardner-Webb 55-0
- NEXT GAME: Sept. 14 at Ohio
The Thundering Herd followed up their defeat of former MAC rival Miami of Ohio with a dominant shutout of FCS Gardner-Webb. RB Steward Butler racked up 151 rushing yards on just nine carries, scoring on one-third of his carries. Slowing down the game once it was out of reach, Marshall ran just 74 offensive plays — 16 below their FBS-leading 2012 average — yet still compiled over 500 total yards of offense. The Herd take on another former MAC rival, Ohio, next weekend. With Virginia Tech looming on the schedule on the 21st, Marshall will need to focus on the Bobcats lest they get caught looking ahead to the only BCS-conference opponent on the schedule.
5. East Carolina Pirates (C-USA/2-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 8th
- THIS WEEK: win vs. Florida Atlantic 31-13
- NEXT GAME: Sept. 14 vs. Virginia Tech
Before Marshall gets its shot at Virginia Tech, Conference USA rival East Carolina will take their chances when they host the Hokies on Saturday. The Pirates jumped out to an early lead in C-USA play with a convincing win over Florida Atlantic, showing off their skills for a national audience in a Thursday night showcase. If they manage to crack a tough Virginia Tech defense this weekend, a trip to Chapel Hill will follow as they try to remain undefeated. One more BCS-conference opponent, NC State, looms on the schedule in November. One loss won’t doom the Pirates, but should they survive to December unscathed they’ll quickly become a Buster favorite.
6. BYU Cougars (IND/1-1)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 22nd
- THIS WEEK: win vs. Texas 40-21
- NEXT GAME: Sept. 21 vs. Utah
The Cougars lost their opener in the quagmire that was Charlottesville, a late Virginia touchdown the difference between being sixth and being ranked first on this list after two weeks. BYU proved on Saturday that they are among the strongest teams defensively in the nation, sacking Longhorns QBs David Ash and Case McCoy four times and holding Texas to just 5-of-17 on third down in the 40-21 upset. And QB Taysom Hill showed a blast-from-the-past dominance on the ground, coming within 13 yards of the school’s single-game QB rushing record set by Eldon Fortie in 1962 as he put up 40% of the Cougars’ 550 rushing yards. With a stacked schedule, that season-opening loss is essentially forgiven after this upset of Texas; they can further bolster their credentials after a bye week when they take on Utah in the Holy War on September 21.
7. Navy Midshipmen (IND/1-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 12th
- THIS WEEK: win at Indiana 41-35
- NEXT GAME: Sept. 14 vs. FCS Delaware
Navy came into the second Saturday as an unknown commodity, having sat idle on opening weekend before their trip to Indiana. After jumping out to a large lead in the first three quarters and then nipping a late Hoosier rally, the Middies held on for a 41-35 victory in Bloomington. Three Navy backs averaged more than 10 yards a carry — and that doesn’t include QB Keenan Reynolds, who led the team with 127 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground to go with 2-of-4 passing for another 71 yards. The triple-option should stymie FCS Delaware next week, putting Navy at 2-0 when they travel to Western Kentucky on September 28 to take on a Hilltoppers team nursing its own flagging BCS Buster hopes.
8. Ball State Cardinals (MAC/2-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 11th
- THIS WEEK: win vs. Army 40-14
- NEXT GAME: Sept. 14 at North Texas
While there was still some skepticism about Ball State after their 51-28 win in the opener against FCS Illinois State, the Cardinals showed it was no fluke as they trounced Army 40-14 over the weekend. After allowing Cadet back Larry Dixon to score a 71-yard touchdown on the ground less than a minute into the game, Ball State scored 37 unanswered to put the game out of reach by the third quarter. They’ll take on North Texas next, with Eastern Michigan and Toledo rounding out the September schedule before the Cardinals head to Virginia to take on the same Cavaliers team that tripped up BYU on opening weekend.
9. Troy Trojans (Sun Belt/2-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 15th
- THIS WEEK: win vs. FCS Savannah State 66-3
- NEXT GAME: Sept. 12 at Arkansas State
The season opener against UAB was tougher than expected, but Troy did exactly what it was supposed to do against FCS cellar-dweller Savannah State. Holding the Tigers under 150 total yards of offense, the Trojans pummeled their hapless visitors as they ironed out all the kinks from the offense ahead of the conference opener against Arkansas State. The game against the Red Wolves will go a long way toward determining whether Troy is back to the same level of dominance that saw them win a share of five straight Sun Belt titles from 2006 to 2010. Should they get through Arkansas State, the reward will be statement opportunities at Mississippi State and at Duke on the last two Saturdays of September.
10. Texas State Bobcats (Sun Belt/2-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 14th
- THIS WEEK: win vs. FCS Prairie View A&M 28-3
- NEXT GAME: Sept. 21 at Texas Tech
Sun Belt newcomers, the Bobcats are tied with Troy at the top of the league standings after pummeling FCS visitor Prairie View A&M. They now have the advantage of a bye week to prepare for the biggest test of the year, a trip to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech in the Bobcats’ only game against BCS competition this season. If they can upset Kliff Kingsbury’s crew a week from Saturday, Texas State will have a virtual BCS Buster elimination game on the 28th when they host Wyoming in San Marcos. Dennis Franchione’s team, with one of the worst-rated offenses at the FBS level, will have to live and die by its defense — currently ranked 13th nationally in points against, their toughest competition is yet to come.