Natural attrition is starting to winnow down the field as teams fall away like so much deciduous foliage falling in the autumnal breeze. Only four undefeated teams remain after Navy fell from the ranks in South Bend (see more below), and only a half-dozen other teams reside alongside the Midshipmen in the one-loss bank of hopefuls. For that matter, there are only 18 teams total with two or fewer losses, meaning that at least two three-loss teams will make this week’s list.
The list remains at 20 this week before we begin adjusting for the dearth of viable contenders. Already several teams have reached the midpoint of their seasons, and with at least five data points on everyone in the field we can now get a solid feel for the course of the season in the battle for a New Year’s Six berth. We are already starting to see this effect as the hierarchy remains entirely undisturbed among the top five positions for the second straight week.
Two pairs of teams on this list face one another in Week 7. Two other teams face SEC opponents next weekend. The field will inevitably come further into focus as we hit mid-October. Let’s take a look at which among the remaining contenders still has the best chances of staying atop their perches and dive into this week’s Access Bowl Power Rankings…
1. Memphis Tigers (AAC/5-0)
- LAST RANKING: 1st
- LAST WEEK: idle
- NEXT GAME: Oct. 17 v. Ole Miss
The Tigers earned some much-needed rest over the weekend ahead of next Saturday’s clash in a rare SEC road game against a Group of Five school. Ole Miss will be coming to Memphis for what has grown into quite the test, and Justin Fuente’s team will not be a walkover for the Rebels. Paxton Lynch leads a high-powered offense that ranks third in the country in passing efficiency, fourth in scoring, and eighth in yards accumulated per game. The defense will have to step up its game against Mississippi, though, as the unit is ranked outside the top 100 in yards allowed and is especially susceptible to giving up big passing plays. If they can get past the Rebels, though, it would set up a favorable schedule for a possible undefeated season and a challenge for more than just a New Year’s Six berth.
2. Toledo Rockets (MAC/5-0)
- LAST RANKING: 2nd
- LAST WEEK: won 38-7 v. Kent State
- NEXT WEEK: Oct. 17 v. Eastern Michigan
Unlike Memphis, Toledo has won its first five games on the strength of its defense. The Rockets are giving up fewer than 12 points per game through the undefeated streak — holding Arkansas 12 points below its season average, Iowa State five points below (after two overtimes, nevertheless), Arkansas State a whopping 23 points below, Ball State 18 points below, and Kent State 11 points below in this weekend’s victory. It has allowed a team with a marginally talented offense to roll through its non-conference schedule unscathed. And after their late conference schedule seemed to offer a labyrinth of potential pitfalls, the backsliding of teams like Northern Illinois and Western Michigan has opened the door for a possible 11-0 season entering the MAC championship game.
3. Temple Owls (AAC/5-0)
- LAST RANKING: 3rd
- LAST WEEK: won 49-10 v. Tulane
- NEXT WEEK: Oct. 17 v. UCF
Temple might be the most complete team in the race for the AAC championship, pairing a top-40 scoring offense with one of the 25 best defenses in the country. The Owls have their statement win over a Power Five school, having knocked off Penn State in the season opener, and they still get to host Notre Dame on Halloween. Temple is currently steamrolling through their league competitors, and other than a visit to East Carolina and a home game in November against Memphis there is little else on the schedule that should worry Matt Rhule and his roster. One potential warning sign that might point to Temple’s lack of staying power, though, is the fact that their offensive scoring marks are dependent on good field position rather than true strength; at some point the Owls will have to win by stringing together long drives.
4. Houston Cougars (AAC/5-0)
- LAST RANKING: 4th
- LAST WEEK: won 49-28 v. SMU
- NEXT WEEK: Oct. 16 at Tulane
Tom Herman is still perfect in his first stint as a head coach, having created an offensive juggernaut in Houston that was potent enough to survive Louisville and steamroll the rest of its competition to date. Most notable, though, is the fact that — despite changing coaching staffs — the Cougars are yet again atop the charts for turnover margin, combining an offense committed to protecting the ball (three fumbles, one interception through five games) with a ballhawk defense that has already snagged 14 turnovers in 2015. Houston already made one Power Five statement, but it also still gets to welcome Vanderbilt (admittedly not a huge statement, but still an SEC opponent) to TDECU Stadium on Halloween to try for a win over a second major conference opponent.
5. Boise State Broncos (MWC/5-1)
- LAST RANKING: 5th
- LAST WEEK: won 41-10 at Colorado State
- NEXT WEEK: Oct. 16 at Utah State
When you match a top-10 scoring offense with a top-10 scoring defense, you have wrought the most dangerous team in the field of mid-major candidates for the Access Bowl slot. Boise State is lurking in position as the most credible of one-loss candidates, a perennial powerhouse that could very well factor into the CFP selection process itself. There are few things that Boise State doesn’t do well, and after a closer-than-the-final-score loss to BYU they have exacted vengeance and reasserted themselves with blowouts of FCS Idaho State, Virginia, Hawaii, and now Colorado State. A trip to Logan to face Utah State looms next on the schedule, and it would take a Herculean effort from a banged-up Aggies squad to pull off the upset over the Broncos. Now the Broncos can just ride out a manageable schedule and wait for teams above them to fall.
6. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (C-USA/5-1)
- LAST RANKING: 9th
- LAST WEEK: won 58-28 v. Middle Tennessee
- NEXT WEEK: Oct. 15 at North Texas
It looks increasingly like the only real test remaining for Western Kentucky in the race to take Conference USA is going to come on Thanksgiving weekend, when the regular season closes with a showdown against Marshall. The Hilltoppers ruined the Herd’s magic season last year, and WKU looks even more dangerous this season. They have added a bend-but-don’t-break defense (tied for 10th nationally in red zone defense) to their prolific passing attack, and the opportunistic unit has also positioned Western Kentucky in a tie for the top spot nationally in turnover margin. As long as they knock off Marshall, WKU will put itself in position for a championship rematch against a Louisiana Tech team they have already defeated once this season — and that will be enough to put themselves in the picture for the selection committee to mull over.
7. Georgia Southern Eagles (SUN/4-1)
- LAST RANKING: 7th
- LAST WEEK: idle
- NEXT WEEK: Oct. 17 v. New Mexico State
Georgia Southern stayed on the sidelines this weekend while everyone else played fifth and sixth games, not because they necessarily needed to rest up ahead of a pivotal showdown (they face 0-5 New Mexico State next Saturday) but merely because they could. The Eagles once again have the nation’s top-ranked rushing attack, playing an unapologetically throwback version of the gridiron game and rebounding from a season-opening shutout in Morgantown to keep itself atop the Sun Belt heap. A Thursday-night showdown on October 22 against Appalachian State already feels like a de facto title game for the league, and a November 21 contest in Athens against a reeling Georgia team could end up resulting in a coronation of sorts for the FBS neophytes. If they knock off the preseason SEC East favorite between the hedges, Southern will skyrocket up the charts.
8. Navy Midshipmen (AAC/4-1)
- LAST RANKING: 6th
- LAST WEEK: lost 41-24 at Notre Dame
- NEXT WEEK: Oct. 24 v. Tulane
An knee injury scare to otherworldly option quarterback Keenan Reynolds prevented any magic from unfolding in South Bend as Navy ran its losing streak to Notre Dame to five straight, after taking three of four from 2007 to 2010. The loss certainly didn’t help the Midshipmen’s case in the race for the AAC crown, much less the Access Bowl bid, but it also doesn’t completely damn them from contention. They have to travel to both Memphis and Houston in conference play, though, and Army has looked improved from recent vintages even if they are only 1-5 where it matters most. The Middies would certainly get the nationwide name recognition boost if they manage to win the AAC West and take the conference title ahead of their new rivals, but they still remain behind other one-loss teams with clearer paths to their own league crowns.
Hovering in Contention
9. Ohio Bobcats (MAC/5-1, LW: 8th) — If not for the late defeat at Minnesota, Ohio would be among the ranks of the unbeaten. Their offense might not be as impressive as division rival Bowling Green, but Ohio plays better defense across the board. We will learn definitively which divergent path to success will win the MAC East this season when the Bobcats face the Falcons in a Wednesday-night showcase on November 4.
10. Marshall Thundering Herd (C-USA/4-1, LW: 12th) — Why is Marshall so much lower than a Western Kentucky team that they are tied with in the C-USA East standings? Quite simply, barely losing to a spirited Indiana team that gave Ohio State fits as well looks far less damning than an 11-point loss to fellow mid-major hopeful Ohio. Little on the schedule provides a chance to impress until the season finale against the Hilltoppers.
11. Bowling Green Falcons (MAC/4-2, LW: 11th) — One thing you recognize right off the bat when you look at Bowling Green’s results is that they can score… even in defeats to Tennessee and Memphis, the Falcons averaged 35.5 points per game, just five points off their season pace. Defense has been the downfall for Bowling Green, something that could prove costly when they face Ohio and Toledo later this season. (At least they get both at home.)
12. Appalachian State Mountaineers (SUN/4-1, LW: 14th) — There is honestly little separating the Mountaineers from their fellow newcomers to the Sun Belt, and a loss to Clemson is a higher-quality defeat than the shutout Georgia Southern suffered at West Virginia. They will be able to settle the debate on the field on October 22, and if ASU survives that battle they will be favored in every other contest of the regular season.
13. Cincinnati Bearcats (AAC/3-2, LW: 10th) — Cincinnati didn’t exactly do anything wrong this season to deserve falling three spots; it is merely that they normalized back as other teams emerged as favorites in several clarified conference races. The Bearcats have looked strong at time, and most recently posted a win over Miami from the ACC (after beating the MAC’s Miami earlier in the year.) But at 0-2 in AAC play, Cincinnati has an uphill battle to remain relevant.
14. Air Force Falcons (MWC/3-2, LW: 13th) — Though they have one more loss than Boise State, the Falcons are tied with the Broncos atop the MWC Mountain standings — and they are the last team to knock off Boise in MWC play. Of course, last year’s win took place in Colorado Springs, while Air Force has to travel to the Smurf Turf this year. That November 20 meeting, on the heels of a visit from Utah State, will likely determine the division winner.
15. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (C-USA/4-2, LW: 15th) — Louisiana Tech is in the top 15 as much by default as anything else, as nobody else really looks capable of challenging the Bulldogs for the C-USA West title this season. The loss to Western Kentucky put them in a deficit in league play, but only Rice presents any sort of challenge in the division. That they also played to a virtual tie at Kansas State also provides a strong data point in favor of the Bulldogs.
16. Utah State Aggies (MWC/3-2, LW: 20th) — 2015 has not played out as Utah State hoped in the preseason, with Chuckie Keeton lost yet again to a season-ending injury, yet the Aggies still remain a viable contender in the Mountain West. Power Five losses to Utah and Washington eliminated the opportunity for a statement win, but Utah State still has a chance to flip the MWC Mountain on its head when Boise State comes to Logan on Friday.
17. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (AAC/3-2, LW: 18th) — The Golden Hurricane played Oklahoma close in Norman, but they followed it up with a second defeat to Houston that served as a sort of Access Bowl and AAC elimination contest. The offense was betrayed both times by a defense that ranks outside the top 100 in essentially every metric. Though they face Memphis and Navy at home, Tulsa will have to travel to East Carolina next week and Cincinnati on November 14.
18. East Carolina Pirates (AAC/3-3, LW: 16th) — The Pirates are something of an enigma, unable to discover any semblance of consistency. Narrow losses at Florida and at BYU could prove costly when final ledgers are tallied at the end of the season, as could a display of futility at Navy. Yet ECU also has a statement win over Virginia Tech and remains in the AAC East race right behind Temple. East Carolina’s game against the Owls on October 22 could make or break its season.
19. South Alabama Jaguars (SUN/3-2, LW: NR) — The Jaguars looked completely overmatched in losses against Nebraska and NC State, which could prove costly if they happen to win the Sun Belt and are in the bidding for a New Year’s Six berth. There is no one thing that South Alabama does particularly well, but they have been good enough to sit third behind Georgia Southern and Appalachian State in the Sun Belt standings. They will have a shot to upset both in the final two weeks of the regular season.
20. San Jose State Spartans (MWC/3-3, LW: NR) — Several teams could ostensibly have filled the final spot in this week’s rankings, but the nod went to a San Jose State team that survived against UNLV in overtime to move to 3-3 on the season. The Spartans are not particularly prolific on offense, but they have been bolstered by a stingy pass defense that is ranked third nationally in passing yards allowed. Somebody has to win the MWC West, and San Jose State is as viable a candidate as anyone else.
Dropped Out of Rankings
#17 Southern Miss Golden Eagles (C-USA/3-3)
#19 New Mexico Lobos (MWC/3-3)
Northern Illinois Huskies (MAC/3-3)
Nevada Wolf Pack (MWC/3-3)
Connecticut Huskies (AAC/3-3)
Rice Owls (C-USA/3-3)
Akron Zips (MAC/3-3)
San Diego State Aztecs (MWC/3-3)