1. East Carolina Pirates (5-1/AAC)
- LAST WEEK: 1st
- WEEKEND RESULT: idle
- NEXT GAME: October 23 v. Connecticut
East Carolina took a break this weekend ahead of a midweek tilt against Connecticut, and the Pirates’ hold on the top spot is increasingly tenuous as long as Marshall keeps winning. The loss to South Carolina could ultimately haunt ECU, as the Gamecocks have already dropped three games to fall below .500 in SEC play and could drop to 4-4 this weekend when they travel to Auburn. Wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina are certainly strong points in East Carolina’s favor, but unless the Hokies or Tar Heels can somehow win the ACC Coastal (they currently sit sixth and seventh respectively in the seven-team division) it might not be enough to fend off the hard-charging Herd.
2. Marshall Thundering Herd (7-0/C-USA)
- LAST WEEK: 2nd
- WEEKEND RESULT: won 45-13 at Florida International
- NEXT GAME: October 25 v. Florida Atlantic
Marshall continues to dominate every opponent it faces, though the lack of a Power Five team on the schedule is the greatest detriment to the Herd’s hopes of claiming the Access Bowl bid or even sneaking into the four-team bracket of the College Football Playoff. Quarterback Rakeem Cato has now thrown a touchdown pass in 39 straight contests, a new FBS record, and Marshall’s defense has locked down every opponent it has encountered. As one of just four undefeated teams left in the FBS ranks, Doc Holliday’s crew builds a stronger and stronger case for its inclusion in one of the major bowls. But it stay focused and continue to crush Conference USA opponents to stay in the hunt; a single loss could be enough to doom the Herd.
3. Colorado State Rams (6-1/MAC)
- LAST WEEK: 3rd
- WEEKEND RESULT: won 16-13 v. Utah State
- NEXT GAME: October 25 v. Wyoming
Utah State came into Fort Collins on Saturday sporting a 4-2 record and was actually ahead of the Rams in the MWC Mountain standings. And the Aggies were actually leading Colorado State 13-10 through much of the fourth quarter, until two 46-yard Jared Roberts field goals in the final two minutes dealt USU its first loss of the season. The Rams dominated time of possession by over 10 minutes, yet the game came down to their kicker thanks in large part to an undisciplined effort that resulted in 11 penalties for 116 yards. Jim McElwain needs to make sure his squad is more disciplined moving forward, starting with next week’s Border War rivalry matchup with Wyoming.
4. UCF Knights (4-2/AAC)
- LAST WEEK: 6th
- WEEKEND RESULT: won 20-13 v. Tulane
- NEXT GAME: October 25 v. Temple
UCF has hardly been as impressive as the squad that rolled its way to the Fiesta Bowl last season, but the Knights are now 2-0 in AAC play after surviving a visit from Tulane on Saturday. (That’s no small feat, given that it was the Green Wave that took East Carolina out of the BCS Buster running last season.) UCF is now tied with the Pirates atop the AAC standings, rebounding strong in October after losing the first two games of the season against Penn State and Missouri. The lack of a standout victory over a Power Five school could be costly, but the door has reopened if the Knights can sweep through the rest of their conference schedule. A win over BYU in Provo also helps matters, and we could be on a collision course for a de facto AAC championship game on December 4 when UCF travels to East Carolina.
5. Boise State Broncos (5-2/MWC)
- LAST WEEK: 8th
- WEEKEND RESULT: won 37-27 v. Fresno State
- NEXT GAME: October 24 v. BYU
The Broncos looked dead in the water after losing the season opener in Atlanta against Ole Miss. A loss on the last weekend of September to Air Force further dented Boise State’s best-laid plans. But in Bryan Harsin’s first year after taking over for Chris Petersen in Idaho’s capital, the Broncos are in pole position in the MWC Mountain Division after missing last year’s conference championship game. Colorado State looks like the front-runner in the division, but Boise State already has the head-to-head victory over the Rams and could thwart the latter’s dreams of a breakthrough season. Next week’s Friday-night showdown with BYU could make or break the Broncos’ dreams of reaching their third top-shelf bowl game since 2006.
6. Arkansas State Red Wolves (4-2/SUN)
- LAST WEEK: 10th
- WEEKEND RESULT: idle
- NEXT GAME: October 21 at Louisiana-Lafayette
The Red Wolves have continued chugging along despite Bryan Harsin’s defection to Boise State, One of three teams still undefeated in Sun Belt play, Arkansas State is on pace for at least a share of its fourth straight conference crown under a fourth different head coach. Blake Anderson’s team has faltered in its two tests against Power Five schools, losing back-to-back contests at Tennessee and Miami on the first two Saturdays of September. Since then, though, the Red Wolves have developed into a team that could roll through the rest of its conference schedule. Working against their chances is the fact that they are not scheduled to play the other Sun Belt front-runner, and it is unlikely that winning a share of a conference crown will be enough to beat out other Group of Five champs.
7. Georgia Southern Eagles (5-2/SUN)
- LAST WEEK: 14th
- WEEKEND RESULT: idle
- NEXT GAME: October 25 at Georgia State
That same stigma could work against Georgia Southern, which has already won its first four Sun Belt games to sit comfortably atop the conference standings but will not have a chance to win the league outright if Arkansas State also keeps winning. Like the Red Wolves, the Eagles failed to beat either of their Power Five opponents. Unlike Arkansas State, however, they acquitted themselves far better in showdowns at NC State and Georgia Tech, losing the two games by a combined five points. In their first season as a member of the FBS, Georgia Southern is theoretically ineligible for the postseason. But if they win the Sun Belt outright, and other conferences see their favorites upset in championship games, the Eagles could force the CFP selectors into a tough position.
8. Toledo Rockets (4-3/MAC)
- LAST WEEK: NR
- WEEKEND RESULT: idle
- NEXT GAME: October 25 v. Massachusetts
Toledo already has three losses on the season, but those three losses have come out of conference against Missouri, Cincinnati, and Iowa State. (Until this season, all three were considered power-conference schools prior to the AAC’s demotion into the Group of Five.) As of right now, the Rockets are the only team undefeated in MAC play. That puts them just ahead of Northern Illinois, a team that has only two losses on its record but has already dropped a conference game. Toledo will have the chance to unseat the Huskies on November 11, and if the Rockets win the MAC title a good case could be made for their inclusion based on the league’s rising standard of play in the past few seasons.
9. Northern Illinois Huskies (5-2/MAC)
- LAST WEEK: 12th
- WEEKEND RESULT: won 51-41 v. Miami of Ohio
- NEXT GAME: October 25 at Eastern Michigan
Northern Illinois might end up ruing the end of their 28-game home winning streak to a Central Michigan team that promptly went out and laid an egg against Ball State this weekend. The Huskies still have the name recognition of a 2012 Orange Bowl appearance and last year’s chase of a second straight BCS Buster bid that fell short in the MAC Championship Game. And while they sit behind Toledo at the moment, their head-to-head showdown will likely settle which team will play in this year’s league title game in Detroit. If NIU can take down the Rockets, they can point to their defeat of Northwestern in September as evidence they can hang with Power Five schools — a resume booster lacking on Toledo’s schedule.
10. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (4-3/C-USA)
- LAST WEEK: NR
- WEEKEND RESULT: won 27-20 v. UTSA
- NEXT GAME: October 25 at Southern Miss
Louisiana Tech returns to the top 10 in the CFP Mid-Major Rankings thanks to a 1.5-game lead in the C-USA West standings. Two of their three losses came against Oklahoma and Auburn when both were ranked among the top-five in the AP Poll. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the third loss came against FCS Northwestern State, a defeat that seriously tarnishes their credentials. But if Louisiana Tech can sweep the last five teams on their regular-season schedule and then conjure up their best 2011 Southern Miss impression against Marshall in the C-USA Championship Game, they’d have a much stronger case to make for the selection committee. Their case is a longshot, certainly, but the potential for a spoiler season keeps faint hopes alive.
Ranking Contenders By Conference
|1. East Carolina (5-1/2-0)||1. Marshall (7-0/3-0)|
|2. UCF (4-2/2-0)||2. Louisiana Tech (4-3/3-0)|
|3. Houston (4-3/2-1)||3. Middle Tennessee (5-3/4-1)|
|4. Temple (4-2/2-1)||4. UTEP (3-3/1-1)|
|5. Memphis (3-3/1-1)||5. Rice (3-3/1-1)|
|1. Toledo (4-3/3-0)||1. Colorado State (6-1/2-1)|
|2. Northern Illinois (5-2/2-1)||2. Boise State (5-2/3-1)|
|3. Bowling Green (5-3/3-1)||3. San Diego State (4-3/3-1)|
|4. Akron (4-3/2-1)||4. Utah State (4-3/1-1)|
|5. Western Michigan (4-3/2-1)||5. San Jose State (3-3/2-1)|
|1. Arkansas State (4-2/2-0)|
|2. Georgia Southern (5-2/4-0)|
|3. UL-Lafayette (3-3/2-0)|
|4. South Alabama (4-2/3-1)|
|5. UL-Monroe (3-3/2-1)|