1. Marshall Thundering Herd (10-0/C-USA)
- LAST WEEK: 1st
- WEEKEND RESULT: won 41-14 v. Rice
- NEXT GAME: November 22 at UAB
Had Miami pulled off its upset against Florida State on Saturday night, only one undefeated team would remain among the 128 FBS schools. Marshall might not have played anything resembling a Power Five schedule, but they’ve proven themselves by knocking off overmatched opponents at a rate comparable to the powerhouses that pay them to play. Their most recent foe, Rice, had only suffered comparable losses against Notre Dame and Texas A&M; their opponent the week before, Southern Miss, had lost by a comparable amount to Mississippi State and Alabama. Despite their conference affiliation, the Thundering Herd continue to make an unimpeachable case for inclusion — as long as they keep winning.
2. Boise State Broncos (8-2/MWC)
- LAST WEEK: 2nd
- WEEKEND RESULT: won 38-29 v. San Diego State
- NEXT GAME: November 22 at Wyoming
The Broncos continue to live on the edge, falling behind 23-10 against San Diego State before scoring four touchdowns in the final 20 minutes to pull away with their eighth victory of the season. Their loss against Ole Miss bears further critique after the Rebels dropped their past two FBS contests; their loss to Air Force leaves them grasping tenuously to the top spot in the MWC Mountain standings. Like Marshall, Boise State is in great position to contend for the CFP Access Bowl slot; also like Marshall, the Broncos will only remain in their present position if they continue to win. Three more wins puts them in the mix, though a single loss cedes the division to Colorado State.
3. Colorado State Rams (9-1/MAC)
- LAST WEEK: 3rd
- WEEKEND RESULT: idle
- NEXT GAME: November 22 v. New Mexico
The Rams nearly had all their prayers answered during their bye week as they watched the Aztecs take Boise State to the wire. The comeback kept Colorado State behind the Broncos in the standings, and only a Boise loss will allow them to gain consideration from the CFP committee. With two games left against New Mexico and Air Force, Jim McElwain’s team is in danger of completing an 11-1 regular season while missing out on a shot at the MWC crown — or the Access Bowl. That the Rams have knocked off both Colorado and Boston College will mean nothing unless they manage to land in the MWC Championship Game.
4. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (7-3/C-USA)
- LAST WEEK: 4th
- WEEKEND RESULT: idle
- NEXT GAME: November 22 at Old Dominion
Louisiana Tech would do well to root for Marshall reaching 12-0, for unlike the Colorado State conundrum the Bulldogs have the benefit of playing in the opposite division from the Herd. That means that Tech, should they claim the West’s spot in the C-USA Championship Game, would have a shot at not just a 10-win season and conference title but also a statement win over what might by that point be the only undefeated team in the country. Though the Bulldogs have lost to an FCS school, they’d still be among the five teams up for discussion by the selection committee — and if, say, the MWC West winner upset Boise State or Colorado State, a 10-3 Louisiana Tech team would have a legitimate case to make.
5. Memphis Tigers (7-3/AAC)
- LAST WEEK: 6th
- WEEKEND RESULT: won 38-7 at Tulane
- NEXT GAME: November 22 v. South Florida
If any team has a legitimate shot at restoring the AAC’s honor and pushing it into serious contention for the first-ever Access Bowl selection, it is Memphis. The Tigers are atop the conference standings after knocking off Tulane by 31 on the road, 5-1 in league play with a head-to-head tiebreaker over Cincinnati and their only loss coming to Houston. Justin Fuentes has suddenly become a hot commodity in coaching searches, having led Memphis back to its first bowl season since 2008. They have the inside track for the conference title, especially since they have the benefit of playing their last two games at home — and against South Florida and Cincinnati.
6. Cincinnati Bearcats (6-3/AAC)
- LAST WEEK: 8th
- WEEKEND RESULT: won 54-46 v. East Carolina
- NEXT GAME: November 22 at Connecticut
Cincinnati has rebounded from their early October swoon where they lost three in a row (on the road against Ohio State and Miami, sandwiched around the home loss to Memphis) to roll off four straight. The Bearcats’ latest victim was none other than East Carolina, which has quickly gone from top-25 squad to AAC afterthought. Cincinnati’s loss to Memphis puts them behind the Tigers in terms of tiebreakers, and they still have to win out over Connecticut, Temple, and Houston before having any shot at the conference crown. For a team that entered the year with high expectations only to reach the heart of October with a sub-.500 record, to still be in league and Access Bowl condition is the best they could have possibly wished.
7. Northern Illinois Huskies (8-2/MAC)
- LAST WEEK: 10th
- WEEKEND RESULT: won 27-24 v. Toledo
- NEXT GAME: November 18 at Ohio
The MAC doesn’t have nearly the depth of the AAC, but they do have a team that still resonates nationally thanks to their previous BCS Buster experience. Northern Illinois stayed on track to play in its fifth straight championship game by surviving Toledo in midweek #MACtion. The Huskies haven’t been as dominant as their Jordan Lynch or Chandler Harnish editions, but Drew Hare has proven capable of providing enough of a dual threat at quarterback to keep the engine humming. They had the shock loss to Central Michigan, and they were run over by Arkansas. But they’ve also knocked off the same Northwestern team that upset both Wisconsin and Notre Dame this year, and they’ll have prime-time road games to show off their credentials over the last fortnight before championship week.
8. Air Force Falcons (8-2/MWC)
- LAST WEEK: not ranked
- WEEKEND RESULT: won 45-38 (OT) v. Nevada
- NEXT GAME: November 21 at San Diego State
Air Force needs a lot of help in the stacked MWC Mountain Division. At 4-2 in conference play, they need three other teams to drop games before December to have a shot at the conference title. But the Falcons already hold the tiebreaker over Boise State, and they’ll have a chance to defeat Colorado State head-to-head on the last weekend of November. Only Utah State poses a guaranteed threat in terms of tiebreakers, but a four-way tie is not out of question. What would they need to qualify based on MWC tiebreaking procedure? Boise State would have to lose to Wyoming but beat Utah State; Utah State would have to beat San Jose State but lose to Boise State; and Colorado State would have to win against New Mexico before falling to Air Force in the regular season finale. It is improbable, but hardly impossible, as the four teams are tied at 1-1 in games against one another.
9. UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (7-3/SUN)
- LAST WEEK: not ranked
- WEEKEND RESULT: won 34-27 at UL-Monroe
- NEXT GAME: November 22 v. Appalachian State
Georgia Southern’s loss at Navy doesn’t completely eliminate the Eagles from consideration, but given the fact that their candidacy was a longshot based on their transitional status as a member of the FBS the new Sun Belt representative is co-leader UL-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns lost all three games in September, with losses head-to-head against Louisiana Tech and Boise State that keep them buried in the Mid-Major Power Rankings. As one of two teams undefeated in conference play, all ULL has to do to grab at least a share of the Sun Belt title is defeat Appalachian State and Troy. With Southern’s ineligibility, the Cajuns would get thrown into the ring by default — though their case would require both the Broncos and the Bulldogs to have failed to lose the MWC and C-USA respectively.
10. Utah State Aggies (8-3/MWC)
- LAST WEEK: not ranked
- WEEKEND RESULT: won 28-21 v. New Mexico
- NEXT GAME: November 21 v. San Jose State
Like Air Force, the Aggies have what amounts to a largely mathematical shot at claiming the Access Bowl bid. A specific set of circumstances would all have to fall their way in MWC play over the rest of November to claim the Mountain Division’s spot in the league title game on December 6. Utah State fell big in its opener at Tennessee, and they narrowly lost at Colorado State on a last-second field goal. They also fell in overtime at Arkansas State, which looks worse with the Red Wolves now sitting two and a half games back in the Sun Belt standings and in danger of seeing their streak of conference titles come to an end. But USU also has wins over Wake Forest and BYU, holds the tiebreaker over Air Force, and still has a shot at unseating Boise State.