This is coming at you late this week for personal reasons, but while we’ve already seen some weekday Week 11 games take place there is still no logical answer as to why we should not look back at last week’s shakedown of the mid-major standings.
Because, in the end, there was a ton of chaos among the Access Bowl hopefuls. By the time the dust settled, only one undefeated team remained among the group of mid-major contenders, and an old familiar face continues to surge back into contention behind the favorites.
But let’s not babble too much here, instead letting the team capsules do the talking. Belatedly, without further ado, here are the Access Bowl Power Rankings for Week 10…
1. Houston Cougars (AAC/9-0)
- LAST RANKING: 1st
- LAST WEEK: won 33-30 v. Cincinnati
- NEXT WEEK: Nov. 14 v. Memphis
Now that Temple and Memphis have fallen over the past few weeks as well as Toledo in the MAC, Houston is the lone unbeaten team among the Group of Five conferences. It took a narrow escape at home against Cincinnati, though, and the schedule isn’t about to get any easier for the Cougars as we move deeper into November.
Tom Herman’s team must face Memphis and Navy before any consideration for a likely AAC championship game date with Temple can come into play. With wins over teams that are currently ranked 20th, 21st, and 22nd by the College Football Playoff selection committee, there would be no way to keep the Cougars out of a major bowl game. While they are unlikely to vault into playoff contention, it is still one hell of a start for a rookie head coach.
2. Temple Owls (AAC/8-1)
- LAST RANKING: 4th
- LAST WEEK: won 60-40 at SMU
- NEXT WEEK: Nov. 14 at South Florida
The Owls recovered from their heartbreaking loss against Notre Dame by pouring it on late at SMU, scoring twice in the final two minutes to turn a five-point nailbiter into a runaway 60-40 victory. Matt Rhule’s crew put up its biggest offensive numbers of the year in the process, and will lock up the AAC East title with a win over South Florida on Saturday.
Given Notre Dame’s ascendance into the top four of the most recent CFP top 25, Temple’s close defeat to the Irish will not severely damage their case as long as the Owls keep winning. The most important game remaining on the schedule is a November 21 visit from Memphis, in which Temple can seriously bolster its strength of schedule with another statement victory, this time within the conference.
3. Boise State Broncos (MWC/7-2)
- LAST RANKING: 5th
- LAST WEEK: idle
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 14 v. New Mexico
Boise State got to sit back and watch the destruction commence during Week 10, at no risk of taking one of the ubiquitous losses that plagued so many other contenders for the Access Bowl position. The Broncos climbed back atop the MWC Mountain standings thanks to Utah State’s inexplicable loss at New Mexico, and now the path is wide open for Bryan Harsin’s crew to return to the conference championship game.
Last year Boise State managed to snag the Access Bowl berth despite not having the best record. Though getting past an undefeated or one-loss AAC team is still highly unlikely, any further attrition in that league would blow the door wide open. Wins over Washington and Virginia, while not massively impactful, still provide the Power Five upsets the committee values when choosing a mid-major for their big-time bowls.
4. Bowling Green Falcons (MAC/7-2)
- LAST RANKING: 7th
- LAST WEEK: won 62-24 v. Ohio
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 11 at Western Michigan
On the heels of last week’s win over Ohio, the Falcons take on Western Michigan tonight with a chance to lock up the MAC East title. Matt Johnson rates among the top quarterbacks in the country, who is the engine for an offense that is ranked in the top five in both scoring and yardage. And with Toledo’s loss, Bowling Green now looks like they have as good a chance as the Rockets to secure the MAC title.
The two division leaders will meet up on November 17 for what will likely be a MAC championship game preview. But the Falcons have a far clearer path to reaching that game. When combined with their offensive firepower and a 2-0 record in Big Ten play after wins over both Purdue and Maryland, Bowling Green has a resume to contend if anyone above falters.
5. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (C-USA/8-2)
- LAST RANKING: 8th
- LAST WEEK: won 35-19 v. Florida Atlantic
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 21 at Florida International
With Marshall’s loss to Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky emerged out of Week 10 as the favorite for the C-USA East title and a spot in the league championship game. The Hilltoppers’ only losses came early in a close loss at Indiana and in October with a less-narrow defeat at LSU. Prior to those losses, though, WKU did notch a statement win of sorts by beating Vanderbilt — hardly the biggest statement, but a win over SEC competition nonetheless.
Of course, Jeff Brohm’s squad still has to face Marshall in the regular season finale, and given the instant classic played by the two teams last season when WKU ended the Herd’s perfect season this could be another shootout for the ages. The Hilltoppers will have to win that showdown to stay even marginally relevant in the Access Bowl race.
6. Navy Midshipmen (AAC/7-1)
- LAST RANKING: 11th
- LAST WEEK: won 45-20 at Memphis
- NEXT WEEK: Nov. 14 v. SMU
7. Memphis Tigers (AAC/8-1)
- LAST RANKING: 3rd
- LAST WEEK: lost 45-20 v. Navy
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 14 at Houston
We are finally beginning to see the logjam in the AAC West begin to untangle itself, and the clear beneficiary of that untangling is Navy. The Midshipmen traveled to Memphis and stomped the Tigers 45-20, turning what was expected to be a close contest entering the day into a mismatch for the ages. Keenan Reynolds now has 77 rushing touchdowns in his Navy career, and could break the NCAA career record he shares with Wisconsin’s Montee Ball against Houston on Saturday.
Meanwhile Memphis now finds itself buried in third place in its division, and will need Navy to lose twice in its final three conference games to have a shot at the AAC championship. Games against Houston and Temple still loom before the regular season finale against SMU, while Navy also gets to face Houston and SMU as well as Tulsa. It might be too tall a task to expect the Middies to lose twice against that schedule.
But that takes away nothing from what has still been a phenomenal season for Memphis football, which continues its rise to mid-major powerhouse status under Justin Fuente. Both Memphis and Navy, however, are still chasing Houston, which looks like the most complete of the three teams still technically in the hunt. Among that trio, though, the Tigers are the only ones dependent on results out of their control, which slides them behind the others in the pecking order.
8. San Diego State Aztecs (MWC/6-3)
- LAST RANKING: 10th
- LAST WEEK: idle
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 14 v. Wyoming
Like Boise State, the Aztecs got a much-deserved rest in Week 10 as they prepare for the final stretch of their regular season schedule. A win over Wyoming coupled with a Nevada loss would secure a spot in the Mountain West championship game with two games still left to play, putting San Diego State in an enviable position as the tension of November football heightens.
It is even more interesting to watch knowing that the Aztecs began the year 1-3, with its only win in non-conference play coming in a city derby against FCS San Diego. Losses at Cal and Penn State are hardly unexpected for mid-major teams, but the home loss to South Alabama is inexplicable. To have any shot at the Access Bowl, SDSU must run the table, knock off Boise State in the conference championship, and hope for chaos elsewhere.
9. Air Force Falcons (MWC/6-3)
- LAST RANKING: 12th
- LAST WEEK: won 20-3 v. Army
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 14 v. Utah State
Technically, the Aztecs could be playing Air Force rather than Boise State in the Mountain West championship game. The Falcons have their destiny in their own hands, with Utah State and the Broncos on the schedule the next two weeks. As long as they keep winning, as they did this weekend against Army, the Falcons will continue to keep two service academies on the national radar.
Only Georgia Southern has a better rushing offense across the nation than Air Force, with the Falcons eschewing their chosen professions and their mascot and sticking to an option-based ground game. Troy Calhoun’s squad also has a top-10 defense, featuring a strong and experienced unit against both the pass and the run. By no means is the Mountain West locked up yet.
10. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (C-USA/7-3)
- LAST RANKING: 14th
- LAST WEEK: won 56-13 v. North Texas
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 21 at UTEP
Last weekend against North Texas, Louisiana Tech tailback Kenneth Dixon set a new Conference USA record when he punched in six of the Bulldogs’ eight touchdowns in a 56-13 rout. Now all Tech has to do is defeat UTEP and Southern Miss, and they are back in the C-USA championship game for the second time in three seasons since joining the league after the dissolution of the WAC.
Even with a 10-3 record and a Conference USA crown, though, there is a lot still standing in Louisiana Tech’s path toward the Access Bowl. The loss to Western Kentucky would be atoned for in a championship game victory, and defeats to Kansas State and Mississippi State are hardly world-ending. But the lack of a statement win, and the resumes of other contenders, will likely leave Skip Holtz’s team in the normal bowl pecking order.
11. Toledo Rockets (MAC/7-1)
- LAST RANKING: 2nd
- LAST WEEK: lost 32-27 v. Northern Illinois
- NEXT WEEK: Nov. 10 at Central Michigan
So close to perfection, Toledo instead found itself losing yet again to a familiar foe that has dominated the MAC West for the past half-decade and showed no sign of willingness to cede the position. What resulted was a disappointing end to a possible undefeated season at the hands of Northern Illinois, and the MAC’s slide back in the Group of Five pecking order.
Now, Toledo needs to hope for another loss by NIU just to ensure a spot in Detroit for the MAC championship game. Western Michigan technically holds primacy for the spot, but with Toledo playing the Broncos on November 27 the possibility is also there for gridlock at the top of the division standings. Unlike the AAC schools who also suffered their first defeats over the past two weeks, the Rockets did not receive the benefit of the doubt from the CFP committee.
12. Arkansas State Red Wolves (SUN/6-3)
- LAST RANKING: not ranked
- LAST WEEK: won 40-27 at Appalachian State
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 14 at Louisiana-Monroe
For all the talk about upstarts Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, the Sun Belt leader is once again a familiar team with a history of success despite a musical chair at the head coaching position. Arkansas State just knocked off the Mountaineers and does not face the Eagles, so the only threat to their perfect record in conference play is a trio of November games against UL-Monroe, New Mexico State, and Texas State. (Combined record: 5-21)
Having already lost to another mid-major in the hunt after falling to Toledo, the Red Wolves are unlikely to leapfrog any of the other conference champions. But the persistence in rebounding from a 1-3 start bodes well for Arkansas State’s chances moving forward.
13. Western Michigan Broncos (MAC/6-3)
- LAST RANKING: not ranked
- LAST WEEK: won 54-7 v. Ball State
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 11 at Bowling Green
At the beginning of the season, I expounded upon how Western Michigan is the team best situated to end Northern Illinois’ run of five straight MAC West titles. That proclamation looked foolhardy after WMU dropped games against not only Michigan State and Ohio State but also Georgia Southern to open the season.
Now, however, the Broncos are the only team in the MAC West left with a perfect record in conference play, and with a final stretch of Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, and Toledo on the schedule, the opportunity to make a slew of late statements is there for the taking. Aside from their narrow escape against Central Michigan, the Broncos have defeated their other four MAC opponents to date by an average of over 33 points per game. They probably won’t do the same against their last three opponents, but nevertheless WMU is still alive after being left for dead early.
14. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (C-USA/6-3)
- LAST RANKING: 15th
- LAST WEEK: idle
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 14 at Rice
After going 4-32 over the past three seasons, there was nothing in the preseason to indicate that Southern Miss was going to generate a major turnaround of their fortunes in 2015. Yet with three games left to play in the regular season, the Golden Eagles are already bowl eligible and have a shot at a surprise C-USA West crown. The regular season finale against Louisiana Tech could serve as a de facto division championship game.
The Golden Eagles have returned to prominence thanks to a balanced roster that features in the top 40 in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Only a blowout at Marshall separates Southern Miss from an undefeated conference campaign to this point, and their other losses came at Nebraska and at Mississippi State. While the Access Bowl is likely out of reach, an unexpected conference title is still there for the taking.
15. Northern Illinois Huskies (MAC/6-3)
- LAST RANKING: not ranked
- LAST WEEK: won 32-27 at Toledo
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 11 at Buffalo
After taking down Toledo from the ranks of the unbeaten, Northern Illinois is right back in the hunt for its sixth consecutive division title in the MAC. The Huskies already hold the tiebreaker over the Rockets, and with Western Michigan also on their schedule the possibility is there to run the table and return right back to an all-too-familiar place atop the MAC West.
Rod Carey’s squad hasn’t been nearly as dominant as previous editions of NIU football. Drew Hare is hardly the same quality of quarterback as past Huskies stalwarts Chandler Harnish or Jordan Lynch. But what NIU does have is a level of consistency, along with previous BCS Buster experience, that has built a brand name that resonates within the broader world of college football. It probably won’t be enough for the Access Bowl bid, but this winning streak will set the table for the future.
Dropped Out of Rankings
#6 Appalachian State (SUN/7-2)
#8 Marshall Thundering Herd (C-USA/8-2)
#12 Utah State Aggies (MWC/5-4)
Georgia Southern Eagles (SUN/6-2)