With a couple of upsets and a wild comeback keeping things interesting within the Group of Five over Week 11, there is a lot more clarity in some divisions and a lot more confusion as to what might happen in others. This week we winnow down the rankings by one team to 14, as we focus exclusively on those teams that still have a viable chance of winning their conference. That way we can assess where each league stands in the hierarchy as well with just three weeks left between now and championship weekend.
That means familiar teams like Memphis and Boise State will not be appearing. The Tigers lost at Houston in a showdown of College Football Playoff Top 25 teams, falling by a single point after blowing a 20-point fourth quarter lead. The Broncos, on the other hand, never really had a chance against New Mexico, falling at home 31-24 to suffer their second conference loss of the season.
In the end, only conference champions will be considered by the CFP selection committee from the Group of Five. While there is no stipulation that the top four teams chosen for the actual playoff bracket need have won their respective conference championships, that prerequisite has been imposed on mid-major teams. So while perfection (or near-perfection) is no longer required to enter the conversation to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game, there still are exceptional restrictions that the little guys face in the system.
But that is always going to be the case, when you have a group of conferences that find “Autonomous Five” to be a preferable label to Power Five. The BCS Busters of yesteryear forced this expansion of rights and a guaranteed avenue of access with the transition to the CFP system, and if the Access Bowl selection can continue proving the strength of mid-major champions compared to the top powerhouses in the country that opportunity will only continue to expand.
So who has the best shot of going to a big bowl game and making a statement this season? Read below for the most recent take on the hierarchy in the Access Bowl Power Rankings for Week 11…
1. Houston Cougars (AAC/10-0)
- LAST RANKING: 1st
- LAST WEEK: won 35-34 v. Memphis
- NEXT WEEK: Nov. 21 at Connecticut
It took all 60 minutes of the showdown with Memphis to get there, but the Cougars managed to remain undefeated with a 35-34 victory over the Tigers at home on Saturday night thanks to a seven-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Kyle Postma with 1:27 remaining. Postma was in the game after starter Greg Ward Jr. left the game with a leg injury in the first quarter. Depending on whether he is required to miss significant time, the loss of Ward could be troublesome, but Postma went 21-of-33 for 236 yards and a touchdown and added 49 rushing yards and the winning score on the ground in relief and should be able to become more comfortable against UConn prior to the season finale at home against Navy for the AAC West title. Houston’s defense continues to force teams into costly turnovers, getting a fumble and an interception in the fourth quarter to fuel a 20-point comeback against the Tigers. If they win the last two games and then the AAC championship game, a 13-0 Houston is basically guaranteed the top spot at this point thanks to their record and schedule quality.
2. Navy Midshipmen (AAC/8-1)
- LAST RANKING: 6th
- LAST WEEK: won 55-14 v. SMU
- NEXT WEEK: Nov. 21 at Tulsa
Houston does, however, still have to get past Navy just to win the AAC West… and the Midshipmen have the NCAA’s career leader in rushing touchdowns in senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds. After failing to score in the win at Memphis last week, Reynolds notched four on the ground this time in the 55-14 rout of SMU to break his tie with Montee Ball on the all-time list. With their only loss coming in a road game against current top-four team Notre Dame, Navy is effectively in the same position as the Cougars team they are tied with atop the division standings: winning out through the rest of the regular season and in the inaugural conference championship game will basically guarantee a spot in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games. With its national brand recognition, feel-good history, and a 12-1 record that would be (at the very least tied for) the best among mid-majors, they would be a lock. The selection committee would have to wait an additional week until the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia on December 12, something they’ll happily do if Navy is the AAC champ.
3. Bowling Green Falcons (MAC/8-2)
- LAST RANKING: 4th
- LAST WEEK: won 41-27 at Western Michigan
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 17 v. Toledo
The Falcons came out and dominated the other MAC division leader on the road Wednesday night, pulling away from Western Michigan to notch a 41-27 victory. On a day when Matt Johnson had an uncharacteristically mediocre day under center, Bowling Green discovered balance in its offense as tailback Travis Greene put up 170 yards and three touchdowns on the ground and Fred Coppet added 64 more rushing yards on just six carries. The win secured the MAC East title with two games to go, and ensured that the Falcons will be one of the teams squaring off for the conference crown in Detroit on December 4. Toledo heads south to Bowling Green for weekday MACtion on Tuesday night, and if they can get past the Rockets all that remains between Bowling Green and a 10-win season will be a trip to Ball State. If the Falcons enter the Access Bowl discussion as an 11-2 MAC champion, they will have a viable case to discuss within the committee deliberations.
4. Temple Owls (AAC/8-2)
- LAST RANKING: 2nd
- LAST WEEK: lost 44-23 at South Florida
- NEXT WEEK: Nov. 21 v. Memphis
The Owls are not yet in the clear in the AAC East now that South Florida holds a head-to-head tiebreaker and is just a game behind in the standings. Temple has now dropped two of its past three, their other loss coming against Notre Dame in a close contest. This one wasn’t nearly as close, as the Bulls beat up on Matt Rhule’s squad to the tune of a 44-23 drubbing in Tampa. Now the Owls must win against Memphis next weekend to stay ahead, and they also must win against UConn in the regular season finale to ensure their spot in the conference championship game against either Houston or Navy. Lose to Memphis and, even if they do win the East and then upset the West champ in the title game, a 10-3 Temple team might not be as attractive to the committee as a two-loss MAC or Conference USA champion or a three-loss-or-less Mountain West champ. Temple’s only hope is to run the schedule, finish 11-2, and boast a better strength of schedule than anyone else in the hunt.
T-5. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (C-USA/8-2)
- LAST RANKING: 5th
- LAST WEEK: idle
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 21 at Florida International
T-5. Marshall Thundering Herd (C-USA/9-2)
- LAST RANKING: not ranked
- LAST WEEK: won 52-0 v. Florida International
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 27 at Western Kentucky
The Hilltoppers were sidelined for a bye week, able to sit back and watch as the field shuffled all around them. Western Kentucky gets to take on the FIU team that Marshall obliterated this weekend, albeit on the road in Miami rather than at home like the Herd enjoyed, and then they have a short week to return home and prepare for their Friday night showdown for the division championship. They were 1-2 against Power Five teams this season, narrowly beating Vanderbilt in the season opener before falling by three at Indiana and by 28 at LSU. The fact that both teams are reeling, with the Hoosiers at risk of missing out on bowl eligibility and LSU dropping its second straight in SEC play, doesn’t play in WKU’s favor. To put up a resume that can at least compete against other Group of Five champions, the Hilltoppers need Indiana to win its last two to qualify for the postseason and need LSU to stop its slide. An 11-2 C-USA champion who won every league game it played would at least have a chance.
The Thundering Herd, meanwhile, took out its frustrations of losing to Middle Tennessee in Week 10 by crushing visiting FIU on Saturday, toying with the Panthers as they rolled to a 52-0 victory in Huntington. Chase Litton threw for three touchdowns, Remi Watson rushed for 97 yards and two scores, and Marshall racked up 463 yards of offense despite giving up two turnovers. The defense anchored the dominant display, allowing FIU to amass just 209 yards of offense and 3.3 yards per play. Now only one game stands between remaining in contention and falling out of the field. Doc Holliday’s crew gets to take a rest in Week 12 before the winner-take-all showdown with Western Kentucky on November 27. If the Herd win on the road in Kentucky, they will be the favorite in the Conference USA championship game and could have a shot at the Access Bowl slot if they put their name into the hat as an 11-2 champion.
7. San Diego State Aztecs (MWC/7-3)
- LAST RANKING: 8th
- LAST WEEK: won 38-3 v. Wyoming
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 21 at UNLV
San Diego State hasn’t yet secured its position as the top team in the MWC West, but it is getting ever closer after making easy work of Wyoming in a 38-3 victory on Saturday. The Aztecs now need only one more conference victory next week at UNLV to seal the deal; should they suffer the upset at the same time that Nevada wins at Utah State, the home game against the Wolf Pack in the regular season finale would suddenly become a division championship game. Against the Pokes, Chase Price pipped stalwart back Donnell Pumphrey in production on the ground, racking up 152 yards and two scores on just 17 carries. (Pumphrey, to his credit, had 169 all-purpose yards but no touchdowns.) The defense kept Brian Hill in check, allowing the back to notch just 72 yards on 20 carries, and Wyoing finished with fewer than 200 total yards of offense while coughing up three turnovers. If San Diego State wins out and takes the Mountain West, they’d have a solid if unspectacular resume to consider.
8. Air Force Falcons (MWC/7-3)
- LAST RANKING: 9th
- LAST WEEK: won 35-28 v. Utah State
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 20 at Boise State
The Falcons owe a debt of gratitude to New Mexico, who followed up an upset of Utah State with an even bigger upset of Boise State on the Smurf Turf in the Idaho capital. On Saturday, Air Force eliminated any chance that the Aggies could get back into the race with a 35-28 home victory over USU. Now, with the Broncos falling out, Troy Calhoun’s squad needs only to keep winning to take the division title and book a spot in the MWC championship game. We will know by next Friday whether the Falcons are in a position to steal away the conference from Boise, with a win guaranteeing a chance at the Mountain West crown. What has been most impressive is that Air Force is winning both with offense and with defense; both units are ranked in the top 35 respectively in terms of yards accrued/allowed. Should they take care of the game against Boise State, the New Mexico game becomes essentially academic for the Falcons.
9. Toledo Rockets (MAC/8-1)
- LAST RANKING: 11th
- LAST WEEK: won 28-23 at Central Michigan
- NEXT WEEK: Nov. 17 at Bowling Green
Basically Toledo doesn’t hold its fate in its own hands, despite having the best overall record of the three teams tied in the MAC West standings. Because of their loss to Northern Illinois, the Rockets need the Huskies to lose on Wednesday to Western Michigan to keep them in the hunt for a trip to Detroit and an end to NIU’s dominance of the division. If NIU does lose to the Broncos, it would set up a de facto division championship in the Glass Dome against WMU. If they do win the conference championship game, the Rockets would finish the year 11-1 after the cancelation of their opener against Stony Brook due to inclement weather; the lack of a 13th game would probably be mitigated by the boost in schedule strength without the FCS opponent in the mix. If NIU does win, Toledo ostensibly would still have a shot if Ohio could upset the Huskies the following week… but the best bet for the Rockets is to see a division championship set up by Fleck’s team in midweek.
10. Western Michigan Broncos (MAC/7-3)
- LAST RANKING: 13th
- LAST WEEK: lost 41-27 v. Bowling Green
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 18 at Northern Illinois
Despite losing to Bowling Green in their home finale in 2015, the Broncos are not yet dead in the MAC West standings. With road trips to Northern Illinois and Toledo left on their schedule, Western Michigan holds full control of its fate. The three teams are all bunched up at the top of the division, and wins over both would secure outright passage to Detroit for P.J. Fleck and his squad. Against the Falcons in Week 11, WMU didn’t necessarily play poorly… well, not everyone played poorly at least. Jamauri Bogan had 118 rushing yards and two touchdowns, the ground game put up 205 yards and three scores total, and the defense held prolific Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson to his worst outing of the season. But Johnson’s opposite under center, Zach Terrell, couldn’t capitalize for the Broncos as he finished with 282 yards and an interception on the day. But even despite the speed bump along the way, all WMU needs to do is win its last two for a rematch against the Falcons for all the marbles.
11. Northern Illinois Huskies (MAC/7-3)
- LAST RANKING: 15th
- LAST WEEK: won 41-30 at Buffalo
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 18 v. Western Michigan
Drew Hare is gone for the season after rupturing his right Achilles tendon in the upset of Toledo, but Northern Illinois extended its winning streak to five games thanks to redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Graham’s able relief of the injured starter. Graham threw for 190 yards and two scores with one pick, and rushed for another 78 yards, as the Huskies won at Buffalo 41-30 to keep pace in the MAC West standings. Joel Bouagnon continues to elevate the ground game for NIU, racking up 156 yards and two scores of his own. Their Wednesday showdown with Western Michigan in DeKalb will decide whether NIU remains in the hunt. If they lose to the Broncos, the November 27 matchup between WMU and Toledo will decide the division; a victory and a win the following week over Ohio would guarantee NIU its sixth straight MAC West crown. Whether a 10-3 Huskies team would have a legitimate shot at overtaking the other conference champions is another question, but NIU is still certainly in the hunt.
12. Arkansas State Red Wolves (SUN/7-3)
- LAST RANKING: 12th
- LAST WEEK: won 59-21 at Louisiana-Monroe
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 28 at New Mexico State
Arkansas State came out and dominated UL-Monroe in Week 10, as Fredi Knighten threw for 300 yards and five touchdowns in the 59-21 rout of the Warhawks. The Red Wolves defense also dominated, forcing ULM to try three different quarterbacks to little effect — the Warhawks trio combined to go 10-of-31 for 100 yards, one touchdown, and four interceptions. With the victory, all Arkansas State has to do now to secure an outright hold on the Sun Belt title is beat New Mexico State and Texas State, two more cellar dwellers in the league that should present little problem for Blake Anderson’s charges. As a three-loss Sun Belt team, Arkansas State is unlikely to merit much discussion in the final CFP committee meeting unless the other four conference champions stumble down the stretch. Nevertheless, it has still been a spectacular bounce-back season in Jonesboro, as the Red Wolves took back their spot as the kings of the conference after it looked like Appalachian State and Georgia Southern would carve out their own perch at the top.
T-13. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (C-USA/7-3)
- LAST RANKING: 10th
- LAST WEEK: idle
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 21 at UTEP
T-13. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (C-USA/6-3)
- LAST RANKING: 14th
- LAST WEEK: won 65-10 at Rice
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 21 v. Old Dominion
The Bulldogs sat out Week 11, but they still have plenty of work to do if they are to play in the C-USA championship game as the winner of the West. The regular season finale against Southern Miss is a de facto division title game, but Louisiana Tech also cannot sleep on UTEP in Week 12 – especially given they have to travel to west Texas and take on the Miners in Sun Bowl Stadium. A win is the only way that the Bulldogs would remain in the Access Bowl race; even if they should win the division and the conference in an upset of the East champ, a four-loss C-USA champ would not have the record or the schedule strength to match up against teams featuring a higher quality in both categories. As long as they avoid the upset, a 10-win Louisiana Tech with wins over Southern Miss and either Western Kentucky or Marshall in its final two games might have a chance if chaos ensues elsewhere.
The Golden Eagles have experienced a renaissance this season that didn’t evaporate once the calendar flipped to November. Since losing to Marshall in early October, Southern Miss has gone on a four-game winning streak where they have rolled by an average margin of 44-11. In Week 12 they clobbered Rice on the road, piling up 682 yards of offense while allowing just 214 in the 65-10 blowout. Starting quarterback Nick Mullens came out of the game midway through the third quarter after tying a school single-game record with five passing touchdowns, finishing with nearly 400 passing yards at a better than 75 percent completion rate. Backup Tyler Matthews and punter Tyler Sarrazin also got in on the action with touchdown passes of their own, while the team finished with 181 rushing yards by committee. With an identical record to Louisiana Tech, the Golden Eagles need only to knock off Old Dominion next weekend to guarantee that the winner-take-all showdown for the West title has maximum stakes.
Dropped Out of Rankings
#3 Boise State Broncos (MWC/7-2)
#7 Memphis Tigers (AAC/8-2)
Appalachian State Mountaineers (SUN/8-2)
Georgia Southern Eagles (SUN/7-2)
UPDATE (4:58 pm Eastern/November 15): An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Bowling Green as being located in Kentucky. Thanks to diligent commenters, we have corrected this as well as updated the Falcons helmet to the newest iteration.