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Underdogs Poll: Boise State, Western Michigan make it a horse race

There's two undefeated teams left, Broncos atop the MWC & MAC. What are the biggest challenges each face in the second half?

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

What is the Underdogs Poll? Every week, writers and editors from SB Nation's Group of Five blogs -- Bull Run, The Daily Stampede, Down the Drive, Hustle Belt, Miner Rush, Mountain West Connection, The UConn Blog, Underdog Dynasty, and Vanquish the Foe -- put their heads together to determine the best of the best, week in and week out, from the teams we cover.


It seems that we’ve reached the point in the season where only an unexpected upset can shake up the top of our weekly poll. The race to New Year’s Day is, quite literally, a two-horse race: Boise State and Western Michigan are the two last undefeated Underdogs and the commonly regarded front-runners for that big money spot.

Behind those two, however, our voters seem to have settled upon another tier of teams that can climb only if Boise or WMU slips. The question, then, is this: What game does each need to circle to avoid slipping themselves?

1 Boise State (7) 104 1
2 Western Michigan (3) 100 3
3 Houston (1) 91 2
4 South Florida 70 5
5 Navy 59 4
6 Toledo 45 6
7 San Diego State 36 7
7 Troy 36 8
9 Memphis 25 9
10 BYU 22 10
11 Tulsa 8 14
12 Appalachian State 4 12
13 Central Michigan 2 13
13 Temple 2 11
15 Air Force 1 NR
Dropped out: Middle Tennessee State | Others receiving votes: none

According to Bill Connelly, both Boise State and Western Michigan have about a 30% chance to run the table. For Bryan Harsin's Broncos, the stiffest challenge comes this week at home against BYU, who've played just about every game close so far in 2016. The Cougars' 4-3 record is a little misleading simply because all but one result has been within a touchdown one way or the other. Taysom Hill also looks mostly like his old self, and he and running back Jamaal Williams have been a devastating duo on the ground: 1,346 combined rushing yards, 5.8 yards per carry, 14 combined rushing touchdown.

It's essentially strength against strength on the blue turf Thursday night, however. Setting aside their bend-don't-break performance against run-heavy New Mexico, Boise has allowed just three yards per carry. Win this game, and they may not face another such obstacle until the Mountain West title game.

For P.J. Fleck's Broncos, the potential story is in the finale, when WMU hosts Toledo in late November. Both passing offenses have been among the nation's most efficient by quarterback rating -- WMU is fourth, UT is second -- so it may be the MACtion to end all MACtion if berths in the conference title game are still at play. However, the Broncos still have two Tuesday night games, as well, and both are on the road: at Ball State and at Kent State. They're likely to be overwhelming favorites, but you never know what can happen on that weeknight stage.

Other games of note down the stretch: Louisville vs Houston (UH 32% to win); South Florida at Memphis (USF 55% to win); Notre Dame vs. Navy (Navy 37% to win); Appalachian State vs. Troy (Troy 55% to win)

Underdogs of the Week

Quinton Flowers, QB, South Florida - 23-of-37, 213 passing yards; 16 carries, 157 rushing yards; four total touchdowns (2 pass, 2 rush) in a 42-27 vs. Connecticut

Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech - 12 catches, 326 yards, five touchdowns in a 56-28 win at Massachusetts

Other performances of note: Keion Adams, Western Michigan; Anthony Wales, Western Kentucky

Top Underdogs Games of Week 7 (all times PT)

Central Michigan vs. Toledo, 9:00 AM, October 22 (ESPN3) - The Rockets survived on the road against Eastern Michigan, and now they square off with their second Directional Michigan school in the confines of the Glass Bowl. Logan Woodside deserves serious consideration for major quarterback hardware at season's end, but the game may hinge on whether CMU's Cooper Rush, who's been very good in his own right, can keep up.

One thing to watch, if the game is close late, is how much the Chippewas decide to put on Rush's shoulders. In the fourth quarter, only UCLA's Josh Rosen and Bowling Green freshman James Morgan have better QB ratings (and slightly at that) among passers with at least 50 attempts.

Memphis vs. #24 Navy, 12:30 PM, October 22 (CBS Sports Network) - How good are the Tigers? They've been pushed in the first two games of AAC play, but they've defeated Temple and Tulane and now travel to Annapolis for a critical West division matchup.

They know Navy will attack with the ground game, which has been average thus far in 2016: Memphis has allowed 4.1 yards per carry. There will be a lot of pressure on a young defensive line, led by sophomore Jared Gentry and freshman Jonathan Wilson, to create opportunities for the Tigers linebackers to clean up. Genard Avery has been good, with five tackles for loss to his name, but he'll need help.

Louisiana Tech vs. Florida International, 4:00 PM, October 15 (ESPN3) - This one might be off the beaten path, but it's worth noting because FIU is the lone Underdog to be both undefeated in conference play and without any votes in our poll this season. They'll put a three-game winning streak on the line against the Bulldogs.

FIU quarterback Alex McGough has taken a modest step forward in C-USA action, bettering his completion rate, TD-to-INT ratio and yards per attempts in wins against Florida Atlantic, UTEP and Charlotte (the last two of which were on the road). Riding his arm is probably the key to another win, too: Only one FBS team (Bowling Green) has given up more touchdowns through the air and allowed a higher completion percentage than the Bulldogs. Senior Xaiver Woods has three of LaTech's four interceptions, but it'll take a team effort for the team's offensive output to matter.

Other games of note: South Florida vs. Temple; Hawaii vs. Air Force; Eastern Michigan vs. #20 Western Michigan; #11 Houston vs. SMU