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.
Every season brings with it surprise contenders, and 2016 is no different. Eastern Michigan surprises the college football nation almost weekly with each win it tallies, Hawaii leans on its explosive offense to put itself within striking distance of bowl eligibility and Troy looks like the Sun Belt contender of old. The biggest surprise, however, might just be the men from Laramie.
|1||Boise State (6)||105||1|
|2||Western Michigan (5)||104||2|
|5||San Diego State||57||7|
|15||Middle Tennessee State||3||NR|
|Dropped out: Air Force, Central Michigan | Others receiving votes: Western Kentucky (1)|
At 5-2, head coach Craig Bohl has already surpassed his Wyoming-best win total in year three of his Cowboys tenure, which may not seem like a big deal until you consider that the Pokes have reached five wins just seven times since 2000. Big winners, for a variety of reasons, are rare at the Mountain West's second-smallest university.
So how have they done it? Start with Brian Hill, the star running back who seems only to get stronger from week to week. Since working his way into the starting lineup late in 2014, the junior has tallied at least 20 carries, 100 rushing yards and a touchdown ten times, including last weekend's epic performance against Nevada (29-289-3). He's been key to a ball-control offense that has, on average, won the time of possession battle in games since 2014.
Add to that elevated quarterback play from sophomore quarterback Josh Allen, who overcame some shaky performance in non-conference action to become a solid contributor with both his arm (zero INTs in his last three games, and a QB rating of 145.49) and his legs (five rushing TDs leads the conference's QBs). Add to that a young defense that's beginning to round into form: Andrew Wingard has a strong argument as the conference's best safety, but Marcus Epps has had a breakout year opposite Wingard, as well. Linebacker Logan Wilson is second among Mountain West freshman in total tackles and, altogether, a staggering seven freshmen and sophomores have keyed a remarkable turnaround.
The development is well-timed, too, as the Cowboys will host Boise State this Saturday, the biggest game at War Memorial Stadium in a long time. Even if the Pokes come up short against the Broncos, it's likely they'll go bowling for the first time since 2011, which is an accomplishment in itself and a promising sign for the program's future.
Underdogs of the Week
Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming - 29 carries, 289 rushing yards, three touchdowns in a 42-34 win vs. Nevada
Zach Terrell, QB, Western Michigan - 29-of-35, 398 passing yards, three touchdowns in a 45-31 win vs. Eastern Michigan
Will Worth, QB, Navy - 3-of-4, 85 passing yards; 31 carries, 201 rushing yards; five total touchdowns (2 pass, 3 rush) in a 42-28 win vs. Memphis
Other performances of note: Ryquell Armstead, Temple; Ben Hicks, SMU; Cody Thompson, Toledo
Top Underdogs Games of Week 7 (all times PT)
Ohio vs. Toledo, 4:30 PM, October 27 (CBS Sports Network) - The Rockets have done nearly everything expected of them coming into 2016, but Frank Solich's Bobcats are, once again, quietly competing for another MAC East division title. Ohio's taken care of business against mediocre to bad conference foes, but Jason Candle's high-power offense will be difficult to slow down.
The road to a victory may come to down creating opportunities on defense, as they have all season, and hoping to catch a break or two: They've forced 20 fumbles in seven games, tied for second in the FBS, but recovered just eight of them. Toledo's receivers will want to look out for free safety Javon Hagan, who's broken out as a redshirt freshman with four forced fumbles and two interceptions.
Appalachian State vs. Georgia Southern, 4:30 PM, October 27 (ESPNU) - Everyone in the Sun Belt is chasing Troy at the moment, but this is a critical matchup for the Mountaineers, who currently sit at 3-0 in conference play, and the Eagles, who can play their way back into contention with a win at home. Scott Satterfield's defense has been dominant in three October games, allowing just over four yards per play, while the Georgia Southern running attack has taken a significant step backwards from last year, rushing for 2.3 yards per attempt less in three SBC games than they did in 2015.
The game may turn on how well the Eagles can slow down the defensive end duo of Dezmin Reed and Antonius Sims. The seniors have combined for 14 tackles for loss, and they'll probably need a few more in order to seize control of the matchup.
#22 Navy vs. South Florida, 4:00 PM, October 28 (ESPN2) - The Midshipmen seized control of the AAC West by stunning Houston, held off a challenge from division foe Memphis and now head to Tampa to face a motivated Bulls team that badly needs a conference win. No pressure.
If nothing else, this is an intriguing duel of running quarterbacks who are up against stout run defenses: Both Navy and USF have allowed under four yards per carry in AAC action thus far, while Will Worth has shouldered the load with 473 yards on 104 carries (the latter figure being the most in conference play) and Quinton Flowers averages nearly 7.5 yards per run. Flowers, in particular, has more total runs of 10-plus yards in the American than anyone but Tulsa's D'Angelo Brewer, so containing him will be key.
Other games of note: San Diego State vs. Utah State; Central Florida vs. Houston; Middle Tennessee vs. Florida International; Tulsa vs. Memphis