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Underdogs Poll: A race to the top of the Mountain awaits

After SDSU’s stumble, the conference’s two remaining unbeatens have a long way to go until their potentially titanic clash.

NCAA Football: Navy at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-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.


Thus far in 2016, the very top of the Underdogs Poll hasn't gone very many seismic shifts: Houston is our clear number one selection, and the contenders in the other Power 5 conferences have played like contenders. As teams fall from the rank of the unbeaten, however, the narrative changes, and the Mountain West had an unexpected twist on its hands after San Diego State lost to South Alabama. With only two undefeated teams left in the conference, suddenly everyone has marked their calendars for a significant November matchup.

1 Houston (10)* 107 1
2 Western Michigan (1) 94 4
3 Boise State 91 2
4 South Florida 62 6
5 Air Force 49 10
6 Toledo 36 5
7 San Diego State 35 3
8 Troy 29 13
9 Memphis 23 8
10 BYU 18 9
11 Navy 15 7
12 Southern Mississippi 11 NR
13 South Alabama 6 NR
14 Western Kentucky 5 12
14 Army 5 15
Dropped out: Cincinnati, Central Michigan | Others receiving votes: North Dakota State (4), Tulsa (4), Appalachian State (3), Akron (3), Georgia Southern (3), Eastern Michigan (2)

Last year's Mountain Division champions, the Air Force Falcons, put together a convincing win against rival Navy on Saturday afternoon, but they have a lot of ground to make up on the Boise State Broncos, who opened Mountain West action with a solid win against Utah State and have already banked two wins against Power 5 programs. How our voters measure each team's slate going forward is up to our individuals, but it's not difficult to imagine either team running the table: The Falcons are favored in every single game by SB Nation's Bill Connelly until their season finale... in Boise. The Broncos are favored in that game and the rest of their schedule.

Granted, a lot can go wrong between now and Thanksgiving, and both teams do face some lingering questions in the weeks to come. Can Air Force quarterback Nate Romine improve his completion rate (45.7%) just enough to connect on one or two more big plays per game? Will the Good Brett Rypien from 2015 show up, or can the Broncos manage with Fine Brett Rypien (58.6%, 1,024 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT) and a strong running game? Can Air Force's linebackers -- spearheaded by seniors Haji Dunn and Ryan Watson and currently ranked first in the nation in Connelly's Havoc Rate -- continue to play at its high level? Can Boise State's defense improve when safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner returns?

We'll just have to wait and see.

Underdogs of the Week

Tyler Jones, QB, Texas State - 31-of-40, 475 passing yards, five touchdowns in a 48-17 win vs. Incarnate Word

Nick Mullens, QB, Southern Mississippi - 25-of-36, 591 passing yards, four touchdowns in a 44-28 win vs. Rice

Jamaal Williams, RB, BYU - 30 carries, 286 rushing yards, five touchdowns in a 55-53 win vs. Toledo

Other performances of note: Cole Garvin, South Alabama; Taysom Hill, BYU; Anthony Maddie, Northern Illinois; Donnel Pumphrey, SDSU; Weston Steelhammer, Air Force; Greg Ward Jr., Houston

Top Underdogs Games of Week 6 (all times PT)

#19 Boise State at New Mexico, 6:00 PM, October 7 (CBS Sports Network) - Preparing for the triple option on a short week is enough for many fanbases to break into a cold sweat at night, but few teams have had more trouble with an underdog opponent than Boise State's troubles with the Lobos.

Bob Davie's squad has given the Broncos fits in the last few years, and they have averaged roughly 6.5 yards per carry in their run-heavy offense to date in 2016. Leading rusher Teriyon Gipson returned last week against San Jose State and ripped off 156 yards on just 11 carries, and he's just one of three or four Lobos RBs who can punish a lack of defensive discipline. Boise State QB Brett Rypien will need to avoid the turnovers that sunk him in this matchup a year ago, but don't be surprised if the offense leans heavily on Jeremy McNichols (504 rushing yards, 7 TDs) to keep the Lobos' potent offense off the field.

Toledo at Eastern Michigan, 12:00 PM, October 8 (ESPN3) - Raise your hand if you had the Eastern Michigan Eagles getting off to a 4-1 start this season. Now put your hands down, because you're all lying.

The most moribund football program in the nation has already equaled its second-best win total of the last decade -- EMU hadn't reached four wins since 2011, when they won six, and have won four games just six times since 1996 -- and they've shown some surprisingly resiliency in close wins against Wyoming and Bowling Green in the last two weeks. However, the Rockets are a motivated opponent who want to re-emphasize their contender status in the MAC.

One thing to keep an eye in whether EMU quarterback Todd Porter can avoid mistakes against a Toledo secondary that hasn't forced any interceptions to date: The junior has thrown nine, tied for the most in the MAC. It'll also be interesting to see whether Porter can avoid the slow starts and late mistakes that have plagued him in the season to date: His QB rating in the first and fourth quarters is just 88.79.

#6 Houston vs. Navy, 12:00 PM, October 1 (CBS Sports Network) - One of last year's biggest and most entertaining Group of 5 games may not have quite the same stakes this time around, but the Midshipmen might still be the biggest obstacle between the Cougars and an undefeated run through the AAC's West division.

Air Force was able to force Navy to throw in their Commander-in-Chief tilt, but look for the Middies to try and re-establish their strength against a run defense that, quite frankly, has been otherwordly in 2016: UH has allowed just 1.6 yards per carry, the best figure in the FBS, and they rank sixth and second in Bill Connelly's Power Success Rate and Stuff Rate, respectively. The offense gets the headlines, and rightfully so, but the Houston linebackers -- Steven Taylor, Tyus Bowser and Matthew Adams -- have combined for 15 tackles for loss.

Other games of note: Temple vs. Memphis; Southern Mississippi vs. UTSA; Air Force vs. Wyoming; Northern Illinois vs. Western Michigan