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Underdogs Poll: Which teams on the outside make noise down the stretch?

Without much mobility at the top, can anyone make a late jump into the poll?

NCAA Football: Gildan New Mexico Bowl-Arizona vs New Mexico Matt Kartozian-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.


Sometimes, life at the top can be pretty boring.

After surviving back-to-back bouts with Tuesday night MACtion, the Western Michigan Broncos are the odds-on favorite to claim the Group of 5's New Year's Day bowl slot. Boise State and San Diego State might soon be back on the collision course we expected all along in the Mountain West, while the teams at the top of the American have unsurprisingly excelled. We've been there and done that, though, so look further down the list and see new entrants like Arkansas State.

The Red Wolves had a September to forget, yet they're back in the Sun Belt championship mix once again with a perfect 5-0 conference record. Louisiana Tech has been hit or miss in the poll this year, too, but they've finally emerged as Conference USA's pre-eminent contender from the West division. And it begs the question: Who else might earn a chance to shine that hasn't already?

1 Western Michigan (10) 100 1
2 Boise State 86 2
3 San Diego State 68 3
3 South Florida 68 4
5 Troy 57 7
6 Navy 50 6
7 Houston 35 5
8 Toledo 24 12
9 Lousiana Tech 11 NR
10 Wyoming 9 8
11 Tulsa 8 9
12 Temple 7 13
12 Western Kentucky 7 13
14 Arkansas State 4 NR
15 BYU 3 11
Dropped out: Appalachian State, Middle Tennessee State | Others receiving votes: Appalachian State (2), Miami of Ohio (1), Air Force (1)

It seems there are four possibilities: Central Florida, Miami of Ohio, New Mexico and Old Dominion. The Knights, after cratering about as hard as any team in recent memory last season, have far exceeded 2016 expectations by claiming bowl eligibility in early November with convincing wins over Tulane and Cincinnati. Under rookie head coach Scott Frost, the veteran-heavy defense, which currently ranks 8th in the FBS in yards allowed per play, has supplemented a young but promising offense helmed by freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton, who's been a surprising caretaker in his own right with just five interceptions in 204 attempts.

For the other Miami, the ascent has perhaps been more startling: After losing their first six games, they've thrust themselves in the MAC East race on the strength of five straight wins. Coincidentally, the streak coincided with Gus Ragland's return from an ACL tear in spring practice; since claiming the starting QB job after an injury to incumbent Billy Bahl, the sophomore has played about as well as anyone in the conference: A 58.8% completion rate, a 12:0 TD-to-INT ratio, and a 7.8 yards per attempt average.

New Mexico, on the other hand, has thrust themselves back into the conference title chase on the strength of the most dangerous running attack in the country. Teriyon Gipson is perhaps overlooked in a running back-rich Mountain West, but his 8.97 yards per carry is the best of any RB in the nation with more than 100 carries -- for comparison, that's almost 2.5 yards better than Heisman hopeful Donnel Pumphrey -- and Tyrone Owens and Richard McQuarley are just as dangerous in their own right: Owens actually leads UNM with 928 yards, while McQuarley's twelve touchdowns are a product of his short-yardage proficiency.

Finally, Old Dominion has benefitted from above average performances everywhere you look: By yards per rush and QB rating, the Monarchs are either fourth or fifth in Conference USA on both offense and defense. They've also benefitted from a defense that creates opportunities, too, leading the nation in turnover margin, +15, and field position (at their own 36-yard line on average, per Football Study Hall), and the healthy return of quarterback David Washington. His 21:3 TD-to-INT ratio is the second-best in CUSA.

Underdogs of the Week

Quinton Flowers, QB, South Florida - 24-of-29, 263 passing yards; 20 carries, 210 rushing yards; five total touchdowns (2 pass, 3 rush) in a 49-42 win at Memphis

Kurt Palandech, QB, UNLV - 20-of-32, 252 passing yards; 16 carries, 152 rushing yards; four total touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush) in a 69-66 win vs. Wyoming

Brandon Silvers, QB, Troy - 21-of-35, 229 passing yards; six carries, 56 rushing yards; two total touchdowns (1 pass, 1 rush) in a 28-24 win vs. Appalachian State

Other performances of note: none

Top Underdogs Games of Week 10 (all times PT)

#3 Louisville vs. Houston, 5:00 PM, November 17 (ESPN) - Things haven't quite worked out for the #HTownTakeover like many expected, but they have an opportunity to make a significant statement about their 2016 despite being on the outside of the New Year's Day race.

To do so, however, they'll have to find a way to perk up an offense that's been sleepy lately: In the last three games, the Cougars have averaged just 4.37 yards per play on offense and just 2.4 yards per rushing carry, an uncharacteristic decline that won't hold up against a UL offense that currently ranks second and first in those two categories among FBS teams.

Arkansas State vs. #25 Troy, 6:30 PM, November 17 (ESPNU) - After dispatching Appalachian State to gain a critical conference tiebreaker, the Trojans, arguably the biggest surprise in the Group of 5, will have to buckle down again at home against a team that's been here before.

The biggest change might have been in the Red Wolves' running game, which has improved from 2.34 YPC in non-conference play to 4.31 in the Sun Belt, but they'll have a tough assignment against a Troy rush defense that ranks among the nation's most unforgiving. The Trojans rank 7th in Rushing Success Rate and 16th in overall Havoc Rate on defense, according to Football Study Hall, and they have a dangerous pass rusher in Rashad Dillard who has raised his game in the SBC, collecting 5.5 sacks in his last five games.

#24 San Diego State vs. Wyoming, 12:30 PM, November 19 (CBS Sports Network) - The Cowboys lost a shocker in Las Vegas last Saturday, and the Mountain division might be on the line as the Aztecs head to Laramie looking to extend their conference domination.

The story of the game might be in the turnovers: SDSU and Wyoming top the Mountain West in takeaways, but the Cowboys also have 13 giveaways in their three loses, a -7 margin overall, a figure that Damontae Kazee and the rest of the Aztecs secondary, number one among defensive back units in Havoc Rate, certainly have in mind.

Other games of note: UNLV vs. #22 Boise State; UTSA vs. #23 Texas A&M; Buffalo vs. #14 Western Michigan; South Florida vs. SMU