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Underdogs Poll: Houston leads, but San Diego State makes a statement

SDSU put their Power 5 demons to rest; while catching UH remains a tall task, the Aztecs now have the Cougars squarely in their sights.

NCAA Football: California at San Diego State Jake Roth-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.


Could the San Diego State Aztecs make a run at the Group of Five's New Year's Day bowl bid?

It was a question over which much virtual ink was spilled in the offseason, but the crux of both potential outcomes -- yes, no -- came down to one simple question: To get a date with a big time Power 5 team, could SDSU simply beat a Power 5 team? Now, we have our answer.

1 Houston (11)* 110 1
2 Boise State 79 2
3 San Diego State 77 4
4 South Florida 53 6
5 BYU 47 3
6 Toledo 41 5
7 Southern Mississippi 31 T-8
8 Western Michigan 29 10
9 Appalachian State 28 7
10 Central Michigan 23 NR
11 Navy 22 11
12 East Carolina 17 NR
13 Georgia Southern 14 13
14 Western Kentucky 13 T-8
15 Cincinnati 12 NR
Dropped out: South Alabama, Louisiana Tech, WyomingOthers receiving votes: Air Force (6), Army (2), Louisiana Tech (1)

A September win against Cal, an average Pac-12 team in the eyes of many, still nonetheless represents a significant hurdle that SDSU has now cleared, a win they achieved in their most ideal way: A strong running game, strong special teams and an aggressive opportunistic defense.

You could choose to focus on the 600 or so yards of total offense the Bears racked up, for example, or you could note the four turnovers generated by Rocky Long's crew (which includes the game-clinching interception by senior cornerback Damontae Kazee).

You could choose to linger on the passing attack, in which sophomore quarterback Christian Chapman has all of three career starts, or you could place your confidence in the running game. Donnel Pumphrey, now the program's all-time leading rusher, had precisely the kind of performance that makes Heisman candidacies and there's a high probability he does it again down the road.

One hurdle only begets another, though, and now the Aztecs must take their game on the road against reeling Northern Illinois and South Alabama. If you haven't paid much attention to SDSU, now's a good time to do so.

Further down the rankings, Central Michigan leaped into the top ten after a stunner in Stillwater (which, by the way, was highlighted here in last week's column) against Oklahoma State. East Carolina also makes its first 2016 appearance after extending its dominion over the entirety of North Carolina with a win against NC State, and Cincinnati earned its way back into the good graces of some voters by winning big at Purdue.

Underdogs of the Week

Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan - Seven catches for 150 yards and three touchdowns in a 70-21 win vs. North Carolina Central

Quinton Flowers, QB, South Florida - 21-of-33, 350 yards passing, four touchdowns; 53 yards rushing in a 48-17 win vs. Northern Illinois

Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State - 29 carries, 281 yards rushing, three touchdowns; four catches for 29 yards in a 45-40 win vs. California

Cooper Rush, QB, Central Michigan - 30-of-42, 361 yards passing, four touchdowns in a 30-27 win at Oklahoma State

Top Underdogs Games of Week 2 (all times PT)

#6 Houston vs. Cincinnati, 4:30 PM, September 15 (ESPN) - The Cougars get the national stage to themselves on Thursday night, but you can bet the Bearcats are ready for this one. UH barely escaped in a 33-30 decision at home last year, and UC showed remarkable balance on offense last Saturday in West Lafayette. Hayden Moore and Greg Ward Jr. should also make for one of the week's better quarterback duels, as well.

#25 Miami (FL) vs. Appalachian State, 9:00 AM, September 17 (ESPN) - We've wondered all along: Why would the Hurricanes agree to this trip? The Mountaineers went to Knoxville and nearly toppled Tennessee in their season opener, and shook off the disappointment with a 31-7 romp against Old Dominion. It'll be interesting to see how they choose to attack Miami on offense, but keep an eye on senior running back Marcus Cox, who leads the Sun Belt and is 11th in the FBS in rushing through two games (248 yards, 5.9 yards per carry).

Fresno State vs. Toledo, 12:00 PM, September 17 (ESPN3) - The Rockets have gotten off to a very fast start with convincing wins against Arkansas State and FCS Maine, but they may want to be ready for a defensive slugfest against the Bulldogs. Fresno State went toe-to-toe with Nebraska for about three quarters, then blasted FCS Sacramento State by allowing just 185 yards of total offense, their best such effort since 2008.

Logan Woodside has been at the helm of what might be the nation's most explosive offense thus far -- Toledo's seven plays of 40-plus yards are the most in the nation -- but Bulldogs cornerbacks Jamal Ellis and Tyquwan Glass each had an interception against SSU, and the secondary as a whole has shown degrees of improvement upon 2015.

Louisiana Tech vs. Texas Tech, 4:00 PM, September 17 - The Bulldogs have found support in certain parts of our voting bloc, so it'll be interesting to see how they take advantage of, to be kind, a suspect Red Raiders defense. Both teams might be able to score at will, but LTU quarterback Ryan Higgins will have to avoid the slow start and turnovers he had against South Carolina State last week.

Other games of note: Western Michigan vs. Illinois; East Carolina vs. South Carolina; San Diego State vs. Northern Illinois; UCLA vs. BYU