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Underdogs Poll: The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy takes center stage

The Armed Forces have had a very good 2016 thus far, but something will give this weekend when academies clash.

President Obama Presents The Commander-In-Chief Trophy To Naval Academy Football Team Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

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.


We've become accustomed, in the time of the Underdogs Poll, to excellence from some of our service academies. The Navy Midshipmen won 11 games in 2015, while the Air Force Falcons surprised many by winning the Mountain division in the Mountain West Conference and nearly claiming the conference crown. Under head coaches Ken Niumatololo and Troy Calhoun, they've made themselves very easy to root for despite limitations on recruiting. It's America, baby, more so than just about anything else in our college football nation.

In 2016, however, the fight for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy may actually be a three-team fight.

1 Houston (12)* 120 1
2 Boise State 99 2
3 San Diego State 95 3
4 Western Michigan 72 6
5 Toledo 64 5
6 South Florida 58 4
7 Navy 30 9
8 Memphis 29 NR
9 BYU 19 7
10 Air Force 16 15
11 Cincinnati 16 13
12 Western Kentucky 13 10
13 Troy 8 NR
14 Central Michigan 6 8
15 Army 5 NR
Dropped out: East Carolina, Georgia Southern | Others receiving votes: North Dakota State (4), Southern Mississippi (3), Appalachian State (2), East Carolina (1)

Even after a disappointing loss to Buffalo last weekend, the Army Black Knights are off to a 3-1 start, an impressive September for a team that has long lagged behind its service academy brethren. Army is currently the number one team in the nation in rushing offense, averaging an astounding 374.8 yards per game in the young season, and their stable of running backs, headlined by sophomore Andy Davidson (414 yards, 6 TDs), is as deep as any team in the FBS.

Each of the three teams currently ranks in the top five nationally in rushing offense, and both Army and Air Force have shown plenty of playmaking ability on defense, as well: Both currently allow just over five yards per play, a top-40 rate, and Army actually bests both Navy and the AFA in tackles for loss. They're led by junior linebacker Alex Aukerman on that side of the ball, who has racked up five TFL by himself to date.

And while they'll have to wait their turn for the CiC round-robin, Air Force and Navy will clash this weekend in its first leg. It should be a game worth watching, as both are currently undefeated and, in a landscape where anything could happen, can be considered dark horse candidates for the Group of Five's New Year's bowl slot if things break their away.

Underdogs of the Week

Riley Ferguson, QB, Memphis - 20-of-27, 359 yards passing; seven total touchdowns (6 pass, 1 rush) in a 77-3 win vs. Bowling Green

Riley Neal, QB, Ball State - 23-of-37, 252 yards passing, 74 yards rushing; four total touchdowns (2 pass, 2 rush) in a 31-27 win at Florida Atlantic

Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State - 28 carries, 208 rushing yards, 20 yards receiving; four total touchdowns (3 rush, 1 receiving) in a 38-24 win at Oregon State

Top Underdogs Games of Week 5 (all times PT)

Toledo at BYU, 7:15 PM, September 30 (ESPN2) - The Cougars have been a divisive team around these parts, as they are still ranked in our poll despite a lackluster 1-3 start to the year. To be fair, they play one of the tougher schedules in the Group of 5, and it may not get much tougher than Friday night's tilt against the Rockets.

Logan Woodside is off to a very hot start to the season, as he currently leads the FBS in quarterback rating (200.22), and BYU will need to find a way to slow him down in other to stem their slide toward a potential losing record.

Memphis at #16 Ole Miss, 4:00 PM, October 1 - When the Tigers dominated the Rebels at home in 2015, it proved to be one of the biggest upsets of the season. Now, off to a 3-0 start, Memphis will hope to find that same winning mojo in Oxford.

They've gotten very good play from the quarterback who replaced Paxton Lynch, junior Riley Ferguson, who's completed 67% of his passes and currently ranks 8th in the FBS in QB rating himself. However, the Tigers to date have played Southeast Missouri State, Kansas and Bowling Green -- not exactly a murderer's row of opponents -- so there will be a severe jump in degree of difficulty for he and the Tigers to manage.

#19 San Diego State vs. South Alabama, 5:00 PM, October 1 (ESPNews) - The San Diego State 2016 Revenge Tour continues with a trip to the Sun Belt, where Rocky Long and the rest of the Aztecs will look to right one of last year's more unexpected upsets. Senior running back Donnel Pumphrey has received plenty of Heisman love in the last couple weeks, and deservedly so, but look for the defense to lead the way against the Jaguars' passing attack.

We might've expected SDSU's turnover luck to regress somewhat to the mean, but they've more or less picked up where they left off in 2015 by leading the MWC in turnover margin to date (+4). The secondary, led by defending Defensive Player of the Year Damontae Kazee, has already picked off six passes, which could pose a challenge for USA quarterback Dallas Davis, who's thrown for 1,130 yards in four games but owns just a 5:5 TD-to-INT ratio.

Other games of note: Connecticut vs. #6 Houston, Troy vs. Idaho, South Florida vs. Cincinnati, Utah State vs. #24 Boise State