Fudge returns this week with a conference championship edition of the “Not So Little Guys” and he and I both give our Group of Five conference championship picks. Enjoy!
1. Houston (11-1, 7-1 American)
Last Week: W 52-31 vs. #15 Navy
Next Matchup: AAC Championship vs. #22 Temple
Houston was unstoppable in their offensive showdown against Navy. The return of Greg Ward Jr. lifted the Cougars to a fairly easy victory which raised some eyebrows across the nation. His 391 total yards and 4 touchdowns was the spark that Houston needed to bounce back after falling to UConn in the previous week. With Ward back, healthy, and looking as dynamic as ever, Temple will have a hard time stopping the nation’s 7th ranked scoring offense. The American Athletic Conference Championship Game is no doubt going to be a thriller featuring some of the nation’s best with the Cougar offense and the Owl defense. It may not have the hype of the B1G Championship or the SEC Championship, but this matchup may be the most underrated game on the Saturday slate.
Fudge’s Pick: Houston wins 41-38
Sam says not so fast my friend, Temple wins 27-24
2. Western Kentucky (10-2, 8-0 CUSA)
Last Week: W 49-28 vs. Marshall
Next Matchup: Conference USA Championship vs. Southern Miss
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers have had a strong offense all season long. Going into the Marshall game, we were itching to see how they would fare against the 14th ranked scoring defense. It didn’t even phase them. With 546 yards of offense, the Hilltoppers had an easy day leading to an easy win. They looked like one of the best Group of Five teams in the country; heck, maybe even worthy of a Top-25 ranking. This weekend they’ll face Southern Miss, which will likely be a shootout as both teams have averaged over 40 points per game. Competing with the American by playing at 11 A.M. CST too, this game unfortunately may easily go unnoticed. But tune into ESPN2 from 11 A.M. CST to 2:30 P.M. CST and you’ll see one of the most entertaining games of this college football season.
Fudge’s Pick: WKU 55-49
Sam approves Hilltoppers-41 Golden Eagles-27
3. Appalachian State (9-2, 6-1 Sun Belt)
Last Week: W 28-7 vs. LA-Lafayette
Next Matchup: @ South Alabama
4. Temple (10-2, 7-1 American)
Last Week: W 27-3 vs. UConn
Next Matchup: AAC Championship vs. #19 Houston
Temple escaped a trap game to conclude their 2015 regular season campaign. The Owls proved once again this season how stellar their defense is, allowing just one field goal and 138 yards and forcing 2 turnovers. Running back Jahad Thomas carried the 20 times for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns. It was a slow game to watch, but a good one if you like great defenses. Temple looks to shutdown Houston Saturday at 11 A.M. CST as they try to win the first ever American Athletic Conference Championship Game. However, the Owls will have to do it on Houston’s turf since they won home field advantage. The new state of the art TDECU Stadium is expected to be sold out for the inaugural championship game. It’ll take everything Temple has to slow down Greg Ward Jr.
5. Navy (9-2, 7-1 American)
Last Week: L 52-31 @ Houston
Next Matchup: vs. Army (Nov. 12)
6. Toledo (9-2, 6-2 MAC)
Last Week: L 35-30 vs. Western Michigan
Next Matchup: TBA
7. Southern Miss (9-3, 7-1 CUSA)
Last Week: W @ Louisiana Tech
Next Matchup: Conference USA Championship vs. Western Kentucky
Southern Miss, like WKU, had what should have been a challenging game last week. Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech battled it out to win C-USA West, but the Golden Eagles scored 27 fourth quarter points in a 58-24 route over the Bulldogs. Quarterback Nick Mullens and running back Ito Smith combined for 555 yards and 6 touchdowns. If you haven’t caught on yet, our NSLG Top 10 teams have stellar offenses; Southern Miss has the 9th ranked total offense averaging 41 points per game. They will march onto the field with WKU having home field advantage, but the winner of this game will likely be who has the ball last. We’re expecting a very high scoring game where you’d want to bet “Over” no matter what the over-under for the game is.
8. San Diego State (9-3, 8-0 MWC)
Last Week: W 31-14 vs. Nevada
Next Matchup: Mountain West Championship vs. Air Force
San Diego State makes its first appearance in the much sought after Not So Little Guys Top 10 ranking. The Aztecs have quietly put together a phenomenal season. But unlike fellow NSLG teams, their strength is their defense – allowing only 16.6 points a game that ranks 9th nationally. The Mountain West Championship will feature another team who is right outside of the NSLG ranking: Air Force. If the Aztecs can hold off the triple option attack, they will reign as MWC Champs. The Falcons (8-4, 6-2 MWC) have also had a quiet campaign much do to their big brother Navy being watched by the whole country every week. They may not have Keenan Reynolds, but Karson Roberts leads an option attack that will cause havoc for San Diego State. Fudge’s Pick: Air Force wins 28-17
Sam says not so fast again the Aztecs take the Mountain 28-24
9. Bowling Green (9-3, 7-1 MAC)
Last Week: W 48-10 @ Ball State
Next Matchup: Mid American Conference Championship vs. Northern Illinois
Head Coach Dino Babers has had a busy week. More than 15 teams have had coaching vacancies, and many pairs of eyeballs have turned to Babers because of his dynamic offense that ranked 4th nationally in scoring and 3rd in passing yards. The Falcons certainly have not gone unnoticed. However, Babers tweeted out earlier this week after being rumored to be UCF’s new coach that he is only focused on winning a MAC Championship Friday night. Bowling Green has averaged 44 points per game during the regular season, while only Buffalo, Toledo, Tennessee and Purdue have held them to fewer than 40 points. Northern Illinois will be its biggest test this year. And I know what your thinking, but yes, bigger than Toledo and Tennessee. With all of the news of the coaching carousel going on, it could be easy for players and coaches to be distracted this week. Add that to the weight of a championship game and one heck of an opponent, Friday night will be a solid test of the Falcons’ brass.
Fudge’s Pick: Bowling Green wins 45-35
Sam didn’t get his pick in in time, but considering who is and isn’t in his rankings you can guess who he would pick.
10. Marshall (9-3, 6-2 CUSA)
Last Week: L 49-28 @ Western Kentucky
Next Matchup: TBA