Highlights: CSJ FBS Group of Five Top Five Games and Recap of Week 5

Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder Celebrating after the Bearcats defeated Notre Dame 24-13. (Courtesy of AP)

The biggest game possibly not just including Group of Five squads but all of FBS college football was the Top 10 ranking clash between Cincinnati and Notre Dame at historic Notre Dame Stadium.

The soon-to-be Power Five squad Bearcats (joining the Big 12 in 2024 or 2025), dominated the first half of the game and led at halftime 17-0.

But the Fighting Irish came back in the second half in scoring the games next 13 points. But Bearcat QB Desmond Ridder sealed the game after Notre Dame had just scored a touchdown to inch the margin to four. He scored on a 6-yard run to put the game out of reach with just over five minutes left in the game and gave the final score of 24-13. The touchdown capped a six-play, 75-yard drive that we be remembered long into the future as a program defining moment.

Notre Dame came into this game having won their past 26 home games led by former Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly. Notre Dame also just hired away defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman but the Bearcat defense showed a similar strong performance that Freeman had let them to over the prior four season he was with Cincinnati.

The Bearcats did give up 341 yards of offense but also caused three turnovers including an interception by CB Ahmad Gardner on the game’s opening drive after Notre Dame drove deep into Bearcat territory that seemed to shift momentum completely to the Cincinnati side for the remainder of the first half.

Ridder finished the game with 297 yards passing with WR Alec Pierce as his lead target, who caught six receptions for 144 yards. Ridder also added 26 yards on the ground and had three total touchdowns (2 passing, 1 rushing). Here are some full video highlights from this historic win for the Bearcats:

UC will now start their American Athletic Conference schedule starting this week with a home game with Temple.

Looking forward to the toughest games left on the schedule, it appears UCF in two weeks, as well as SMU on Nov. 20th will be the toughest games left before what they hope will be an undefeated regular season and a trip to the AAC title game again.

With this win over Notre Dame, as well as the earlier win at Indiana, the Bearcats have positioned themselves well to make a claim towards a College Football Playoff bid. It would be the first time a none-Power Five school would make the final four teams in the playoff since it began in 2014.

The bid was aided by the only remaining Pac-12 team in Oregon losing this week at Stanford. So if I had to make a prediction right now, I believe Cincinnati showed by its tough non-conference schedule this year that they belong in the CFP. And believe if they finish 13-0 after the AAC Championship game, they will be selected.

Other Undefeated G5 Squads

Coming into Week 5, there were nine undefeated Group of Five squads remaining. And that number was reduced by two this week.

South Alabama lost in heart-breaking fashion to Louisiana. The Jaguars trailed 20-0 early in the second quarter but raced back to nearly tie the Sun Belt West preseason favorites as USA scored with over 12 minutes left in the game but their two point try afterwards. The Jaguars had also missed two prior extra points on two earlier touchdowns in their comeback to fall at home. See highlights in the Top Five games of the week below.

Army was the other undefeated team amongst the G5 schools to go down. The Black Knights fell at 2020 MAC champion Ball State 28-16. Army gave up three early touchdowns in the first quarter–one on the game’s opening kickoff by Justin Hall who returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a quick early lead. That lead did not bode well for the Army option attack in trying to make a comeback. Army was trying to become just the third Black Knight team since 1951 to start the season at 5-0 but the Cardinals did not allow that to happen.

Here is a list of the remaining G5 teams who remain without a loss and this week’s result:

AAC

Cincinnati (4-0) (defeated Notre Dame 24-13 on the road)

SMU (5-0) (defeated South Florida 41-17 at home)

C-USA

UTSA (5-0) (defeated UNLV 24-17 at home)

Mountain West

San Diego State (4-0) (Bye)

Wyoming (4-0) (Bye)

Sun Belt

Coastal Carolina (5-0) (defeated Louisiana-Monroe 59-7 at home)

Independents

BYU (5-0) (defeated Utah State 34-20 on the road)

MAC

None

G5 Powers Both Losing This Week

At the start of the season, Boise State and UCF were two teams that were both teams that most that follow the Group of Five (including myself) would give a run to Cincinnati for the top spot in the G5 and challenge for a New Year’s Six Bowl game.

The two teams played a Week 1 battle against each other that was thought to be Round 1 of the deciding who would be next in-line. The Knights won that game over the Broncos to give UCF a leg-up in the running in a thrilling 36-31 UCF victory.

Both teams now are falling on hard times and it just so happened to happen this week.

Boise State proceed to alternate wins and loses since (defeating UTEP & Utah State, while losing to Oklahoma State at home to go with the loss at UCF). This week, the Broncos lost again at home to Nevada 41-31. This is the first time since 2015 that the Broncos have lost two consecutive home contests. And BSU is starting this season at their worst since also starting with a 2-3 record in 2001.

UCF won its first two games including the game of Boise State but fell at Louisville two weeks ago. That game also lost QB Dillon Gabriel with a fractured clavicle. This week, UCF freshman Mikey Keene, making his first start in place of Gabriel and did well but the Knight defense allowed 17-points in the fourth quarter to Navy in a 34-30 loss on the road. The Midshipmen won for the first time over the Knights in three tries.

Both BSU and UCF still could make comebacks in their schedules to even get to their respective conference title games but it seems both will have big hills to climb if they want to be ranked as the top G5 team this year.

G5 Conference Expansions

The news this week was that the American Athletic Conference was trying to expand and was reportedly trying to pouch teams from the Mountain West Conference. The teams reported early included four MWC teams in Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, and San Diego State. The AAC is looking to expand after the recent soon departures of Cincinnati, UCF, and Houston going to the Big 12 Conference. The AAC also lost Connecticut two years ago to the Big East Conference for non-football sports with the football team going as an independent.

But this past Friday, all four squads have indicated to the MWC that they intend to stay put inside the MWC with the reports from Yahoo Sports and KSL Sports.

Where the AAC goes from here is anyone’s guess but would seem that C-USA and Sun Belt schools would be the next logical step for the league to try to get to at least 12 schools again.

AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco made the following statement after the news of the Mountain West schools seemed to be staying put.

This will likely be a weekly story to see how G5 leagues are poaching each other, as well as what FCS schools might be moving up to the FBS level.

TOP FIVE GAMES OF THE WEEK

Aside from the Cincinnati win over Notre Dame, here are my Top Five Games of the week. The link in the score is the game recap and below is the video highlights.

1. Hawai’i 27 Fresno State 24 (Honolulu, Hawai’i)

2. Louisiana 20 South Alabama 18 (Mobile, Ala.)

3. Temple 34 Memphis 31 (Philadelphia, Pa.)

4. Western Michigan 24 Buffalo 17 (Buffalo, N.Y.)

5. Kent State 27 Bowling Green 20 (Kent, Ohio)

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