Today is our final installment of the mid (or in this case, late) season handicapping. We'll examine the conference races in the American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt.
Here are the American standings.
American: A Wide-Open Race
A few weeks ago, this league looked like an easy Louisville romp. Now there are as many as five teams with legitimate hopes to claim the inaugural American Athletic Conference title. The last remaining undefeated teams (in conference play) tangle this week when Houston travels to Orlando to take on Central Florida. Louisville and Cincinnati are still in the race with a single league loss and SMU is hanging around with just one conference defeat as well. And keep in mind, the Ponies do not have to play Louisville this season. collectively, American teams went 4-11 against other BCS conference teams with the wins coming over lackluster outfits Arkansas, Kentucky, Penn State, and Purdue. American teams also lost nine games to teams from outside BCS conferences, including three games to IAA opponents.
Central Florida-- The Knights are ranked the highest they have ever been in school history. This week's battle with Houston and their road trip to Dallas to play SMU in December likely represent the toughest tests left on their schedule.
Cincinnati-- Quietly, the Bearcats have rebounded after a rough start. Still, how the heck did they lose to Illinois?
Connecticut-- Statistically the worst team in the conference. Since playing in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2010 season, the Huskies have gone just 10-21.
Houston-- Why no AP Poll love for the Cougars? They are currently in the 'others receiving votes' category (30th overall). No great wins, but they are 7-1 with the lone loss coming by a single point to BYU.
Louisville-- Statistically the top team in the conference. Still have a chance to grab the BCS bid, but they really need a three-way tie atop the standings to do so.
Memphis-- Better than their record (1-6), but will spend a fifth consecutive season home for the holidays.
South Florida-- The Bulls have scored two offensive touchdowns in four conference games. They have scored three non-offensive touchdowns (two fumble returns and a blocked field goal return).
SMU-- Mustangs are in an interesting position as they are in the hunt for a league title, but not assured bowl eligibility. They play Cincinnati this weekend with the loser effectively out of the running for the conference crown.
Rutgers-- The Knights will probably get to a bowl, but yikes, the defense has plummeted.
Temple-- November 23rd against Connecticut is the best chance both teams have of notching their first (and likely only) conference win.
Here are the Mountain West standings.
Mountain West: Don't Sleep on Boise
Despite not being nearly as dominant as they have in the past, the Broncos still control their own destiny in the Mountain West. The Broncos are tied with Utah State in the Mountain Division and could ruin Fresno State's dream season in the first Mountain West Conference Championship Game. Mountain Wes teams went...are you ready for this?...a deplorable 1-18 against teams from BCS conference with the lone win coming by Fresno over Rutgers by a single point. Mountain West teams did lose just once to IAA opponents.
Air Force-- The Falcons have endured an abysmal season, but their next two games are against New Mexico and UNLV so a winless conference season is unlikely.
Boise State-- Running back Jay Ajayi continues the fine tradition of Bronco running backs. With 1008 yards on the season, the Broncos have now had a player rush for more than 1000 yards in five consecutive seasons.
Colorado State-- Since the Rams are playing 13 games, they must win three of their final four to qualify for a bowl.
Hawaii-- I believe this season has put to rest any notion that Norm Chow is an offensive genius. That being said, the Warriors are better than their record and would rank among the best winless teams ever if it came to that.
Fresno State-- The Bulldogs have escaped several times through eight games in 2013. I don't think they finish the year unbeaten. Who do they lose to? Perhaps this week against a solid Wyoming team in Laramie. Or the regular season finale at San Jose State? Or Boise State in the Mountain West Championship Game.
Nevada-- With BYU and San Jose State left on the schedule, the bowl streak is all but over.
New Mexico-- The Lobos are much more competitive than they were under Mike Locksley, but the defense is about as bad as they come.
San Diego State-- No you aren't reading that chart wrong. San Diego State rates out as the best team in the conference. If you were sleeping, the Aztecs had a short kick blocked that would have beaten Fresno State last week.
San Jose State-- The Spartans have won four straight and with another win will qualify for consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1987.
UNLV-- No, the Rebels aren't good. But they just need one more win to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2000. And they may have saved Bobby Hauck's job.
Utah State-- The Aggies have four losses, but those defeats have come to Utah, Southern Cal, BYU, and Boise State. Don't sleep on these guys during bowl season.
Wyoming-- Quarterback Brett Smith needs just a shade over 100 yards passing to move into second place on the Cowboys all-time passing yardage list.
Here are the Sun Belt standings.
Sun Belt: Parity... and Georgia State
Aside from Georgia State (in their first season of IA football), every team in the Sun Belt is in bowl contention. Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas State are already bowl eligible, Louisiana-Monroe, Troy, and Western Kentucky need just one more win to get there, Arkansas State needs two more, and South Alabama needs three. Sun Belt teams went a respectable 2-14 against teams from BCS conferences. They have lost four games to IAA opponents, but three of those losses are courtesy of IA neophyte Georgia State.
Arkansas State-- The Red Wolves have won consecutive league titles, but will need some help to get a third as they have already lost to Louisiana-Lafayette.
Georgia State-- The move to IA has not been an easy one. Panthers have lost 13 consecutive games since beating Rhode Island last season.
Louisiana-Lafayette-- Cajuns fell behind early to future conference mate New Mexico State, but rallied to win their sixth in a row. The league title may come down to their home date with in-state rival Louisiana-Monroe. Better make plans to replace Mark Hudspeth after the season.
Louisiana-Monroe-- In their first six games against IA teams, the Warhawks scored 73 points (2-4 record). In their last two games, the Warhawks have scored 87 points (2-0 record). Go figure.
South Alabama-- If you must watch just one team in 2013, watch the Jaguars. They have played eight games. Only one has been decided by more than a touchdown. Their other seven games have been decided by (in chronological order) one point, two points, seven points, seven points, one point, two points, and one point.
Texas State-- Dennis Franchione has the Bobcats bowl-eligible in just their second season of IA football. They probably need one more win to guarantee a bowl bid.
Troy-- Trojans need another win to break the two-year bowl drought. They need to shore up that defense if they have designs on getting there.
Western Kentucky-- Hilltoppers are probably one of the Sun Belt's top teams, but their propensity for turning the ball over (margin of -13 on the season) will prevent them from hoisting the trophy.