College football is less a sport and more a culture. Tradition is everything to our little society, and none more important than our most grand tradition -- ranking shit. That's why I was honored when I was asked to vote in the inaugural Underdogs Poll, ranking the 15 best Group of 5 and Independent teams in the country. (I think this makes UCF ineligible for next week's poll)
I pledge to you, dear reader, that I will take this poll every bit as serious as your football coach takes the poll they participate in. They will be well thought out, and submitted by deadline whether I watched the game or not, because you deserve punctuality above all. Lastly, I promise I will not leave this noble task to be completed by my personal sports information director, because the best I can afford is a part-time sports information coordinator.
So, I present to you my first ballot. This will be one of many that make up the full Underdog Poll, but let's be honest, I will probably have the best looking poll.
There are only two challenges on Cincy's schedule, Miami (FL) and a Miller-less Ohio State. I think the Miami game is winnable, and Tommy Tubberville has previously faced two Urban Meyer teams ranked in the top five. Tubbs beat both.
2) Boise State
The Broncos are coming off their worst season in nearly a decade, and replaced the man who built their program with a second year head coach. If Bryan Harsin can navigate them through back-to-back games against UConn and UL, Boise could be back.
3) Central Florida
After their first two games, BYU is the only thing in this team's way. UCF has the resume to make a run, but for some reason I find it hard to trust George O'Leary to take care of things.
4) UL Lafayette
As long as Broadway stays healthy, there is enough talent here to win double digit games. I expect the September 20th showdown with Boise State to decide whether the Cajuns reach their goals this year.
5) Brigham Young
BYU is notoriously sketchy early in the season. Something tells me the Horns will want payback, and I don't believe Bronco Mendenhall can cleanly navigate a schedule full of landmines like UCF and Boise State.
6) Fresno State
Fresno State returns most of their defense, and will always produce on offense. After their first game with USC, this team may make a run for a Fiesta Bowl slot, with only Boise State and Utah in their way.
7) Northern Illinois
This team is an interesting one. Jordan Lynch is a huge loss, but the Huskies return enough to handle the majority of their schedule, including SEC challenger Arkansas. I honestly don't know what to make of NIU, so I'm putting them in the middle of my ballot hoping I will find out who the Huskies are early.
8) Bowling Green
The Falcons are replacing a coach and more than half of their starters on offense and defense. Good thing they have a favorable schedule. The won't beat Wisconsin in week four, but this team should be in form by their showdowns with Toledo and Ball State to close the season.
The Cougs break in a new stadium and little else as they return a ton of experience on both sides of the ball. I'm expecting them to improve on last year's 8-5 campaign, and make a run at the American conference title.
I don't know if it's because my grandfather was a Seabee, or that once a year they wear the best headgear since Ray Bans, but there is a special place in my heart for Navy. The Midshipmen have a challenge in store this year with two Big Ten teams and Notre Dame on the schedule.
11) Utah State
Half of their starters are gone. Filling all those holes will be the second year Aggie head coach and alum Matt Wells' first real test. I'm thinking it will be hard to improve over last year.
12) East Carolina
I'm expecting big things this year from QB Shane Cardon as he tries to lead East Carolina to another double digit win mark. That may be a tall order, though. I would be shocked if they won a single game in September.
The best team they play is Rice. It would really be a shame for this team to represent the Group of 5 in a major bowl just because the teams above it scheduled quality opponents.
I see four losses on Toledo's schedule, and that may be generous. But I expect Kareem Hunt to fill in nicely for two-time All-MAC running back David Fluellen, especially with a mostly intact offensive line.
15) Ball State
The Cardinals are facing huge losses on both sides of the ball, but I expect that defense to slow down plenty of MACtion this year.