As the calendar turns to 2017 and No. 15 Western Michigan looks to remain unbeaten by taking down No. 8 Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl on Monday afternoon, let’s take a look back at five of the best wins that G5 teams garnered over P5 competition during the 2016 season.
Heading into the year, it was 2015 AAC champion Houston receiving the majority of the hype and headlines......and understandably so after what it accomplished in the first-year of the Tom Herman Era.
The Cougars were the clear cut favorite to once again represent the G5 in a New Year’s Six bowl while also being discussed as having an outside chance at cracking the College Football Playoff if they ran the table.
While they certainly fell shy of those expectations after finishing tied for third in the AAC West, Herman’s club was able to take down a pair of P5 giants.
Let’s reflect on those triumphs and a few others.....
No. 15 Houston 33 No. 3 Oklahoma 23 (September 3rd)
After memorable 2015 seasons, there was no shortage of hype for this opening weekend battle as two top 15 teams tangled at the home of the Houston Texans.
The Cougars returned plenty from their 13-1 Peach Bowl champion squad while the Sooners had Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield back looking to lead OU to another College Football Playoff.
With 71,016 in attendance, Herman’s club seized the moment before a national audience on ABC.
After a back and forth first half, Houston took a 19-17 lead into the locker room.
Following the break, the Cougars extended their advantage to 33-17 with a pair of third quarter touchdowns.
Greg Ward, Jr. passed for 321 yards and two touchdowns while Mayfield threw for 323 yards and a pair of scores.
Perhaps the most memorable moment, though, was when Brandon Wilson took a missed Sooners’ field goal back 100 yards for a touchdown almost midway through the third quarter.
Western Michigan 22 Northwestern 21 (September 3)
It’s been a historical run for the Broncos this season and all but two of their 13 victories came by at least two touchdowns.
Their closest call came in their season opener when they were able to gut out a 22-21 win in a see-saw affair at Big Ten foe Northwestern.
Trailing 21-16 with less than six minutes to play, Jamauri Bogan scored from 1-yard out to cap what proved to be the decisive 12-play, 75-yard game-winning drive.
Western Michigan (13-0) used its well-balanced attack (198 rushing yards, 218 passing yards) to churn out 27 first downs. The Broncos, who were 4-for-4 on fourth down, were able to control the ball for nearly 40 minutes.
Zach Terrell went 26-for-36 for 218 yards and a score while Bogan eclipsed the 100-yard plateau on the ground by tallying 103 yards on 22 carries.
Northwestern went on to finish 7-6 with a 31-24 Pinstripe Bowl win over No. 23 Pitt.
Central Michigan 30 No. 22 Oklahoma State 27 (September 10)
In a game that featured what had to be the most bizarre ending of the season, the Chippewas capitalized on an officiating mistake to produce a miraculous game-winning touchdown on an untimed down that left the Cowboys and Stillwater in stunned silence.
Leading 27-24 and facing 4th down with four seconds remaining on the clock, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy elected to have Mason Rudolph heave the ball into the air down the left side line to allow the time to expire.......or so he thought.
Rudolph was correctly flagged for intentional grounding—which is a loss of down penalty—but rather than the game ending as it should’ve, Central Michigan took over on its own 49 with one last chance.
Cooper Rush—who was an impressive 31-of-43 for 368 yards and 4 touchdowns on the day to have his team in position to win—lofted it down the right side where Jesse Kroll made a leaping catch just inside the 10-yard line and proceeded to pitch it back to Corey Willis who outran the converging Cowboy defenders more than 40 yards across the field to dive into the end zone for the decisive touchdown.
The “Chips” had their share of struggles the rest of the way, though. They did make the postseason, but were blasted 55-10 by Tulsa in the Miami Beach Bowl and finished the year at 6-7.
Boise State 31 Washington State 28 (September 10)
While Bryan Harsin and his Broncos fell short of winning the Mountain West title, they produced another 10-win campaign for the Boise State program and one of their best victories was their 31-28 triumph over Washington State on the season’s second weekend.
With the Cougars visiting the blue turf, Boise State built 17-point leads on two occasions in the second half and the Broncos led 31-14 after Jeremy McNichols’ 7-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Wazzu wouldn’t go down without a fight, as Luke Falk threw a pair of touchdown passes—the latter a 33-yard strike to Gabe Marks—to help pull the Coogs within 31-28 with 4:17 to play.
The Broncos were unable to run the clock out and Washington State took over on its own 20 with 53 ticks remaining after intercepting Brett Rypien’s 3rd and 17 shot to the end zone.
Leach’s club was unable to move into field goal range, though, and Boise State hung on for the big non-conference victory—its first of two against Pac-12 foes as the Broncos went to Corvallis and took down Oregon State, 38-24, the next time out on September 24.
Following its loss to the Broncos, Washington State won 8 straight and finished second in the Pac-12 North.
Houston 36 No. 5 Louisville 10 (November 17)
Much like the Cougars’ season-opening match-up with the Sooners, Bobby Petrino and his Cardinals’ visit to TDECU Stadium had long been circled as a must-see game on the college football calendar.
Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson and the Cards had suffered a close loss at Clemson, but came to Houston upset about being ranked 5th in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings.
Meanwhile, Tom Herman and Houston were attempting to show the nation that they were still every bit as good as folks had originally thought prior to the Cougars’ mid-season losses at Navy and SMU.
The Houston defense had Lamar Jackson on the run all night long and sacked the eventual Heisman Trophy winner an eye-opening 11 times. It limited him to just 33 rushing yards on 25 carries and the elusive quarterback was held to less than 50 percent through the air as he finished 20-for-43 for 211 yards.
His counterpart Greg Ward, Jr went 25-for-44 for 233 yards and two touchdowns for the Cougars.
This and the Oklahoma victory were high points in what was a disappointing year for Houston.
Following its season-ending, last-second loss at Memphis, head coach Tom Herman was hired away by the Texas Longhorns.
That opened the door for former Longhorn quarterback and Houston OC Major Applewhite to get promoted to head coach.
Applewhite’s first game at the helm was a rough one, as the Cougars were outscored 28-0 in the second half of their 34-10 loss to San Diego State in the Las Vegas Bowl.