Drive for January: A look at how the top Group of 5 teams fared

Several Group of Five programs including USF are in contention for a New Year's Six bowl berth
USF wide receiver Darnell Salomon (3), left, celebrates his third-quarter touchdown with tight end Mitch Wilcox (89) against East Carolina on Saturday.
OCTAVIO JONES | Times USF wide receiver Darnell Salomon (3), left, celebrates his third-quarter touchdown with tight end Mitch Wilcox (89) against East Carolina on Saturday.
Published Sept. 24, 2018

For the first time this season, we're examining how USF stacks up in comparison to the other serious Group of Five contenders for the New Year's Six bowl berth.

The Group of Five conference champion ranked highest by the College Football Playoff committee earns the New Year's Six nod, which means a trip to Arizona (Fiesta) or Atlanta (Peach).

We're also attaching one of the following four ratings to each team:

Sparkling: In the driver's seat for the New Year's Six berth
Solid: A team to watch. New Year's outlook getting stronger
Sputtering: New Year's Six chances took a recent hit
Splat: Not a serious contender at this time

Boise State (2-1)
Last weekend: Bye
This weekend: at Wyoming
Because it's a name brand with a hugely impressive win (56-20 at Troy) to its credit, Boise ultimately will have a chance to redeem itself in the eyes of the CFP committee for its 44-21 loss to Oklahoma State. That will require running the table in the Mountain West, defeating BYU (Nov. 3) and getting help elsewhere (losses by AAC teams). At this point, it's plausible.
Outlook: Sputtering

Buffalo (4-0)
Last weekend: defeated Rutgers 42-13
This week: vs. Army
Suddenly, the Bulls' 36-29 victory against Temple (Week Two) looks a lot more appealing. Buffalo, off to its best start since 1981, has won seven in a row dating to last season. If they can get past Army, they'll get a serious look from AP voters. Six-foot-7, 245-pound junior Tyree Jackson (15 touchdown passes) may be the best quarterback you've never heard of.
Outlook: Solid

Cincinnati (4-0)
Last weekend: defeated Ohio 34-30
This weekend: at Connecticut
The Bearcats very quietly are emerging as one of the nation's turnaround stories of 2018. In a performance strikingly similar to USF-Illinois, they totaled 14 penalties and trailed by 17 at halftime against Ohio, but found a way to rally.
Outlook: Solid

Houston (3-1)
Last weekend: defeated Texas Southern 70-14
This weekend: Bye
As New Year's Six aspirations go, the Coogs find themselves in the same boat as Memphis: Trying to run the remaining regular season table after an early defeat. Won't be easy with an upcoming stretch featuring Navy, USF and Temple in a four-game span.
Outlook: Sputtering

Memphis (3-1)
Last weekend: defeated South Alabama 52-35
This week: at Tulane (Friday)
Remember, the New Year's Six bid goes to the Group of Five champion with the best ranking, which makes Memphis an apparent long shot. Even if the Tigers capture the AAC, they can ill afford another loss, and their remaining schedule is pretty daunting (UCF, at Missouri, Houston)
Outlook: Sputtering

North Texas (4-0)
Last weekend: defeated Liberty 47-7
This weekend: vs. Louisiana Tech
The Mean Green have emerged as the class of Conference USA, which has no other undefeated teams. So far, they're averaging more points (49.3) than UCF (47.0), though the schedule (Arkansas, SMU, Liberty, Incarnate Word) won't be mistaken for the NFC South. A challenging November (Old Dominion, FAU) could be telling.
Outlook: Solid

UCF (3-0)
Last weekend: defeated FAU 56-36
This weekend: vs. Pitt
With the highest ranking (xx) of any Group of Five team, the darlings of Colley Matrix remain in control of their own destiny. Granted, the Knights haven't exactly faced the Packers and Bears to this point, but they've allowed only one sack (and five tackles behind the line of scrimmage) in three contests.
Outlook: Sparkling

USF (4-0)
Last weekend: defeated East Carolina 20-13
This weekend: Bye
Bulls fans rightfully remain nervous following another erratic performance (only 52 offensive plays, three first downs) against East Carolina. Clearly, the Bulls can't exist on the edge like this all season, but they do remain undefeated. For now, that's sufficient.
Outlook: Solid

Utah State (3-1)
Last weekend: defeated Air Force 42-32
This weekend: Bye
The Aggies, who gave Michigan State a scare in Week One before losing by a late touchdown, have the schedule strength to play themselves back into New Year's Six contention. They play at No. 20 BYU on Oct. 5, and have November trips to Hawaii and Boise State. Still, they must win out and get some help elsewhere (UCF loss).
Outlook: Sputtering