Group of Five Update: Boise State and Cincy stumble, while Toledo, Houston and Temple impress

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Just two weeks into the college football regular season has seen two of the top Group of Five contenders for the New Years Six take a fall. Last night saw both Cincinnati and No. 20 Boise State lose to drop to identical records of 1-1. There is still plenty of football to be played, and Boise State and Cincinnati may still end up being the top two teams in the Group of Five mix, but their early stumbles provide an early shake-up in the underrated Group of Five conversation and competition moving forward.

The American Athletic Conference was full of intrigue on Saturday. The big winners in the conference were Houston and Temple. Both won huge games on the road, although each was important for different reasons. For Houston, a win on the road against Louisville of the ACC gave Tom Herman and his new program a nice road win against a power conference opponent. I called for a big year from Houston in the regular season, with just one loss en route to the first American Athletic Conference championship game. As it turns out, I still feel good about that outlook in conference play, but Houston just won the one game I predicted them to lose. If Herman can keep it going, Houston will be the rising favorite for the New Years Six bid.

Temple’s win was also key. With the road win at Cincinnati the Owls have done a couple of things they never did under Al Golden; beat Penn State and win a big conference game. Kudos to Matt Rhule for getting Temple to take those steps forward that have stood in the way for so long. The win against the preseason conference favorites puts Temple in first place in the division, and the Owls will later host UCF and Memphis in conference play. Temple does not have Houston or Navy on the schedule (and a home game against Notre Dame already looks more interesting given this weekend’s developments). Maybe Cincinnati proves to be the better team over the course of the season, but they are now playing catch-up against a Temple team that has a legitimate defense led by Tyler Matakevich.

At the end of the year, a 12-1 Boise State team with a Mountain West Conference title will be tough to pass on by the selection committee, but that leaves a slim margin for error for the Broncos. Boise State gets a slight benefit by way of reputation, something other Group of Five programs do not have. For now though, Boise State will have to chase down Air Force, who got off to a 1-0 start in conference play with a win over San Jose State.

The biggest surprise of the weekend in the Group of Five pack was Toledo heading down to Arkansas and coming home with a good defensive win. The Rockets, playing without its top offensive player (running back Kareem Hunt was suspended), managed to upset the Razorbacks on the road. Arkansas entered the game with a top 25 ranking, which means Toledo now owns the most impressive win in the Group of Five. For now, that’s enough for me to put them atop my latest Group of Five ranking.

The College Football Playoff selection committee does not have to worry about ranking teams for another couple of months, but here is how I would rank the top five Group of Five teams at this point in the season, taking into account wins and losses over perceived talent.

  1. Toledo (1-0): Most impressive win of the bunch, at ranked Arkansas.
  2. Temple (2-0): Dominated Penn State, won on road at Cincy
  3. Houston (2-0): Nice win at Louisville, although Cardinals are now 0-2
  4. Air Force (2-0): First-place in Mountain Division of MWC
  5. Memphis (2-0): Blowout win at Kansas, but it was Kansas

Northern Illinois just missed my cut. So did Navy, after appearing in my ranking last week. Boise State and Cincinnati drop out of my top five for now based mostly on losing, but they are certainly on the radar. Meanwhile, Conference USA’s Western Kentucky is floating back there as well, with the overall strength of C-USA still a concern. The committee did not give the conference much respect last season. Nobody in the Sun Belt Conference reached Week 3 without a loss.

Phil Bennett leaves Arizona State staff

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The plan for success at Arizona State under AD Ray Anderson was to remove head coach Todd Graham and while keeping everything else the same — just with a head coach that was… better. And as we know, that head coach turned out to be Herm Edwards.

But not a week into his tenure, Edwards has already hit his first crossroads.

The Sun Devils announced Tuesday that defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has left the staff over family matters.

The statement from Edwards:

“While I would have liked for Defensive Coordinator Phil Bennett to remain on the coaching staff, I do appreciate the fact that he has chosen not to stay based upon family reasons,” said Edwards. “Family always comes first and right now he needs to turn his attention to that.  My top priorities right now going forward are to solidify our recruiting class and to assemble a defensive coaching staff.  Both objectives are moving along quite well.”

The question now will be who Edwards turns to as Bennett’s replacement. As we know, the new Devils coach has not coached in a decade and not coached in college in nearly three.

So this hire will be anyone’s guess.

Report: Bill Snyder to return to Kansas State in 2018

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Retirement rumors will persist about Bill Snyder until he inevitably retires, especially at this time of year. But a report from K-StateOnline on Tuesday will push those rumors back another year.

According to the site, the Wizard will return to the Kansas State sideline in 2018:

Four separate sources have now confirmed to K-StateOnline.com that Bill Snyder plans to return to coach Kansas State in 2018.

Multiple sources also said that the mood within the Vanier Football Complex and K-State program is “good” heading into bowl season – despite speculation to the contrary.

Snyder took a leave of absence in the offseason to battle throat cancer, but he returned in time for fall camp and has not missed any games this season. A report also emerged last month that former AD John Currie attempted to bring Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt aboard as a head coach-in-waiting, but the school rebutted that by stating Snyder will be the Wildcats’ head coach until he decides he’s not.

Snyder has made no secret he’d like his son, Sean Snyder, to one day succeed him, but a number of logical candidates exist in Leavitt, Brent Venables and new UTEP head coach Dana Dimel.

Now in the ninth year of his second stint as K-State head coach, Snyder owns a record of 209-110-1 with the Wildcats. He has guided the program to two Big 12 championships and six top-10 finishes, though none since 2002.

Kansas State entered this season ranked No. 18 in the AP poll but finished the regular portion at 7-5. The Wildcats will meet UCLA in the Cactus Bowl on Dec. 26 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).

 

Finalists named for inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year

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Jason Witten was named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2012, and now his foundation is attempting to start a similar honor for college football. While the William V. Campbell Trophy goes to the nation’s best scholar-athlete and the Wuerffel Trophy honors the nation’s best community servant, no other college award attempts to recognize what the Witten Man of the Year recognizes.

And what is that, you ask?

Reads the boiler plate from the Jason Witten SCORE Foundation:

Presented annually to the Division I college football player who has demonstrated a record of leadership by exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship both on and off the field. The award honors the type of exemplary character and commitment to community, family and teammates demonstrated by Jason Witten, the 2012 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year and one of the most prominent role models in the game.

Nominees are gathered from the Sports Information Directors of each NCAA Division I football-playing institution. Three finalists are selected by the award’s board of directors, and the winner is selected by a panel of prominent former players and coaches, as well as members of the college football media.

The finalists were announced Tuesday, and they are:

  • Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick
  • UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin
  • Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph

“I am very excited to announce these three exceptional young men as the finalists for the inaugural Collegiate Man of the Year,” the former Tennessee tight end said in a statement. “Minkah Fitzpatrick, Shaquem Griffin and Mason Rudolph are outstanding leaders on the field, in the classroom and in the community, and they embody what the sport of college football is all about. It was a nearly impossible task to choose just three from all of the great student-athletes nominated. There are so many outstanding leaders who are great representatives for college football, and I commend all of the nominees for the tremendous example they set on and off the field.”

These types of awards seem to be just as much about honoring the namesake as they do the winner, but I doubt either of the three finalists would turn down the award if chosen.

The winner will beget a $10,000 contribution in his name to his school’s scholarship fund, and will be chosen on Feb. 22.

Jeremy Smith’s dad says RB son transferring from Louisville

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A lost 2017 season for Jeremy Smith has morphed into a departure for the player.

The father of the running back confirmed to the Louisville Courier Journal Monday night that his son has been granted a release from his Louisville scholarship. A school official subsequently confirmed Smith’s departure as well.

The senior will be leaving the football program as a graduate of the university, giving him the ability to use his final season of eligibility immediately in 2018.

Smith came to the Cardinals from the junior college ranks as a member of their 2015 recruiting class.  After rushing for 270 yards his first year, he ran for 382 (on 57 carries) in 2016.  That latter season, his eight rushing touchdowns were second on the team to Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson‘s 21.

Entering the 2017 season as the Cardinals’ top returning back, Smith suffered a foot injury during practice between the first two games of the year that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.  That injury limited him to just eight yards on five carries.