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.

Ankle injury will cost Kentucky’s Dorian Baker ‘significant time’

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Unfortunately for Kentucky’s passing game, the speculation has come to fruition.

Over the weekend, Dorian Baker sustained an injury to his left leg during a scrimmage.  The initial talk had it as a rather significant injury; Monday, the Wildcats confirmed that the senior wide receiver suffered a fracture-dislocation in his left ankle.

As a result, Baker will, at bare minimum, miss what the school described as “significant time” to, potentially, the entire 2017 season.

“We’re very disappointed for Dorian, as he had a good offseason and was helping lead our receivers during preseason camp,” head coach Mike Stoops said in a statement. “However, we are hopeful for a full recovery and look forward to his eventual return to the field.”

If there’s a silver lining amidst the injury clouds it’s that Baker has a redshirt at his disposal, which would allow him to return for the 2018 season should the injury sideline him for all of this year.

In three seasons with the Wildcats, Baker has totaled 88 receptions for 1,015 yards and six touchdowns.  In 2015, Baker’s 55 catches and three receiving touchdowns led the team.  Last season, after overcoming an early-season hamstring issue, he caught 14 passes for 208 yards a pair of touchdowns.

Reigning national champ Clemson officially names Deshaun Watson successor

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The man charged with the unenviable task of trying to replace one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in college football history has officially been identified.

Upon the completion of spring practice earlier this year, Dabo Swinney stated that, if Clemson “played a game today, Kelly (Bryant) would be the” starting quarterback.  Fast-forward a little over four months, and Bryant is indeed the guy who will replace Deshaun Watson under center for the reigning national champions.

The announcement from the Tigers is the culmination of what had been a three-way fight for the job, but the head coach also seemingly left the door slightly ajar for the competition to, at least, bleed into the early part of the 2017 season.

“He has earned it and I am proud of him. It has been a great competition, but this part is over,” Swinney said in quotes distributed by the team. “[Redshirt freshman] Zerrick Cooper is the number-two quarterback, but [freshman] Hunter Johnson is right there. We hope to get all three quarterbacks experience in the first part of the season.”

A junior, Bryant has played in 12 games and exactly 100 snaps.  In that time, he has completed 13-of-18 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. He’s added 35 carries for 178 yards and another three scores.

Redshirt sophomore Tucker Israel, who wasn’t even a part of the unofficial competition, is the only other quarterback on the roster who has thrown a pass at the collegiate level (four attempts last season).

Essentially a three-year starter, Watson was responsible for 8,702 of the 9,382 yards and 76 of the 80 touchdown passes for the Tigers the past two season.  He was the winner of the 2016 Heisman Trophy after finishing third in the voting the year before.

Clemson will kick off defense of its national championship Sept. 2 at home against Kent State.  They’ll begin ACC play two weeks later on the road against Louisville.

Ex-Louisville QB Kyle Bolin named starter at Rutgers

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Four months ago today, Kyle Bolin wasn’t even a member of the Rutgers football program.  With the start of a new season less than two weeks away, Bolin is officially the triggerman at the most important position in the sport.

Monday, the Scarlet Knights announced Monday that Bolin has been named as the team’s starting quarterback.  Bolin had been involved in what was ostensibly a three-way competition with Giovanni Rescigno, the starter to close out the 2016 season and presumptive front-runner to maintain the job exiting spring, as well as touted 2017 signee Johnathan Lewis.

“Really happy with the leadership that Kyle has brought to our football team,” head coach Chris Ash said. “He’s a really mature individual. Well-trained, well-coached in his past and just has got a wealth of experience and we’re really excited about what he’s going to bring to our offense.”

Despite his short time with the program, the move is not exactly a surprise as, one, Bolin has already been named a team captain and, two, he’s been taking more and more snaps with the first-team offense over the last couple of weeks.

Bolin started five games in 2015 as he and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson shared quarterbacking duties that season.  Jackson replaced Bolin after a pair of picks in the regular-season finale against rival Kentucky that year and, coming off his four-touchdown performance in the Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M, the former was firmly entrenched as the starter heading into the spring of 2016.

In early April of this year, Bolin opted to leave the Cardinals as a graduate transfer.  Less than a month later, he landed with the Scarlet Knights.

Boston College hands kickoff duties to German soccer player

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Turns out they breed dudes in sports other than football.

Boston College head coach Steve Addazio revealed Monday that Max Schulze-Geisthovel (not pictured) will handle kickoff duties for the Eagles this fall. Schulze-Geisthovel is no ordinary new addition; he is a German native that currently plays for BC’s men’s soccer team.

“Guy is going to really help us on kickoffs,” said Addazio. “He’s got a strong, live leg. He’s working on his field goals. But I know right now he’s going to help us on kickoff. He puts it high and deep and pretty consistently. He’s as strong a leg as I’ve seen here.  So that’s a good thing. We’ll see how he does on the field goal part. Every once in a while, you get a little something. We don’t have a huge walk-on population, nature of the place. A lot of state schools have things like that pop up a little easier. But this is great. Nice little gift there.”

A 6-foot-2, 190-pound midfielder from Drensteinfurt, Germany, Schulze-Geisthovel appeared in 19 games as a senior last fall and led the club with seven goals.

Mike Kroll handled kickoffs and place-kicking duties for the Eagles last fall, averaging 61 yards on 55 kickoffs while hitting 12-of-14 field goals. As a team, Boston College ranked 69th nationally in kickoff average.