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.

NC State board approves new deal for Dave Doeren

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In late November, after rejecting overtures from Tennessee in order to remain at North Carolina State, Dave Doeren agreed to a new contract with the university, pending the board rubber-stamping the agreement. This past week, that rubber met the stamp.

NC State confirmed that, on Thursday, the system’s Board of Trustees formally approved the new five-year deal for Doeren. The head coach’s new contract will now keep him with the Wolfpack through Dec. 31, 2022.

“We are on an exciting upward trajectory in football under the leadership of Coach Doeren,” said NC State athletic director Debbie Yow said in a statement. “He has assembled a terrifically talented coaching staff, as well, and that continuity and stability has been important to our current student-athletes and recruits.

“We are pleased that Dave will continue to lead NC State football, playing in one of the most challenging divisions in college football, the Atlantic Division of the ACC.”

In five seasons with the Wolfpack, the 46-year-old Doeren has compiled a 34-30 record, including a 15-25 mark in ACC play. The 2017 season was his best of the five, with a 9-4 overall mark that saw NC State finish in second place in the Atlantic after divisional finishes of seventh, fifth, fourth and tied-fourth the first four.

Under Doeren, the Wolfpack has played in a bowl game each of the last four seasons, posting a 3-1 mark in the postseason.

Nebraska clinches spring game attendance crown, Georgia pushes past Alabama

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Georgia got its revenge on Alabama on Saturday, I guess. Months after letting a lead slip away in the national championship game, Georgia wiggled past Alabama in the spring game attendance standings on Saturday but the Dawgs still had to settle for second place overall. A record crowd at Nebraska led to the Cornhusker faithful having the highest attendance for a spring game this season.

Nebraska set a school record on Saturday with 86,818 fans attending the spring game in Lincoln, the first under new head coach Scott Frost. It was the first time Nebraska recorded a crowd over 80,000 during the past five years. Nebraska surged to the top of the Big Ten spring attendance standings as well, and stayed comfortably ahead after Penn State recorded an estimated 71,000 fans at its spring game on Saturday. Ohio State had led the Big Ten the previous three years but stadium renovations limited Ohio State to 79,000 available seats this year at Ohio Stadium, and weather and schedule adjustments to the spring game resulted in a crowd of 47,803 for Ohio State’s spring game.

The SEC once again dominated spring game attendance numbers this year. With LSU and Mississippi State numbers still pending, the SEC has five schools in the top 10 in spring game attendance as of today; Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, and Texas A&M. As a conference, the SEC eclipsed the 400,000-fan mark for the fourth time in the last five years. Although the Big Ten is typically the second best conference in cumulative spring game attendance, the conference’s number took a big dip this season thanks to weather issues across the conference. Still, the number pulled in by Nebraska, Penn State, and Ohio State helped keep the Big Ten in second place ahead of the ACC.

Keep in mind spring game attendance is treated differently by every school, and the numbers often include estimates so the accuracy can be questioned. Even though there are still a handful of spring games left, none will rival the numbers put up today.

The updated top 10 is listed below, and a full database of spring game attendance can be found here (complete with conference breakdowns and a five-year record of spring game attendance figures by school).

2018 Spring Game Attendance Top 10

  1. Nebraska – 86,818
  2. Georgia – 82,184
  3. Alabama – 74,732
  4. Penn State – 71,000
  5. Tennessee – 65,098
  6. Florida State – 60,934
  7. Clemson – 55,000
  8. Florida – 53,015
  9. Oklahoma – 52,102
  10. Texas A&M – 48,129

Jeremy Pruitt felt some Tennessee players ‘flat out quit’ in spring game

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New Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruit has a message to his players and Tennessee fans. If you are going to enter Neyland Stadium, you better be prepared to work.

Following Tennessee’s spring game in Knoxville, Pruitt reflected on his first spring game as head coach with the media and he was not about to let anyone off the hook for a mediocre performance in the spring game. One thing you never want to hear from a head coach is that some of his players seemingly quit. That was the case for Pruitt today, without naming any specific players.

Even fans received some gripes from the new head coach.

Tennessee estimated a total of 65,098 fans came out to watch the Tennessee spring game, which is an impressive total and right around the average Tennessee typically draws for the spring game. But the crowd buzz must not have impressed Pruitt, who could be setting the tone for the fans in the fall in hopes they turn things up a bit once the games actually matter.

The same message is now being sent to the entire team. Pruitt has a high standard in mind, which is to be expected after being an assistant at Alabama. Was Pruitt truly this displeased with his team’s effort in the spring game? Or was he simply trying to play things down in order to let his players know there will be no room for poor efforts?

Jalen Hurts speculation about to run wild after shaky spring game at Alabama

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If Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts was looking to build a case for taking the starting job for the Crimson Tide in 2018, he may have to rely on more than his performance in the spring game. Hurts turned in a sub-par performance in Alabama’s spring game on Saturday afternoon, leaving the door wide open for some speculation about his future as Alabama’s spring comes to a close.

Hurts completed 19 of his 37 pass attempts for 195 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He also was sacked seven times. With Tua Tagovailoa out of action due to injury, Hurts was outperformed by redshirt freshman Mac Jones, who completed 23 of 35 passes for 289 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Jones was also intercepted once and was sacked six times. Of the two quarterbacks, Jones had the more inspiring performance.

Rumors speculating Hurts may end up looking to transfer will only continue to ignore following this spring, especially with Tagovailoa going into the offseason as the new hero in town after guiding Alabama back in the national championship game. It should be worth noting, however, a transfer for Hurts is not guaranteed to happen. That won’t stop fans and media from figuring out what will be next for Hurts.

Hurts’ dad recently suggested his son would be college football’s biggest free agent on the transfer market if he ended up losing the quarterback battle in Tuscaloosa. That may be a slight exaggeration, but there is no question Hurts would have plenty of potential and skill to offer any program he would potentially move to if he decides to leave Alabama. Alabama head coach Nick Saban tried to cool the tension by suggesting there is no reason to be concerned about the whole situation.

But this is Alabama we’re talking about. The Hurts watch is now in full force in Tuscaloosa, whether Saban likes it or not.