Group of Five Update: Toledo still undefeated but Temple on the rise

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As we get to the middle of October the separation between contenders and pretenders is starting to take form in the national championship and playoff picture. The same is true of the Group of Five race. This weekend saw one undefeated Group of Five contender go down on the road with Navy not able to keep up the pace with Notre Dame in South Bend, but otherwise it was more of the same in this weekly jockeying for position in the Group of Five pecking order.

Toledo went down early against Kent State but ripped off 38 unanswered points for a 38-7 victory over the Golden Flashes. Things are looking solid for Toledo,already with a road win at Arkansas and a home win against Iowa State for a pair of Power 5 victories. The Arkansas win occurred when the Razorbacks were a top 20 team and Toledo was without its top player, running back Kareem Hunt. Arkansas is now just 2-4 overall and is in danger of not qualifying for a postseason bowl game. Is that still the best win out there for Group of Five contenders? It may not be anymore (I’ll get to that later). However, things appear to be falling into place for Toledo with about as favorable schedule as it could get the rest of the way in conference play. Toledo has a road trip to Bowling Green in mid-November and home games against Northern Illinois and Western Michigan that can still be tricky, but Toledo is eyeing up a potential undefeated season, which will make them a strong candidate for the College Football Playoff selection committee when it comes time to awarding a spot in the New Years Six (no, we will not be discussing playoff chances here). But will that be enough to guarantee Toledo a spot in a big bowl game?

It is time to give the Temple Owls a bit more props for their body of work. The season-opening win against Penn State was a bit of a stunner, but week by week that win against the Nittany Lions is beginning to look like the best win on paper that any Group of Five team may have. Penn State improved to 5-1 yesterday, which helps boost Temple’s performance to date. Toledo has been riding the road victory at Arkansas for a while, and that may still carry more weight in the long run, but Temple’s dominating win over a 5-1 Penn State looks even better than Boise State’s wins over Washington and Virginia, Memphis victories over Kansas or Toledo’s win over Iowa State. The question is whether or not Temple will keep this going. If the Owls can avoid slipping up in conference play the next two weeks at home against UCF or on the road at East Carolina, Temple will prepare for a showdown in Philadelphia with Notre Dame on Halloween. The Irish, now 5-1, host USC next week and get a bye week before making the road trip to Philly. Unbeaten Temple vs. 6-1 Notre Dame is a very real possibility, and that would be a major game in the Group of Five discussion, and a possible gamechanger. But let’s cross that bridge if we get there.

What about Boise State? The Broncos are ripping through the competition now. Despite a mild setback at BYU earlier in the season, the Broncos carry a 5-1 record and have outscored opponents 244-72, and 96-10 in Mountain West Conference play. The Broncos have the most notable brand going among Group of Five contenders outside of Navy, but the overall performance of the Mountain West Conference coudl come back to haunt Boise State even with one loss. The loss to BYU likely means Boise State will end up needing some assistance in the American Athletic Conference (which scored a nice victory over the ACC with USF blasting Syracuse). A one-loss Boise State may be able to sneak by one or two conference champs in the MAC and AAC, but it is far from a given. Boise State needs to continue shredding conference opponents and wait for something to happen in the MAC or AAC. It is far from impossible with so much football to be played. Remember that Memphis, Houston and Navy all play each other in division play, Temple is scheduled to play Memphis later this regular season. At least three AAC contenders are going to take a loss in conference play, and it is possible all four could take a hit.

Once again, here is how I would be ranking the Group of Five contenders at this point in the season, with consideration given to record, overall body of work and conference competition.

  1. Toledo: Still has best win of the bunch and Rockets looking to run through MAC
  2. Temple: The Owls are playing with the one of the best defenses in the Group of Five right now, and have a win against a Penn State team that is now 5-1.
  3. Memphis: The Tigers are still probably the team to beat in the American Athletic Conference and are undefeated to stay just ahead of Boise State.
  4. Boise State: The Broncos are dominating in conference play, which is exactly what they need to do.
  5. Houston: The Cougars had a tussle with SMU for a while, but pulled away for a solid win. Cougars can be explosive.

On the radar: Navy may have taken a hit in South Bend, but Midshipmen are still a very real contender in the AAC moving forward. Ohio is now 5-1 but lacking a signature win (lost to Minnesota 27-24). Bobcats get Bowling Green and Northern Illinois and could face Toledo in the MAC Championship Game. Bowling Green has two losses so is barely making a blip on the radar, but Falcons are worth paying attention to just in case everything falls apart elsewhere.

Arkansas dismisses Bret Bielema as head coach

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Well, that didn’t take very long at all. Or, for some Arkansas fans, maybe it took too long.

Arkansas has officially parted ways with Bret Bielema as head coach of the Razorbacks. The official announcement was made minutes after Arkansas ended their regular season with a home loss to Missouri, with a press conference scheduled for Friday evening.

Bielema came to Arkansas with as solid reputation as you could find at the time at the end of the 2012 season. After guiding Wisconsin to a third-straight Rose Bowl appearance (Bielema left Wisconsin prior to coaching the third Rose Bowl in that run), Bielema was expected to be able to bring a model of consistent winning to the Arkansas program. Bielema claimed he made the decision to leave Wisconsin for Arkansas because he would have a better chance to compete for a national championship with the Razorbacks, but the wins never piled up the way he and Arkansas leaders and fans envisioned.

In five years at Arkansas, Bielema was 29-24 with an even more lopsided result in SEC play over the years. In 2017, Arkansas finished the year with a second losing season under Bielema, and late in the season the school also fired the man who originally hired Bielema, former athletics director Jeff Long.

Arkansas joins Florida, Tennessee, and Ole Miss among SEC schools now looking for a new head coach.

Arkansas fires Bret Bielema after season-ending loss to Missouri

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The Bret Bielema era at Arkansas has officially come to an end, but at least Arkansas went down fighting. Arkansas (4-8, 1-7 SEC) came up just short at home against Missouri (7-5, 4-4 SEC) in the regular season finale as a late go-ahead field goal lifted the Tigers to a 48-45 victory. Arkansas announced a press conference for later in the evening to officially address the dismissal of Bielema.

The win clinched a winning season for Missouri, which is an incredible feat given how this season started out. The Tigers were really struggling in the first half of the season after suffering blowout losses at home to South Carolina, Purdue, and Auburn and on the road against Georgia. During that rough stretch, head coach Barry Odom came off sounding like he was under extreme pressure when he passionately defending himself as being the right coach for the job. Turns out, he was right. Missouri ended the season on a six-game winning streak as they now prepare to go to a bowl game few would have seen coming back in October.

Missouri quarterback Drew Lock passed for 448 yards and five touchdowns in the game as the Tigers managed to dig out of an early hole and then come up with just a few more plays than the Razorbacks. Missouri racked up 696 yards of offense and 35 first downs. And it didn’t hurt when Bielema made some bizarre coaching decisions in the fourth quarter.

As Missouri goes on to prepare for whatever bowl game may be coming their way, Arkansas has some work to do with its football program. This is the second losing season under Bielema for Arkansas, with the first being in his first season on the job since leaving Wisconsin and the Big Ten. In five seasons at Arkansas, Bielema was 29-34.

San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny becomes 22nd 2,000-yard rusher in FBS history

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San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny became the 22nd player in FBS history to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a single season when he rattled off a 51-yard touchdown in the third quarter of a game against New Mexico.

Penny eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark a season after former Aztecs running back Donnel Pumphrey accomplished the same feat. That also made some history, with San Diego State becoming the first school in FBS history to have two different players run for 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.

We may not be quite done with the 2,000-yard rushers this season either. Stanford running back Bryce Love begins the week with 1,723 rushing yards this season. This week, Stanford faces a Notre Dame team that has allowed 200+ rushing yards each of the past three weeks. There is also the possibility Love gets to play in the Pac-12 Championship Game for another opportunity to tack on the yardage. Wisconsin freshman Jonathan Taylor is also in striking distance with 1,657 yards this season, and he is guaranteed a chance in the Big Ten championship game.

Penny had been on the Heisman Trophy radar earlier in the season, and some will argue he is worthy of a trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation as much as any other players who may be heading there. Penny was not named a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s top running back. Love, Taylor and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley were named finalists for the award earlier this week.

Toledo punches ticket to MAC Championship Game to face Akron

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The preseason favorite to win the MAC is now one step closer to coming through on that expectation. Toledo (10-2, 7-1 MAC) clinched the MAC West Division on Friday afternoon by defeating the defending MAC champ, Western Michigan (6-6, 4-4 MAC), by a score of 37-10.

Toledo will play Akron, the East Division champion, in the MAC Championship Game on Dec. 2 at Ford Field in Detroit. Toledo will be playing in the MAC Championship Game for the fifth time, but this will be their first trip since 2004. Akron is also ending a championship game drought by making their second appearance and their first since 2005. The two schools have not faced each other in the MAC Championship Game until this season.

Western Michigan represented the MAC in the New Years Six bowl lineup a year ago after going undefeated in the regular season and being the highest-ranked conference champion among the Group of Five conferences. The stakes will not be that high this season for Toledo or Akron. With two ranked teams in the American Athletic Conference expected to play for the AAC championship (UCF and Memphis are currently ranked, but USF would likely be ranked with a win over UCF), and Boise state floating in the bottom of the top 25 from the selection committee, even a Toledo blowout of the Zips would not likely be enough to make a push in the final week.

Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside passed for 200 yards and two touchdowns in the win. The Rockets were 7-of-14 on third down conversions in the game. The Rockets are expected to be a sizable favorite against Akron next week.

At 6-6, Western Michigan is bowl eligible.