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.

ESPN analyst: Jimbo Fisher called Texas A&M soft, vowed to change the program

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If there was one thing that really seemed to put Kevin Sumlin on the hot seat during his time at Texas A&M, it was the Aggies seemingly annual collapse in the second half of the season and inability to finish games they had the potential to win. That explains some of the reason why the school ponied up to lure Jimbo Fisher from Florida State in a $75 million hire late last year.

While most of the outside focus on Fisher’s move to College Station has been centered on that humongous contract, there’s little question that hiring a national title-winning coach was a coup for the team. That subject was brought up again on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show Friday evening and ESPN college football analyst Booger McFarland relayed a rather interesting conversation he had with the coach earlier this year in which Fisher said something you typically don’t hear made public. You can head to the 8:18 mark (or there abouts) for the interview.

“I talked to Jimbo in Atlanta. I told Jimbo point-blank — the same thing I told you guys about Texas A&M the last several years — A&M is a soft program,” McFarland said. “Jimbo looked me in the eye and was like, ‘You know what, you’re damn right. We are soft, but I’m going to change that.’”

Something says that Fisher and the Aggies strength coaches are going to use the comments as a bit of a challenge in the weight room and during spring practice over the coming months as they lay the groundwork for the 2018 season. Even the most ardent maroon and white supporters would probably agree with the sentiment that the team went a little soft toward the end of Sumlin’s tenure but it’s not everyday you see a coach call out his new program quite like that.

Maybe it’s something in the water down there in College Station though, judging by some other comments by the school’s athletic director, but one thing is for certain — things are going to be very different at Texas A&M going forward.

Scott Frost wants Nebraska football roster to grow to 150 players or more in 2018

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In the days before you were limited to 85 scholarship players, it was not totally uncommon to see teams stock their rosters full of players and wind up in the triple-digits with close to 200 players on a team. Even after the NCAA mandated a limit of 85 scholarships, roster sizes were still not that much smaller when you factored in walk-ons and others on a squad.

It appears Scott Frost wants to get back to those sort of days in Lincoln and is apparently pushing the school to help him expand the Cornhuskers roster right into the 150 range.

“I’d like to accommodate (Frost’s) desire” to expand the roster, athletic director Bill Moos said this week in an interview with Rivals’ HuskerOnline. “But we do have that issue with Title IX” along with locker room facilities challenges, organized practice schedules, and other daily management nuts and bolts to sort through.

“Nebraska has been known for having a lot of players on the team…a lot of walk-ons. I’d like to get back to that,” Frost had said on Signing Day earlier in the month. “The best thing Coach (Tom) Osborne did was have everybody practice… and part of that is what led to the development of players and helped walk-ons and young players get better faster and get on the field and help the team. I think that’s an asset that Nebraska can have if we’re willing to expand the roster.”

HuskerOnline details some of the compliance and budgetary challenges that going to 150 would entail but it certainly sounds like the school is making the effort to beef the numbers up. The Cornhuskers are well known in college football history for their walk-on program and roughly 10-15 walk-ons per class would apparently help them land right around Frost’s ideal roster size after factoring in the 85 full-scholarship players he would recruit.

Interestingly, going to 150 would allow the program to pass Michigan for the Big Ten’s biggest roster. The Wolverines under Jim Harbaugh are reportedly sitting at around 135 players after the 2017 season while most of the other conference’s schools are mostly around the 120 mark with a few exceptions. Title IX is not surprisingly the biggest obstacle for teams but it seems like some can manage things with no issue.

Frost was hired this offseason to help take Nebraska back to their perch atop college football and it seems like he is certainly attempting to do that in more ways than one when it comes to Big Red.

Purdue hires Utah State’s Mark Tommerdahl as special teams and tight ends coach

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Jeff Brohm is bringing in longtime coaching veteran Mark Tommerdahl to fill out his staff and serve as Purdue’s special teams and tight ends coach.

The Boilermakers announced the move on Saturday afternoon as Tommerdahl heads to West Lafayette after spending just a season at Utah State where he also coached running backs and ran the Aggies’ special teams. While his stay in Logan was brief, Tommerdahl has been all over the country in 34 years as a coach and is highly regarded for his work in the kicking game.

Tommerdahl has plenty of prior Power Five coaching experience and spent four seasons with Sonny Dykes at Cal where he coached three different position groups and served as assistant head coach. Prior to that he also had stops at Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU and several other schools.

The move to bring in Tommerdahl fills the spot on the Boilermakers’ staff that was left when former Houston coach Tony Levine left after one season with the school to pursue opportunities outside of the coaching profession. Brohm’s 10th assistant Kevin Wolthausen was also given special teams responsibilities when he was elevated to a full-time role so it’s possible the team is really beefing up their emphasis on the third phases of the game with the two new coaches splitting duties when it comes to special teams.

Either way, after a surprising 2017 season that ended with a bowl game victory it’s pretty clear that Brohm is not just sitting back when it comes to his coaching staff and is bringing in some veteran names to help the team take the next step in 2018.

Iowa State OC Tom Manning reportedly leaving Ames for Indianapolis Colts staff

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After one of the most successful seasons in recent memory at Iowa State, it appears head coach Matt Campbell will not be able to keep the band together for another run.

Campbell confirmed to The Des Moines Register on Saturday morning that offensive coordinator Tom Manning was leaving Ames and will be taking a job in the NFL. The paper later was able to confirm that the team in question will be the Indianapolis Colts for a spot on Frank Reich’s new staff. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg says Manning will be the team’s tight ends coach.

“I’m really happy and proud of him,” Campbell told the Register.

Manning has been with Campbell for years and the two actually played (and coached) together at famed D-III power Mount Union in the early 2000’s. Both were on the same staff at Toledo and Manning served as offensive line coach both there and at Iowa State. As offensive coordinator in 2017 he guided the Cyclones to a bit of an offensive renaissance despite relying on backup quarterback Kyle Kempt for most of the season, helping the team produce the third most points per game in school history while ranking in the top five in both total yards and passing.

ISU memorably upset Oklahoma in Norman and capped off an eight-win campaign in the Liberty Bowl with a victory over a ranked Memphis team.

The move leaves two openings on Campbell’s staff for 2018 but the Register notes that graduate assistant Jeff Myers is a possibility for the offensive line job and special teams analyst Joe Houston could be the team’s potential 10th assistant coach.