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.

Iowa linebacker announces transfer

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Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has been known to have a program that could play some solid defense more often than not, but the depth at linebacker just got a bit more shallow this Memorial Day weekend. Redshirt sophomore Anthony Garbutt has announced he is leaving the program.

“After prayer, consulting with my family and Coach Ferentz, I have made the decision to leave the University of Iowa,” Garbutt announced in a statement on Twitter. “I am thankful for my years as a Hawkeye and will continue to support the franchise.”

Garbutt went on to announce he will make a decision after going through a recruiting process. No timeline for his decision was announced.

Garbutt still has three more years of eligibility remaining, although he has already burned one redshirt year after joining the Class of 2015 at Iowa. If he transfers to another FBS program, he will have to sit out the upcoming 2017 season and lose a year of eligibility in the process. He would be available to play immediately this fall if he transfers to a lower division football program.

Report: Navy’s football stadium will host NHL outdoor game between Caps and Leafs

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The NHL has enjoyed the success of their growing number of outdoor games. What started out as an attempt to steal the New Years Day spotlight from the college football bowl season has grown to include additional outdoor games around the country in February and March as part of the league’s Stadium Series. With an abundance of outdoor games, finding new venues to host the outdoor games offers new opportunities to showcase a wide range of stadiums. Navy is now set to get in on the NHL outdoor fun.

The Associated Press reports Navy’s Navy-Marine Corp Memorial Stadium will be used for one game in the NHL’s Stadium Series on March 3, 2018. The Washington Capitals will “host” the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 34,000-seat venue in Annapolis, Maryland. A formal announcement is expected to be made on Monday, Memorial Day. It’s also the same day the NHL kicks off the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators and commissioner Gary Bettman gives his annual state of the league address.

The New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres were previously slated to play in the NHL Winter Classic in Citi Field, home of baseball’s New York Mets.

Heinz Field, the home of the Pitt Panthers, was used to host the 2011 Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, becoming the first college football stadium to host an outdoor NHL game. Of course, Heinz Field is also home to the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, so this college stadium host came with an asterisk. Heinz Field hosted a Stadium Series game this past February between the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

Michigan’s Michigan Stadium hosted the Winter Classic in 2014 between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, hosted a game in the NHL’s Stadium Series in 2016 between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks.

There are still a good handful of stadiums worth considering for future NHL outdoor games, especially in the Big Ten. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium has long been suspected of being a potential target for an outdoor game, but any plans involving Beaver Stadium may have to wait until after the stadium’s facilities are upgraded as part of the school’s upcoming athletics department renovation. Ohio State’s Ohio Stadium could also be an attractive candidate for an outdoor game in the future as well.

A couple other venues for possible Stadium Series game sin the future should include the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Rose Bowl. The NHL has already played an outdoor game in Dodger Stadium, back in 2014, so the league is not afraid to play outside in LA (and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara hosted a game in 2015). If they return, playing in either historic stadium would seem to make sense, although it is possible the NHL would prefer to wait until the new home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Chargers is completed before making a trip to LA again.

Alabama DB Tony Brown has chance to prove he’s fastest NCAA athlete in nation

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Forget the 40-yard dash. Alabama defensive back Tony Brown is setting his focus on the 100-meter dash.

Brown, a track star in addition to being a fixture on the Alabama defense, qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the 100-meter dash after finishing in the top 10 at the NCAA East Regional at Kentucky. Brown is a two-time All-American on the track.

Let this serve as another example of the caliber of athletes Nick Saban is bringing in to his program. Recruiting analysts have been noting for years the importance of recruiting athletes with skills in more than one sport, and Alabama has that with Brown. Brown was one of the nation’s top hurdlers in high school, and that success on the track has continued in Tuscaloosa.

Brown brings the pain on the football field too, of course. Just ask former Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams what kind of damage Brown can bring.

Helmet sticker to Gridiron Now.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey still not a fan of early signing period

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The SEC will gather in Destin, Florida this week for the annual spring meetings. This will be the first time the conference has come together since the adoption of an early signing period in college football, which is something that has not been well-received by some in the SEC. Among the dissenters in the early signing period conversation has been SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who says he is still no fan of the new recruiting calendar.

I still don’t think that’s best,” Sankey said in an interview with the Associated Press last week.

“I think the early signing date has an impact on high school football,” Sankey said. “I think moving the recruiting calendar has an impact on high school football. I think we all have to be concerned about football and its strength and health at every level. Whether it’s a minority voice or a singular voice, I think those are important issues to consider.”

The stance by some around the SEC against the idea of the early signing period is notably different compared to just a few years ago. At the spring meetings in 2014, the SEC football coaches voted unanimously in favor of an early signing period starting on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Former SEC commissioner Mike Slive, however, expressed his preference to keep the only signing day in February.

As far as the voice coming from the commissioner’s office in the SEC is concerned, the narrative has not changed following the changing of the guard.