Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages

Group of Five Power Ranking: Is it time to take Western Michigan seriously?

Leave a comment

Western Michigan head coach PJ Fleck has his Broncos seriously thinking about rowing their boats right into a New Years Six bowl game. It may very well be time to start figuring out how they can get there, because they are forcing the conversation after yet another blowout victory. Western Michigan isn’t just winning games: they are kicking butt and chewing bubble gum, and they’re all out of gum.

Western Michigan obliterated Akron on Saturday, 41-0. It is the fourth straight game that has seen Western Michigan put at least 40 points on the scoreboard and the sixth straight double-digit victory. Western Michigan ahs won six straight games by an average of 31 points per game since edging Northwestern in the season opener in Evanston by one.

So what is holding Western Michigan back from being discussed in the New Years Six race? A lack of a true signature win? An overall weak strength of schedule? Not a shred of past success to provide a benefit of the doubt? It may be a combination of the three, through no fault of Western Michigan’s own.

The Broncos are still likely chasing teams like Boise State (a success of crashing the big bowl party), Houston (preseason favorite) and Navy (who beat Houston and carries much more history and tradition). That is unfortunate for Western Michigan, because this is a wildly fun team to watch and they are not winning games by such wide margin by accident. Western Michigan is the team to beat in the MAC, and it’s not even close. The biggest challenge likely ahead for the Broncos will be a regular season finale against Toledo, which could decide the MAC West championship. At this point, it should be expected Western Michigan will be 11-0 by the time that game comes around, but how will the selection committee evaluate Western Michigan at that time, considering some of the other options laying around?

Reminder: One spot in the New Years Six lineup is guaranteed to the highest-ranked conference champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or Sun Belt Conference. A team must have the conference championship in order to qualify. Army, BYU and UMass are not eligible for this consideration.

Here is how I would rank the Group of Five contenders through seven weeks of the college football season;

1. Boise State (6-0, 3-0 MWC)

The Broncos had to hold on for dear life late Saturday night against Colorado State, but managed to keep their perfect record going. Boise State’s biggest win of the night, however, may have come in Pullman, Washington. Boise State clipped Washington State earlier in the year with a 31-28 victory on the Smurf turf. At the time, the Cougars didn’t look so hot, but now Washington State is one of two unbeaten teams in Pac-12 play (along with Washington, coached by former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen). That is a win that begins to look stronger and stronger for Boise State each week. In fact, Boise State’s win over 4-2 Washington State may arguably be on par with Houston’s victory over 4-2 Oklahoma.

2. Navy (4-1, 3-0 AAC)

The Midshipmen were off this week after having a Thursday night game against East Carolina postponed to later in the season due to flooding in North Carolina. As a result, Navy gets a little extra time to prepare for a giant home game next week against Memphis (more on them in a moment). First place in the AAC West will be on the line, which gives Navy a decisive edge in the division should they send Memphis home with a loss. Navy still has to play at USF and host Tulsa in conference play, and neither game is going to be an easy win. For now, Navy is sitting on top of the AAC thanks to a big win over Houston.

3. Houston (6-1, 3-1 AAC)

Houston may still need some help just in order to qualify for the AAC Championship Game, but they remain very much in the thick of the hunt. Houston may still be the most talented team in the AAC, bu the past two weeks have shown they are not invincible. Navy took them out and Tulsa gave them a real good scare in Houston on Saturday. The good news for Houston is the rest of the conference schedule is a tad more manageable than what Navy has in front of them, although Houston must still play at Memphis and they also get Louisville at home. A loss to Louisville could hurt Houston’s New Years Six bid even if they do go on to win the AAC, but Houston still needs Navy (or Memphis?) to lose twice in order for that to be a possibility.

4. Western Michigan (7-0, 3-0 MAC)

See above. At some point I am going to have to strongly consider moving Western Michigan up in these rankings. Maybe next week?

5. USF (6-1, 3-0 AAC)

This last spot was up for grabs between a few candidates, but ultimately went to South Florida after pulling away for a decisive victory over UConn in Tampa this weekend. The Bulls have now won all three of their conference games by no fewer than 16 points, and this week Quinton Flowers and the Bulls have a chance to take firm control of the AAC East Division. USF heads to Philadelphia to play Temple. A win against the Owls (which they earned last year) would be huge with games against Navy and Memphis coming up after that. Going 2-1 in this stretch may be enough to put the Bulls on pace for the conference title game, especially if one of those wins comes against Temple.

On the Radar: Toledo, San Diego State, Memphis, Tulsa, Troy

Iowa linebacker announces transfer

Photo by Danny Moloshok /Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
2 Comments

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.