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

Arkansas assistant Vernon Hargreaves added to Mizzou’s staff

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Vernon Hargreaves wasn’t retained by the new coaching staff in Fayetteville, but he’ll end up remaining in the SEC anyway.

Missouri confirmed Thursday that Hargreaves has been hired by Barry Odom and added to the second-year head coach’s staff.  The veteran assistant will serve as Odom’s inside linebackers coach.

“I’ve known Vernon for a number of years and have always respected the way his position plays the game,” said Odom in a statement distributed by the school. “He will be a great teacher and mentor for our student-athletes. His experience will be so valuable for our program; I’m excited about Vernon and his family joining our Mizzou family.”

Hargreaves spent the past three seasons as the linebackers coach at Arkansas.  Most notably, he served in the same capacity at Miami from 1998-2005.

Hargreaves also spent time on staffs at Houston (2013-14), South Florida (2010-12), East Carolina (2007-09), Florida International (2006) and UConn (1985-97).  He was also the special teams coordinator at USF and ECU in addition to being a position coach.

Telly Lockette takes job at Florida State as TEs coach

Associated Press
Leave a comment

As Willie Taggart constructs his first coaching staff at Florida State, he’s added yet another familiar face.

Taggart, FSU announced earlier Thursday, has hired Telly Lockette as the Seminoles’ tight ends coach.  Lockette had spent the past three seasons as the running backs coach at Oregon State.

Prior to that, Lockette was a member of Taggart’s coaching staff at USF as running backs coach for two seasons and maintains deep ties to the fertile recruiting soil of South Florida.

“I’ve known Coach Lockette for a long time and am excited he is joining our staff at Florida State,” Taggart said. “He was an important part of my first staff at South Florida and has gained Power 5 experience with his last three seasons in the Pac-12. Coach Lockette is a tremendous recruiter and coach who does a phenomenal job developing student-athletes on and off the field. While we were at South Florida he was the primary recruiter for the Miami area and helped us sign a number of impact players, including Quinton Flowers, Khalid McGee and Deatrick Nichols. His expertise will benefit our current and future Seminoles.”

The job with Taggart at USF was Lockette’s first at any level of college football.  The first 10 years of his coaching career were spent at the high school level, including a five-year stint at Miami Central from 2008-12.

Amidst Arizona State chatter, Texas Tech DC David Gibbs signs contract extension

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Almost without fail, it pays to have your name circulating through the annual churning of the coaching rumor mill.

The latest example is David Gibbs, with the Texas Tech defensive coordinator being rumored as a target for the same job with Herm Edwards at Arizona State over the past few days.  Fast-forward to Thursday night, and Tech announced that it has finalized a new two-year contract extension with Gibbs.  The coordinator is now signed through the 2019 season.

According to the school, Gibbs’ pay will be bumped from $550,000 per year to $650,000.  That number puts Gibbs right in the middle of Big 12 DC pay.

“We are fortunate to have one of the top defensive coordinators in the country in Coach Gibbs,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said in a release. “Since the conclusion of the regular season, finalizing this new contract to keep Coach Gibbs at Texas Tech has been a priority for myself and [athletic director] Kirby [Hocutt]. We look forward to continuing to build one of the nation’s top defenses in the years to come under Coach Gibbs.”

Long a punchline, the Red Raiders’ defense has steadily improved in the three years under Gibbs.  This season, their 27 takeaways led the Big 12 and are the most in a season for the football program since 2008.  They’re also currently seventh in the country with four defensive touchdowns.

With Gibbs back, he’ll have 10 returning starters with which to work next season.

“There isn’t a better person to work for than Kliff Kingsbury, and I’m looking forward to continue building this program with him,” Gibbs said. “There is still plenty of work that needs to be done, but I’m excited about the future of our team.”

RB Justin Crawford to skip West Virginia’s bowl game, begin preparing for NFL draft

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sometimes the personnel gods giveth, and sometimes the personnel gods taketh away.

Thursday evening, West Virginia announced that quarterback Will Grier will return to Morgantown for the 2018 season.  Not long after, the same football program confirmed that Justin Crawford has decided to eschew playing in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Instead of preparing for Utah in the postseason, the senior running back will instead begin preparations for the 2018 NFL draft.

“Justin has logged a lot of miles and been a key contributor for us the past two seasons,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He made a decision to not play in the bowl game based on what is best for him and his family. He came to West Virginia to further his education and be a featured back in the Big 12 and he accomplished his goals. As he starts his preparation for the NFL Draft, we wish him nothing but the best.”

Crawford has led the Mountaineers in rushing each of the past two seasons.  He’s the first WVU player to post back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Noel Devine in 2008-09.

After finishing third in the Big 12 this season with 1,061 yards on the ground, he was named second-team all-conference for the second straight season.  Following the 2016 season, he earned the league’s Newcomer of the Year honor.