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

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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

FAU QB dismissed by Oklahoma ‘actually thanked’ Lane Kiffin for suspension that lasted two days

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That certainly didn’t last long.

Tuesday, after the first day of spring practice, Lane Kiffin revealed that Chris Robison had been indefinitely suspended from the Florida Atlantic football program for unspecified violations of team rules; one report had the suspension connected to skipping a mandatory tutoring session. At the time, the second-year head coach indicated that the suspension was day-to-day and could be lifted at any time.

As it turns out, Thursday was that time as the quarterback returned to the practice field with the rest of his FAU teammates.

“He came in [Wednesday] and actually thanked me for it,” Kiffin said according to the Sun-Sentinel. “He said it really kind of embarrassed him nationally and humbled him that things could kind of be taken away. It was good to see.”

A four-star member of Oklahoma’s 2017 recruiting class, Robison was arrested in April of that year for public intoxication; four months later, OU announced that Robison had been dismissed from the football program.  In August of last year, Robison announced his decision to transfer to FAU and ended up taking a redshirt for the 2017 season.

Robison and De’Andre Johnson are expected to compete for the starting job vacated by Jason Driskel, who announced earlier this offseason that he was retiring from the sport.  Johnson missed most of the 2017 season after blood clots were discovered in one of his arms.

Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa (thumb) returns to practice

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In the end, it appears to be much ado about (mostly) nothing.

Tuesday, after the reigning national champions had put the finishing touches on its first practice of the spring, Nick Saban confirmed that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had suffered an unspecified injury to the thumb on his left (throwing) hand. It was expected that the quarterback would travel to Birmingham for further evaluation of the injury.

Wednesday, it was reported that the injury was believed to be just a sprain and that Tagovailoa could return to practice soon. That report proved prophetic as Tagovailoa was indeed back at practice Thursday, albeit on a limited basis.


The quarterback was not doing the normal drills with his teammates but was off to the side working with head athletic trainer Jeff Allen. It looked like they were testing Tagovailoa’s ability to grip the football since the injury was suffered on his throwing hand. He replicated a few play-action roll outs with the ball in his left hand. At one point, he rolled over toward where Jalen Hurts was standing and they high fived.

Until Tagovailoa is fully recovered, Jalen Hurts will take the majority of the reps as the Crimson Tide continues its march through their 15 spring practice sessions.

The rising true junior Hurts, who has started every game but one the past two seasons, and the rising true sophomore Tagovailoa, the national championship game hero who replaced Hurts at halftime of the overtime win, are entrenched in a competition for the starting job that, barring a post-spring transfer, is expected to extend into summer camp. That said, most observers outside of the UA football program fully expect Tagovailoa, because of his proficiency in the passing game relative to Hurts, to earn the job at some point before the Tide opens the defense of their title against Louisville in Orlando Sept. 1.

USC graduate transfer Jalen Greene heads east to play at Illinois in 2018

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Greene is turning orange. Well, Jalen Greene is at least.

The former USC wide receiver who announced he would pursue a graduate transfer earlier this month announced on Twitter that he would be heading East to play at Illinois in 2018. He will be immediately eligible to play for the Illini.

Greene was originally recruited by the Trojans as a dual-threat quarterback but eventually made the move to receiver. He caught eight passes for 98 yards at USC last season as a partial starter and added another eight receptions for 116 yards the year prior.

Illinois has already begun spring practice and has been trying several new players at wide receiver in the process to find a good complement to Mike Dudek on the outside. It seems Greene could find himself in the mix to be one of those guys when he arrives in Champaign.

Josh Heupel keeping most of Scott Frost’s playbook at UCF as spring practice begins

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There are a ton of interesting storylines as spring practice begins across the country but one of the most intriguing programs to watch might be in Orlando as UCF looks to simultaneously follow up an undefeated season while also transitioning to a new coaching staff.

ESPN’s Andrea Adelson wrote a good story on the Knights changing some things up under head coach Josh Heupel the past few months like eating with players during meals, new strength and conditioning regiments and the usual offseason stuff you typically wind up season. However there was one interesting nugget about the team’s playbook that the coach relayed:

In other areas, player input has kept a few things unchanged. Take the offensive playbook, for example. Heupel and (Scott) Frost share enough offensive concepts that the new staff has adopted the terminology that players already know on the plays they have in common. So in theory, that should allow the offense to hit spring practice, which started Tuesday, with much more familiarity than another program that has completely changed over its staff.

As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In Heupel’s first head coaching gig, it seems he’s taking that to heart.