Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 06:   Louisville Cardinals cheerleaders perform during the game against the Murray State Racers at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 6, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Louisville, WKU announce three-game series

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A pair of FBS schools from the state of Kentucky will be getting back together on the gridiron after a sabbatical of nearly two decades.

Louisville and Western Kentucky announced Thursday that they have reached an agreement on a three-game series that will actually be played in the not-too-distant future. Two of the games will be played at the U of L’s Papa John’s Stadium in 2018 and 2020.

The third will be played at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium in 2019.

“It’s great for both schools that we were able to resume this series against an in-state school of Western Kentucky’s caliber,” U of L athletic director Tom Jurich said in a statement. “Because of the proximity of both schools, I think it’s a tremendous win for the state of Kentucky and each fan base. I’m thrilled we were able to lock down a three-game series versus WKU.”

“We are excited to begin a football series with the University of Louisville,” Jurich’s WKU counterpart, Todd Stewart, said in his statement. “These three games will be exciting for both fan bases and good for college football in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. We continually try to develop strong non-conference schedules each year while also focusing on regional match ups that enable our fans to attend games outside of Bowling Green. A series with Louisville checks all of those boxes, and we appreciate Louisville’s administration and football program for their efforts and cooperation.”

The two teams have met 31 times previously, with the first coming in 1922 and the most recent in 1998. The Cardinals hold a 19-12 advantage in the series.

The Hilltoppers are currently coached by former Cardinals quarterback Jeff Brohm.

WKU’s leading rusher suspended for first half for role in Week 8 brawl

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 21: Anthony Wales #20 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers rushes during the 2015 Miami Beach Bowl against the South Florida Bulls at Marlins Park on December 21, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The fallout from a “complete melee” in Week 8 will bleed into Week 9 for Western Kentucky.

Conference USA announced Tuesday that running back Anthony Wales has been suspended for the first half of WKU’s game this weekend against FAU. Wales was one of myriad players involved in an in-game, on-field brawl last Saturday against Old Dominion.

Every player on each team was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from the officiating crew. Additionally, Monarch defensive back Jamshyer McUmber was ejected from the game.

“Conference USA takes sportsmanship and player safety very seriously,” a statement from the league began, “and the conference appreciates the efforts of both coaching staffs and the game officials to restore order following the incident and play the remainder of the game without any additional issues.”

“The league informed us of their decision,” WKU athletic director Todd Stewart said in his statement. “Coach [Jeff] Brohm addressed the situation from our perspective on Saturday and again today. Our focus is on this week’s game at FAU and our goal of winning another conference championship.”

In addition to Wales, ODU safety Christian Bynum has been suspended for the first half of this week’s game against UTEP.  WKU wide receivers Nicholas Norris and Kylen Towner and wide receiver Kesean Strong and defensive back Rob Thompson of ODU were issued public reprimands but were not suspended.

Wales is far and away the Hilltoppers leading rusher, topping the team in rushing yards (739), rushing touchdowns (11) and yards per carry (6.5). The rushing touchdowns are tied for fifth nationally.

Quinton Baker, second on the team with 310 yards, will get the start in place of Wales.

Longtime starting WKU safety likely out for remainder of 2016

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 10:  Calvin Ridley #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes away from Marcus Ward #8 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Like they have the last couple of weeks, Western Kentucky will have to get used to Marcus Ward not patrolling its defensive secondary on game days.

Ward (pictured, left) injured his knee in Week 2 and has not returned to the playing field.  Unfortunately for the player and the football program, that absence will continue as the safety underwent surgery on the knee, which is expected to sideline him for the remainder of the 2016 season.

This may not be the last of the fourth-year senior in a Hilltopper uniform, though, as Ward has yet to use his redshirt season and would have a medical waiver at his disposal even if he had.  It’s unclear, however, if Ward will return for another season or rather make himself available for the 2017 NFL draft.

Ward has started a total of 31 games since his true freshman season in 2013, including 26 the previous two seasons.  He was named preseason second-team All-Conference USA prior to the start of the 2016 season.

Perhaps more importantly, he was named a semifinalist earlier this month as a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, also known as the Academic Heisman.

Group of Five Power Rankings: Boise State is back? Boise State is back

BOISE, ID - SEPTEMBER 10: Running back Jeremy McNichols #13 of the Boise State Broncos runs through traffic during second half action against the Washington State Cougars on September 10, 2016 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. Boise State won the game 31-28. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)
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The highest-ranked conference champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or Sun Belt as ranked by the College Football Playoff selection committee is awarded a guaranteed spot in the New Years Six bowl line-up at the end of the year. Boise State earned that in the 2014 season and Houston claimed it in the 2015 season. Houston again appears like a very strong candidate for the spot once again this fall after two weeks of play.

Keep in mind these rankings do not include independent programs BYU and Army, as neither qualifies for the automatic New Years Six bowl spot reserved for the Group of Five representative. So, without any further delay, here is how I would rank the Group of Five contenders through the first two weeks of the season.

1. Houston (2-0)

Houston had to play without quarterback Greg Ward last weekend against Lamar, but that was no problem at all. The Cougars blanked Lamar, 42-0, a week after scoring one of the best wins of the opening weekend against Oklahoma. With that win, it may be difficult for any Group of Five contender to chase down Houston unless the Cougars stumble. The win over the Sooners will look even better if Oklahoma can pick up a home win this weekend against Ohio State.

2. Boise State (2-0)

The Broncos filled in at the fifth spot last week but get the jump up to No. 2 this week after picking up a win against Washington State. Now I know what you’re saying. But Kevin, Washington state lost to an FCS school at home! This is true, but the Broncos have been looking pretty decent out of the gate and may be emerging as the team to beat in the Mountain West Conference already.

3. San Diego State (2-0)

Oh yeah. Then there’s San Diego State, fresh off a win at home against Cal. Donnel Pumphrey is a one-man wrecking crew on the ground. Should the Aztecs be ranked ahead of the Broncos? It’s debatable. The only reason the Broncos get the edge for now is San Diego State has a win against an FCS opponent and Boise State went on the road to demolish a possible Sun Belt contender in the opener. San Diego State hits the road this week to play Northern Illinois, which could help nudge the Aztecs past Boise State.

3. Western Michigan (2-0)

I would have easily kept Western Michigan higher this week after putting up 70 against an FCS opponent, but the luster of a win on the road against Northwestern that was nearly handed away to the Wildcats lost a little luster when Northwestern lost at home to an FCS opponent, in which they only scored seven points. But that’s not Western Michigan’s fault! If Western Michigan goes 2-0 in Big Ten play, they could ascend right back up the ranking next week. The Broncos head to Illinois this week.

4. Southern Mississippi (2-0)

A week after a big rally on the road against Kentucky for a win, Southern Mississippi wasted Savannah State, 56-0, as expected. The Golden Eagles get Troy at home this week, after the Trojans just made Clemson work hard for a win. Get this one and the Golden Eagles should be in business.

5. East Carolina (2-0)

Making their season debut in the top five here is East Carolina. The Pirates scored a nice win over North Carolina State for some in-state bragging rights, and they could go 2-0 vs Power Five opponents this week with a road game at South Carolina. Do that and then they head to Blacksburg, Virginia for a game with the Hokies. East Carolina has a chance to make a move in this ranking before conference play opens.

On the Radar: Air Force, Cincinnati, Navy, South Florida, Western Kentucky, Toledo, Central Michigan, Temple, Georgia Southern

I was tempted to place Central Michigan in here, but I refuse to acknowledge the Chippewas actually did win as both the MAC and Big 12 confirmed the officials in the game blew the call. Under that set of circumstances, I believe the game should be vacated, so I cannot bring myself to acknowledge the win. I will, however, keep them on the radar because they took advantage of an opportunity presented to them, and in the end I cannot hold that against them too much.

Nick Saban ‘almost embarrassed’ following Alabama’s four-TD win

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 08:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks on during the game against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 8, 2012 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Following Alabama’s beatdown of USC in the opener, Nick Saban stated he wasn’t pleased with how his Tide had played in the 46-point win over the Trojans.

“If you want to know the truth about it, I wasn’t pleased with the way we played,” the head coach said in the immediate aftermath of the blowout. “… My focus with our team right now is: What can we do better? How can we get better? How can every guy improve? How can we get more guys to play better? And, look, I’m happy that we won, and I’m proud of our team for beating a good team, and I don’t want you to think that I’m not. But, at this point in the season, I’m really focused on what we need to do to get better.”

Following Alabama’s four-touchdown win over Western Kentucky in Week 2, Saban upped the ante — and the bar — when it comes to the expectations for his team.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the reasons why Saban will go down as one of the greatest head coaches in the history of the sport.  Complacency is a team- and season-killer, and Saban simply won’t stand for it if his team isn’t playing up to his standards. He’ll also very publicly hold himself to the same standard he does his players.

And, while I’m here, there’s this mic-drop moment, stemming from his Week 2 “conversations” with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.