Toledo Rockets

CORAL GABLES, FL - DECEMBER 04:  New University of Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt makes the 'U' sign after he was introduced at a press conference at the school on December 4, 2015 in Coral Gables, Florida.  (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images)
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Smart, Richt currently pace all new head coaches in recruit rankings

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In somewhat of an ironic twist, the head coach who was forced to leave Georgia and the coach who replaced him are doing quite well on the recruiting trail at their new programs.  In fact, they’re doing better than any other who found a landing spot in the 2015-16 spinning of the coaching carousel.

As it stands now, Miami’s Mark Richt has the 19th-ranked recruiting class according to Rivals.com, the second-best of any of the  27 head coaches hired in the past three months.  The best?  Georgia, which has the No. 15 class thanks in part to Kirby Smart, Richt’s successor in Athens.

UGA right now, though, and fully understanding that there are nearly two weeks left until National Signing Day, is nine spots behind the No. 6 class Richt signed in 2015.  The U, meanwhile, was ranked 26th for Al Golden‘s last class, a full seven spots behind were Richt stands now.

Not surprisingly, a significant number of programs have seen their recruiting rankings dip from a year ago.  One of the most glaring is that of USC.  Despite offensive coordinator Clay Helton taking over as interim head coach in mid-October and then taking over permanently in late November, USC has just the 23rd-ranked class; last year at this time, the Trojans were well on their way to having Rivals’ No. 1 class under Steve Sarkisian.

Of the 27 head coaches new to their teams, 17 have classes that are ranked lower than their predecessors from a year ago.  The biggest drop belongs to Seth Littrell‘s North Texas (127th currently, 90th in 2015), while that ignominious honor for Power Five programs goes to Dave Odom and Missouri (59th, 27th).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Matt Campbell has taken his new team on one of the biggest rises, lifting Iowa State from No. 69 under the departed Paul Rhoads to No. 52.  Interestingly, Campbell’s successor at Toledo, UT offensive coordinator Jason Candle, has the Rockets at 73rd, 17 spots higher than his predecessor’s 90th-ranked class of a year ago.

Below are the 27 newest head coaches, with where their teams rank now in the recruiting rankings compared to a year ago:

2016 New HC Recruit Rankings

Spinning of 2015-16 coaching carousel comes to a halt (probably)

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 07:  Head coach Clay Helton of the USC Trojans before the game against the Arizona Wildcats at Los Angeles Coliseum on November 7, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The 2015-16 head-coaching carousel began spinning August 28 of last year with Illinois’ firing of Tim Beckman. Exactly 141 days later, the hiring of Frank Wilson by UT-San Antonio has brought it to a halt. Probably.

Barring an unexpected firing by an FBS program or an NFL team swooping in to steal a coach, it’s come time, I think, to sit back and take a look at how this year’s version of the carousel has shaken out.

All told, 26 FBS teams will head into the 2016 with head coaches who did not begin the 2015 season in that capacity — Bill Cubit, the Illini’s interim coach after Beckman’s firing, was ultimately named as the permanent head coach and would be considered a 27th. That’s a significant jump from the recent past, with 2013 yielding 19 changes and “just” 15 in 2014. Of this cycle’s changes, 13 came at Power Five programs — nine as the result of dismissals, four because of retirements.

That, of course, means 14 openings came from the Group of Five schools; not surprisingly, the Power Five movement had an impact on that group as four G5 head coaches left for the same job with P5 teams, while another, Ball State’s Pete Lembo, left to become an assistant at a P5 program. Six of the remaining holes were created by firings, while two more jobs in that group came open because of retirements. The lone remaining? Willie Fritz left Georgia Southern to take over at Tulane.

Of the openings, eight were filled by coaches who were defensive coordinators in 2015, and another eight by offensive coordinators.  That is quite the turnaround from a year ago, when just one DC, Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi to Pittsburgh, became a head coach, while five of their offensive brethren landed head-coaching jobs.

The next group could be called the Noah’s Ark of the carousel, coming from their 2015 jobs in twos: interim head coaches (Cubit, USC’s Clay Helton), FCS head coaches (Louisiana-Monroe’s Matt Viator, Texas State’s Everett Withers) and running backs coach (Bowling Green’s Mike Jinks, Wilson).

Finally, one NFL assistant made the move back to the collegiate ranks: Mike Neu, who left the New Orleans Saints to take over for Lembo at Ball State.

And with that, I (probably) wash my hands of the ’15-’16 carousel, knowing full well that it’ll all begin again another 10 months or so — or seven months, if another program decides to pull a preseason Illini.

Toledo fends off Temple to win Boca Raton Bowl

BOCA RATON, FL - DECEMBER 22:  Phillip Ely #12 of the Toledo Rockets drops back to throw during the first half of the game against the Temple Owls at FAU Stadium on December 22, 2015 in Boca Raton, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Toledo lost coach Matt Campbell to the Iowa State job earlier this month, while Temple coach Matt Rhule rejected overtures from Power Five programs to stay in Philadelphia. But in the Boca Raton Bowl, it was the team that lost its head coach that played far better than the team that kept its guy.

Toledo rolled No. 24 Temple, 32-17, on a soggy evening Tuesday at Howard Schnellenberger Stadium, giving the Rockets bowl wins in back-to-back season for the first time since 1969-1971 (a stretch in which it won all 35 games it played).

Quarterback Philip Ely, the ex-Alabama quarterback who reportedly was denied an appeal for a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, shined against a strong Temple defense, completing 20 of 28 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns. His 80-yard scoring strike to receiver Cody Thompson early in the fourth quarter was the push Toledo needed for a comfortable win against an Owls offense that spun its metaphorical wheels all evening.

Owls running back Jahad Thomas suffered a leg injury late in the second quarter and did not return, though the guy who rushed for over 1,200 yards in the regular season wasn’t effective before leaving the game (eight carries, five yards). With Thomas stuffed and then taken out of the game, P.J. Walker & Co. struggled to move the ball and gained only 67 yards in the first half.

Temple finally got in the end zone with 2:50 remaining when Kip Patton plunged two yards for a touchdown, and Walker miraculously kept the two-point conversion attempt alive long enough to find a wide open Robby Anderson to pull the Owls within eight.

Toledo narrowly recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt — Temple kicker Tyler Mayes appeared to fall on the ball, but must’ve lost it in the scrum, and both team’s players pointed to indicate their team had possession —  and Kareem Hunt promptly sealed the Rockets’ win with a 41-yard touchdown run.

Toledo finished the season with a 10-2 record, its first double-digit win season since 2001. Temple entered the game with 10 wins, representing its best season since 1979.

Temple RB Jahad Thomas injured as Toledo leads Boca Raton Bowl at halftime

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 28: P.J. Walker #11 of the Temple Owls hands the ball off to Jahad Thomas #5 in the first quarter against the Connecticut Huskies on November 28, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Toledo leads Temple at halftime of the Boca Raton Bowl, 12-3, but the more concerning development for Matt Rhule’s Owls was running back Jahad Thomas leaving the game late in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury.

Rockets defensive tackle Treyvon Hester rolled up on Thomas’ leg on a running play, and the Owls’ leading rusher limped off the field with help. Rhule told the ESPN broadcast Thomas’ injury didn’t look good, but was unsure if he’d be able to return for the second half.

Thomas was struggling as Temple’s offense slogged to only 67 first-half yards, rushing eight times for five yards in a sloppy, off-and-on rainy evening in Florida.

Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely — who was denied a sixth year of eligibility, according to ESPN’s Brett McMurphy — sliced through Temple’s defense for 168 yards and a touchdown in the first half. The Rockets also scored on a safety when linebacker Ja’Wuan Woodley blew up the mesh point of a read option and forced the ball out of the back of the end zone.

CFT Previews: Your Dec. 22 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 15:  Quarterback Chuckie Keeton #16 of the Utah State Aggies releases a pass against the Wisconsin Badgers on September 15, 2012 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Tom Lynn/Getty Images)
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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 22 bowl menu, which features two games and a pair of teams from the MAC and one each from the AAC and Mountain West.

WHO: Akron (7-5) vs. Utah State (6-6)
WHAT: The 19th Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
WHERE: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: As you sometimes get in bowl season, this game marks the first-ever meeting in football between the two programs.  It’s also a game of opposites, as Akron comes into Spud Land riding a four-game winning streak while Utah State, winners of at least nine games each of the past three seasons, stumbles into conference enemy territory as losers of three of their last four.  The Zips are also bowling for just the second time in school history, with the first coming back in 2005.  The Aggies, meanwhile, are appearing in their fifth straight bowl and are looking for their fourth straight postseason win, but are also looking to avoid their first losing season since 2010.  If you’re a fan of above-average defense, at least when it comes to yards, this will be one of the few games for you this postseason as both squads excel in that area — Akron’s defense is 24th in yards per play (4.71) while Utah State is 34th (4.87).  In their seven wins, the Zips gave up more than 21 points just once; the Aggies, though, gave up 24 or more points in eight of their 12 games.  The one X factor?  USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who has seemingly been with the Aggies since the turn of the century — he’s really just a sixth-year senior because of a cruel run of injuries — and who returned late this season.  If Keeton, in his last game, can even remotely find the form that gave him darkhorse Heisman status for a couple of seasons, it could be enough for the Aggies to extend that bowl winning streak.
THE LINE: Akron, +7
THE PREDICTION: Utah State 31, Akron 20

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WHO: Toledo (9-2) vs. Temple (10-3)
WHAT: The 1st Marmot Boca Raton Bowl
WHERE: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida
WHEN: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Temple began the season with seven straight wins, cultivating talk of a berth in one of the prestigious New Year’s Six bowl.  A loss to Notre Dame put a dent in that talk, while a loss to Houston in the AAC championship game ended it entirely.  Still, the Owls’ 10 wins were the first time in the program’s history that they’ve reached double digits.  Toledo, after a weather hiccup to start the season, tracked similar to its opponent in that the Rockets won their first seven games before splitting their last four.  UT could’ve put itself into the Group of Six discussion, but a loss to Western Michigan in the regular-season finale handed the MAC West to Northern Illinois.  The Rockets will lean heavily on their two-headed running back combination of Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson that averaged more than 200 yards a game the last half of the year, but that runs headfirst into an Owl strength — that defensive unit was 21st nationally in rushing yards allowed per game and an overall defense that’s a stingy 19th in yards per play.  One player to watch on the defensive side of the ball: Tyler Matakevich.  The Temple senior linebacker is the only FBS player to lead his team in tackles every game this season and is only the seventh player at this level to be credited with 100-plus tackles in four straight seasons.
THE LINE: Toledo, +1½
THE PREDICTION: Temple 24, Toledo 14