Fresno State Bulldogs

Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

Big weekend for the AAC and Mountain West Conference

Leave a comment

For a conference trying to sell itself as the nation’s sixth power conference, Week 3 looks to be a pretty big one to do its best to prove it. The American Athletic Conference, which is going all in on its belief it is the sixth power conference and not one of the Group of Five conferences, will play games against the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-12 this weekend. And that includes games against four ranked opponents, two of which will be played in an AAC stadium.

It all gets started tonight with preseason favorite South Florida hosting Illinois from the Big Ten. The Bulls are a prohibitive favorite, which comes as no surprise. Quarterback Quinton Flowers could go off against the Illini, who have a record of 2-0 thanks to wins against Ball State and Western Kentucky. With Charlie Strong as head coach, the Bulls have not looked quite as automatic through the first two weeks as many predicted, but this could be their opportunity to put it all together on a national stage.

On Saturday, Memphis will look to score a significant upset at home against No. 25 UCLA. The Bruins are off to a 2-0 start but cross-country trip for a noon eastern kickoff has been known to give a west coast team trouble in the past. If the Tigers can catch the Bruins off to a slumbering start, Memphis may have to hope Josh Rosen and company don’t wake up in the fourth quarter the way they did against Texas A&M. A Memphis win would be key to the AAC as a whole too, as a win against a ranked opponent from a power conference gives the AAC a strength of schedule argument to boost itself up in the long run.

The AAC will have a few other cracks at ranked opponents. The team with the best chance, most likely, to score a win against a ranked team may be SMU. The Mustangs visit rival TCU, ranked 20th in the AP poll and coming off a win on the road against Arkansas. East Carolina hosts No. 16 Virginia Tech, and Tulane visits No. 2 Oklahoma. Either AAC team picking up a win in those games would be a shocker.

One other game against an ACC school was scratched due to Hurricane Irma recovery efforts. UCF, who looked really good in their opener, was to host Georgia Tech. Instead, the Knights will get a week off before returning to action next week on the road against Maryland.

The one game that should probably be the most interesting to watch, however, may take place in Ohio. MAC favorite Toledo is hosting Tulsa in a key Group of 5 vs. Group of 5 matchup. The Rockets have looked good and are a solid favorite, but Tulsa is a team to keep an eye on in the AAC. A year after an undefeated MAC champion grabbed the New Years Six spot in the bowl lineup, the AAC delivering a blow to the preseason MAC favorites could knock the MAC out of contention entirely before even getting to October.

AAC vs. Power 5 In Week 3

  • No. 22 USF vs. Illinois (FRI)
  • Memphis vs. No. 25 UCLA
  • Virginia vs. UConn
  • East Carolina vs. No. 16 Virginia Tech
  • No. 20 TCU vs. SMU
  • No. 2 Oklahoma vs. Tulane

Not to be outdone, the Mountain West Conference has a healthy diet of games against power conference competition this weekend as well. Air Force travels to No. 7 Michigan, Utah State visits Wake Forest, Colorado State is in Tuscaloosa to face No. 1 Alabama, Wyoming is hosting Oregon, Fresno State visits No. 6 Washington, San Jose State visits Utah, and San Diego State hosts No. 19 Stanford. That is seven games against power conference teams, including games against three top 10 teams. Most of those matchups do not appear to give the MWC many favors, although San Diego State hosting Stanford could be interesting.

Before conference play begins in these conferences, this will be the last major opportunities for the AAC and MWC to showcase their stuff in non-conference play. These games could make or break the conference’s chances of getting in the lucrative New Years Six lineup at the end of the year, so neither conference will want to squander their opportunities this weekend.

No. 1 Alabama runs all over Fresno State for comfortable win in home opener

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nick Saban probably wondered how well his team would play on Saturday after such a huge win on college football’s grand stage in Week 1. The answer was not exactly what the coach had in mind in terms of execution but, against an overmatched opponent like Fresno State, it didn’t exactly matter much either.

The Crimson Tide kicked off the year at home in Tuscaloosa in a fashion that was oh so familiar to many of their fans, running right over the Bulldogs all day long for a 41-10 victory that wasn’t as close as that score line indicated.

Case in point? Quarterback Jalen Hurts needing just two plays to scamper 55 yards for the game’s opening touchdown and spending most of the second half looking on as his talented protegé Tua Tagovailoa (6/9, 64 yards and a TD) saw his first extended action of the year for the team in the fourth quarter.

Hurts had over 100 yards through the air and on the ground well before halftime and finished a rather ho-hum three quarters-worth of work with 154 yards rushing (plus two touchdowns) and an efficient 14/18 passing with a score as well. The focal point of the offense seemed to come up with all of the team’s big plays early in the game but also benefited from a backfield that just grinded out yard on drive after drive (8.2 yards a carry overall). Five-star freshman Najee Harris looked solid running the ball with 70 yards after just light work from Bo Scarbrough (36 yards) and Damien Harris (32 yards, one touchdown).

Perhaps the biggest takeaway of the contest was that Fresno State came to play in their first big test under new (but veteran) coach Jeff Tedford. The Bulldogs, who were 1-11 last year, only turned the ball over once and moved the ball during several promising drives offensively. They also looked vastly improved on the defensive side of the ball despite sporting a new coordinator calling plays in just his second college football game ever — on the road against the No. 1 team no less.

The victory won’t do anything to change voters’ mind about the Tide’s ranking in the polls but you can bet that Saban will harp quite a bit on cleaning up the little things in practice this week. It was indeed a typical Alabama game against a Group of Five opponent but that doesn’t mean the home team was perfect at the end of the day either.

Jalen Hurts helps No. 1 Alabama roll to a comfortable halftime lead over Fresno State

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A decade ago, Jeff Tedford’s team taking on Nick Saban’s might have been must-see TV. In 2017, with the former trying to rebuild Fresno State? Not so much.

Alabama did what Alabama typically does to overmatched opponents in the first half of their home opener, leading 28-3 heading into the locker room after another efficient effort on both sides of the ball.

Give the Bulldogs credit though, they at least mounted a nine play, 70 yard drive to prevent the shutout.

Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts was not surprisingly the catalyst for big plays, kicking off scoring for Alabama with a 55 yard touchdown run on just the second play of the game. He added another from three yards out on a sweep and threw one as well — topping 100 yards in both rushing and passing after just two quarters. Tailback Damien Harris also chipped in with another touchdown on the ground.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the first half for Hurts was the fact that he came off the field, being replaced by backup (and fan favorite) Tua Tagovailoa as part of a scheduled rotation. The young freshman went 2-of-3 for 15 yards before being sent back to the bench after the drive stalled.

All in all, just about what we expected out of this one. At least the insertion of  Tagovailoa could make for an interesting second half in Tuscaloosa for those who live and breathe the Crimson Tide.

Mike Locksley still on the job at Alabama, days after son was shot and killed

Getty Images
1 Comment

As a father five times over, I have no earthly idea how Mike Locksley is doing it.

Sunday night, Meiko Locksley, the 25-year-old son of the Alabama co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, suffered a gunshot wound and, after being transported to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, was pronounced dead.  Mike Locksley missed the Crimson Tide’s practice Monday, but has been back with the team for the past two practices as they continue prep work for Saturday’s game against Fresno State.

Wednesday, Nick Saban confirmed that Locksley will coach in that game — it’s scheduled for a 3:30 ET kickoff — but is planning on heading back to the Maryland area right after. “I think the [funeral] service will be on Monday,” the head coach stated.

While he’s well aware that he doesn’t have to be in Tuscaloosa given the circumstances, Locksley told Saban that being around the team helps and gets his mind away from the situation for a bit.

“I told him that he certainly wasn’t expected to be here,” the coach said according to al.com. “He could be and spend as much time as he needed with his family. He said ‘It’s helpful for me to be here, it kind of gets my mind off of things.’ So we’re happy to have him and be around us and support him in any way that we can.”

Our continued thoughts and prayers go out to Coach Locksley and his entire family as they continue the grieving process.

Fresno State may have to put Bulldog Stadium renovation plans on hold

Getty Images
1 Comment

Fresno State is in the midst of renovating its 37-year-old home Bulldog Stadium, but those renovations may have to wait.

As detailed by the Fresno Bee, cracks in the cement on the stadium’s east side walkways and seating areas could push an expected completion date of 2019 back to ’20 or even ’21.

“It’s the 100-pound gorilla,” AD Jim Bartko said.

There are two options ahead for Fresno State: either the cracks could be a simple fix that would allow the Bulldogs to remain on schedule for a Sept. 7, 2019 grand re-opening. Or the cracks could be signs of a larger issue that would require a complete teardown, adding years and an additional $20 million to a project that’s already projected to cost $60 million.

Fresno State won’t know its next course of action until soil tests under the east side of Bulldog Stadium are complete.

“The east side is the one kicker,” Bartko said. “It might be ’19 half of it and ’20 half of it, because we’re not going to be able to do it all at one time.”