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Idaho, NMSU out as Sun Belt members after 2017

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Apparently, Idaho’s sales pitch wasn’t as compelling as they’d like.

Two weeks ago, Idaho unveiled a 19-slide presentation aimed at continuing their football membership in the Sun Belt Conference, membership that was initially granted to both themselves and New Mexico State on four-year terms that are set to expire following the 2017 season.  Looking for an extension, both football programs will instead be looking for new homes in a couple of seasons.

What does the denial of extension do to the two football programs impacted by the decision? For the Vandals, it likely means dropping down to the FCS level and joining the Big Sky conference, where there other varsity sports are currently housed. For the Aggies, whose other sports play in the WAC, which doesn’t offer football, another go as an FBS independent will likely be in the offing.

With the impending departures of Idaho and New Mexico State after the 2017 season and the addition of Coastal Carolina for that season, the SBC will settle in with 10 members two years from now.  That 10-member lineup would feature teams from Texas (Texas State), Arkansas (Arkansas State), Louisiana (Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe), Alabama (South Alabama, Troy), Georgia (Georgia Southern, Georgia State), North Carolina (Appalachian State) and South Carolina (Coastal Carolina).

With the recent decision by the NCAA to deregulate conference championship games, the SBC will still be able to conduct such games with just 10 members instead of the previously-mandated 12.

UPDATED 2:51 p.m. ET: Idaho confirmed in a press release that the Sun Belt Conference has opted to go with a 10-team league following the 2017 season, putting them and New Mexico State on the outside of the conference looking in two seasons from now.  The release also stated that the university will now decide whether to accept an invitation to join the Big Sky of the FCS or compete as an independent at the FBS level.

Smart, Richt currently pace all new head coaches in recruit rankings

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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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.

Georgia Southern runs past Bowling Green to take GoDaddy Bowl

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The first half of the GoDaddy Bowl was a back-and-forth shootout. The second half was anything but.

Georgia Southern scored 35 unanswered second half points to race by Bowling Green, claiming a 58-27 victory Wednesday night in Mobile, Ala.

Bowling Green led at the half by a score of 27-23 after Matt Johnson fired three touchdown passes and Travis Greene rushed in from five yards out with 36 ticks left before the break. But the Eagles broke the game open by scoring touchdowns on their first four second half drives, the first two traveling 75 and 80 yards and the third just 14 after a Johnson fumble deep in his own territory.

Favian Upshaw notched the first two scores on a three-yard plunge that culminated a 14-play drive, and the second an 80-yard bolt immediately after the Georgia Southern defense forced a turnover on downs at its own 20. After the fumble, Upshaw’s 13-yard run set Matt Breida up for a one-yard dash that gave the Eagles a 45-27 lead with 1:51 to play in the third quarter.

Johnson fumbled again deep in his own territory on the ensuing possession, and Upshaw again capitalized on an eight-yard sprint that pushed the advantage to 51-27 just five seconds into the fourth quarter. Upshaw provided the capper with a 42-yard voyage to the end zone with 5:25 left to play in the game.

Upshaw closed the day with 12 rushes for 199 yards and four touchdowns; he also completed one of three pass attempts for 17 yards. Kevin Ellison started the game at quarterback and completed 3-of-5 passes for 65 yards and the team’s fourth passing touchdown of the season, a 31-yarder to Montay Crockett that gave Georgia Southern a 23-20 lead with 1:27 left in the first half.

For the day, Georgia Southern — who entered bowl season with the nation’s top rushing offense at nearly 356 yards per game — pounded out 68 carries for 452 yards and seven touchdowns. Unbelievably, neither were season highs. The Eagles rushed for 507 yards and seven scores in a 56-26 destruction of New Mexico State on Oct. 17.

Johnson completed a pedestrian 15-of-34 passes for 246 yards with three touchdowns and two costly fumbles. He entered Wednesday night as FBS’s second-leading passer, averaging 361.5 yards per game and 68.8 percent completions. Georgia Southern held All-American wide receiver Roger Lewis to just three catches for 68 yards and a touchdown, close to half his season averages for catches and yards.

Georgia Southern also held Bowling Green to 116 rushing yards, nearly 80 below its yearly average.

The win closes Georgia Southern’s second FBS season with a 9-4 mark and a bowl victory in its first season eligible for postseason competition. The Eagles went 9-3 a year ago and claimed the Sun Belt championship, but were not eligible for a bowl game due to their transitional status. Bowling Green closed its MAC championship season at 10-4.

Both teams lost their head coaches earlier this month: Bowling Green’s Dino Babers departed for Syracuse while Georgia Southern’s Willie Fritz left for Tulane. Each program will now move forward under their new head coaches — Mike Jinks for Bowling Green, Tyson Summers for Georgia Southern — with their 2015 seasons officially behind them.

CFT Previews: Your Dec. 23 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Fort Collins, Colorado.
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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 23 bowl menu, which features, again, a pair of teams from the MAC — the two teams in the conference championship game, actually — as well as schools representing the Mountain West and Sun Belt. 

WHO: Boise State (8-4) vs. Northern Illinois (8-5)
WHAT: The 11th San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Boise State was the preseason favorite in not only the Mountain West but, according to many observers, for the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bid, but ended up tying for the football program’s fewest number of wins since the 1998 season (eight each in 2013, 2001).  Northern Illinois recovered well enough from a 2-3 start to win the MAC West and reach the league title game, even as they are ended the regular season on a two-game losing streak.  While the Huskies started poorly and finished well(ish), the Broncos were the exact opposite — 5-1 the first half of the season, 3-3 the last half.  That finish included a pair of seven-point home losses to New Mexico (7-5) and MWC Mountain champion Air Force (8-5).  A good portion of Boise’s success and missteps this season can be attributed being forced to use true freshman quarterback Brett Rypien, who was inserted into the lineup following a season-ending injury to starter Ryan Finley in Week 3.  Rypien, 6-3 as the starter, certainly displayed significant hope for the future (four 300-plus games, and one each over 400 and 500), but also looked his age in losses to Utah State and New Mexico as he tossed three picks in each.  Boise’s injury issue at quarterback paled in comparison to that of the Huskies, who started three different quarterbacks this season because of injury.  Circling back to Rypien’s interception issues in a couple of games, here’s one thing to keep in mind: NIU ballhawk Shawun Lurry currently leads the nation with nine picks, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
THE LINE: Northern Illinois, +8½
THE PREDICTION: Boise State 34, Northern Illinois 27

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WHO: Georgia Southern (8-4) vs. Bowling Green (10-3)
WHAT: The 17th GoDaddy Bowl
WHERE: Ladd Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Alabama
WHEN: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: In the first-ever meeting between the two programs, you might not find a more “Game of Opposites” than this SBC vs. MAC clash.  By a wide margin, the Eagles, appearing in their first bowl game, lead the nation in rushing, with their 355.6 yards per game more than 30 more than runner-up Air Force averages (321.8).  Their 47 rushing touchdowns are second to Navy’s 48.  The Falcons, meanwhile, are tops in the country with 4,889 yards passing, and their 44 passing touchdowns are second to Western Kentucky’s 47.  While GSU has simply no interest and/or ability in passing the ball — dead last in the FBS averaging 61.8 yards per game — BGSU is actually a respectable 50th in rushing, averaging 184.9 yards per game.  As for defending each other’s strength, the Falcons are 57th in run defense (161.6 ypg) while the Eagles are 39th (203.9 ypg) against the pass.  There’s something recent that should worry the Eagles, though, as Georgia State’s Nick Arbuckle torched GSU for 346 yards passing in a regular season-ending 34-7 loss.  Arbuckle is a quality, quality quarterback; the Falcons’ Matt Johnson leads the nation with 4,700 yards in the air.  The Eagles could be in for a long, long day, regardless of how well they do the thing they do well.  One final note: both teams lost their head coaches to other jobs at season’s end, and will be led by interim bosses.
THE LINE: Georgia Southern, +8
THE PREDICTION: Bowling Green 52, Georgia Southern 38