Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

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)
Getty Images

Longtime starting WKU safety likely out for remainder of 2016

Leave a comment

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)
Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

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)
Getty Images

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.

No. 1 Alabama tops Western Kentucky

Alabama defensive back Eddie Jackson, right, celebrates after scoring during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Western Kentucky, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Leave a comment

The bad news: Alabama’s offense slept through most of the first half. The Tide scored 10 offensive points in their first two frames and rushed for all of 13 yards on 16 carries.

The good news: When you’re Alabama, your offense can take a whole half off and your defense will still spot you a 14-point lead.

Top-ranked Alabama turned a lackluster 17-3 halftime edge into a 38-10 romp over Western Kentucky Saturday in Tuscaloosa, a clear step down from last week’s 52-6 opening blowout of USC but more than enough to continue the Tide’s status as the top team in the country.

True freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts earned his first official career win, hitting 23-of-36 passes for 287 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions while adding 19 yards on the ground. His first scoring strike came to Calvin Ridley on a four-yard toss with no time left in the first quarter, staking the Tide to a 10-3 edge on a drive started when Alabama intercepted a wide receiver reverse pass. Another interception gave Alabama its second touchdown as safety Eddie Jackson did the deed himself from 55 yards out.

Hurts’s second scoring throw, an 8-yarder to ArDarius Stewart, ended any reasonable hope of an upset for the Hilltoppers with 3:48 remaining in the third quarter.

Alabama tacked on a pair of fourth quarter scores in the forms of short runs by Bo Scarbrough and B.J. Emmons. On the whole, though, Alabama struggled to rush the ball against the WKU front. The Tide notched just 116 yards and 3.1 yards per carry as a team; Damien Harris led the bunch with 45 yards on 11 carries. None of Alabama’s 37 credited rushes went longer than 13 yards.

Western Kentucky, for its part, failed to accomplish anything on offense. Starter Mike White was pulled after hitting 10-of-24 passes for 135 yards with a pick-six, and the entire team registered 23 yards on 22 carries. Backups Tyler Ferguson and Drew Eckels did some nice things in relief; Ferguson hit seven of his 10 passes for 55 yards, and Eckels connected on 2-of-3 passes for 26 yards and a garbage time touchdown toss to Lucky Jackson with 46 ticks remaining.

Western Kentucky (1-1) continues non-conference play at Miami (Ohio) next week, while Alabama (2-0) opens SEC play at Ole Miss.

Defense carrying Bama past WKU at halftime

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 10:  Eddie Jackson #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide intercepts a pass against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

If not for Western Kentucky’s offense, Alabama’s may not have scored. The top-ranked Tide have turned two turnovers into touchdowns to take a 17-3 lead over the Hilltoppers at the midway mark in Tuscaloosa.

After forcing Alabama into a punt on 4th-and-38 at its own 8-yard line, Western Kentucky took possession of the ball at its own 47 with 4:05 remaining in the first quarter of a 3-3 game. The Hilltoppers tried to trick Alabama by having wide receiver Nacarius Fant toss a reverse pass. It didn’t work. Ronnie Harrison intercepted the pass, allowing Alabama to move 67 yards in nine plays on a tired WKU defense, setting up a four-yard scoring strike from Jalen Hurts to Calvin Ridley.

Western Kentucky’s defense forced a three-and-out on Alabama’s next possession, but Eddie Jackson snared a Mike White pass and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown.

Hurts threw the ball well in the half — 10-of-13 for 152 yards and a touchdown — but was replaced for Blake Barnett late in the half, who hit two of his six passes for 64 yards.

The Tide has struggled tremendously to run the ball, accumulating just 13 yards in 16 credited rushes. Damien Harris leads the club with 18 yards on six attempts.

Alabama’s defense, though, has largely erased WKU’s vaunted offense. White has completed 9-of-22 passes for 126 yards and a pick-six, and WKU has rushed 13 times for 37 yards. They did march 57 yards to set up a field goal try on the final play of the half, but it was partially blocked and fell short of the end zone.

Alabama will receive to open the second half.