Which Group of Five school had the most impressive Week 1?

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The College Football Playoff selection committee will guarantee one spot in a big revenue bowl game at the end of the season to the highest-ranked conference champion from the so-called Group of Five — American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference, Sun Belt Conference. With no team from any of those conferences starting the season ranked in the top 25 polls, it was crucial for one team to step up and state its case for consideration early on. The opening weekend of the college football season saw more whiffs than home runs by schools fighting for that big bowl game at the end of the year.

Boise State and Utah State, perhaps two of the perceived leading contenders, came up small in their battles with SEC schools. Boise State was taken down by Ole Miss on a neutral field in Atlanta on Thursday night. On Sunday night Chuckie Keeton and Utah State were rolled by Tennessee in Knoxville. If either Boise State or Utah State would have won, they would have become the leader in the clubhouse for the guaranteed bowl spot. So who had the most impressive season debut from each of the Group of Five conferences? Is there a favorite at this point?

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

The favorites in the AAC did not get off to a great start this season. Houston was embarrassed by UTSA in the grand opening of Houston’s new football stadium. Defending champion UCF was sloppy for most of the afternoon in Ireland against Penn State. A change at quarterback gave the Knights a spark and UCF took a late lead on the Nittany Lions but a field goal by Penn State as time expired dropped UCF to 0-1. Cincinnati, the media’s preseason favorite, did not play this weekend due to some bizarre scheduling. East Carolina held up their end of the bargain with a home blowout of a FCS program, but you don’t win points for that.

Temple may have had the most impressive season debut out of the American Athletic Conference. The Owls opened on Thursday night on the road at Vanderbilt. After sitting through a lengthy weather delay, Matt Rhule‘s program blew away Vanderbilt and ruined Derek Mason’s debut on Nashville. Temple gets a chance to build on that start this weekend at home against a Navy team that gave Ohio State a battle until the fourth quarter.

CONFERENCE USA

In the opening weekend of the season Conference USA teams did not fare well against power conference competition, but the conference did score some big wins by picking on other Group of Five conferences, which is equally important in this conversation. UTSA’s win against Houston raised plenty of eyebrows and has thrown UTSA into contender status in Conference USA as a result. Perhaps just as shocking was Western Kentucky’s blowout of defending MAC champion and 2014 favorite Bowling Green. UTSA’s victory over Houston on the road against an offense that is supposed to put up plenty of yards and points may be the more complete victory in my book, but Western Kentucky smacking around Bowling Green the way they did should not go unmentioned. These two wins alone may have been enough to suggest Conference USA is ahead of the MAC early on. Conference USA is still full of young, growing programs though so let’s see how the season plays out.

MAC

The two most convincing victories in the MAC this weekend happened to come against a pair of FCS opponents. Akron and Northern Illinois had no problems with their season-opening opponents, but they will hardly do anything to convince voters to place them above the performances of schools like Temple, UTSA or Western Kentucky (naturally). There was one MAC contest played this weekend, resulting in Ohio getting a jump in the standings following a road win at Kent State.

MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE

On a weekend that saw Boise State, Utah State and Fresno State all lose to power conference opponents, Colorado State’s win against Colorado could not have come at a better time. Colorado State’s 31-17 victory over in-state rival Colorado put on display every reason why the Rams are expected to make a run in the Mountain West Conference this season. Having Dee Hart at running back will be a nice luxury after rushing for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Colorado may not be a great program, but Colorado State will take it. The Rams, right now, may be at the top of the pack among Group of Five contenders thinking about the big bowl reservation.

SUN BELT

It was not a great weekend for the Sun Belt Conference. Louisiana Monroe’s home victory over a weak Wake Forest team may be the best victory in the books in week one. Georgia Southern nearly pulled an upset at North Carolina State, which would have been the top win among Sun Belt teams this weekend. If not ULM, then Texas State should probably get the nod following a 65-0 victory over Arkansas Pine-Bluff, but again, no points for blowouts of cupcakes, even in the Sun Belt.

WHAT ABOUT BYU?

Under the new structure of the College Football Playoff and the associated bowls, there is not automatic way for BYU to be invited to the party. BYU is not eligible to be considered for the reserved spot among Group of Five champions, even if the Cougars are ranked and no Group of Five conference champion is ranked. BYU’s only way to gain a spot in the bowl rotation is to 1) be selected to play in the College Football Playoff as a semifinalist or 2) be selected as an at-large team in the remaining bowl spots that are open after conference champions and automatic bids are selected.

BYU had one of the most impressive wins of the weekend from any school not in a power conference, dominating UConn in Connecticut. It was just the Huskies, but it was a show of dominance by Taysom Hill and the Cougars that would fare well with any other victory from the Group of Five schools on the opening weekend.

Ex-UCLA OC helped convince Wilton Speight to transfer to Westwood

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When Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight announced he was going to graduate and transfer to UCLA, many were caught by surprise given that the 6-foot-6 pro-style passer is not your typical fit for Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense. While the new Bruins’ head coach brought up how Sam Bradford and Nick Foles ran his system to convince the quarterback to pick the school for the 2018 season, it was a former assistant at the program who appears to have been just as convincing in bringing the big QB to Westwood.

That would be Jedd Fisch, who was Speight’s coach in Ann Arbor for two years before he left to take the offensive coordinator job with the Bruins when Jim Mora was still in charge last season. The veteran coach returned to the NFL as an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams shortly after Kelly was hired but he reconnected with his old pupil to give him an honest assessment of how he’d fit in with a school sporting a different shade of blue.

“As a coach, you can kind of sniff out the B.S.,” Speight told the LA Times, “and he was able to do that and say, ‘Look, you’re getting what you see at UCLA and I think it’s the right fit,’ and I couldn’t have agreed more.”

Speight will join a very competitive race to be the starter for the opener against Cincinnati when fall camp rolls around. Devon Modster is the incumbent having gotten experience last year when Josh Rosen was held out of several games while incoming freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson is considered the future at the position and figures to see early playing time.

It remains to be seen just how good UCLA will be in their first season with Kelly in charge but the head coach will certainly have a variety of options to choose from at the most important position on the field this year.

Proposed California amendment would cap coaches salaries at $200,000

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Some states do everything they can to help out athletics programs in their borders, that is something that California has never really been accused of doing. A state-wide travel ban has already caused some ripples with regards to scheduling for some teams and it seems lawmakers in Sacramento are back with a new constitutional amendment that could hamper schools ability to pay their coaches.

UCLA student paper The Daily Bruin passes along news that a new constitutional amendment was announced last week “that aims to restrict the University of California’s autonomy by reducing staff salaries, the length of regents’ terms and the authority of the UC president.” That first item is the biggest to take note of, which would institute a cap on non-faculty salaries to $200,000 per year — something that would affect everybody from coaches to the athletic director and everybody in between.

The University of California (UC) system most notably includes Pac-12 schools like UCLA and Cal, which means coaches like Chip Kelly and Justin Wilcox could be affected. To take Kelly as an example, he signed a five-year contract worth a total of $23.3 million when he was hired by the Bruins this offseason.

Head football coaches salaries are not typically paid completely by a school directly however, so there is some wiggle room should this amendment wind up passing. Often a separate athletics organization will foot most of the bill using funds raised from donors while other outside companies sometimes also get involved. Things might be a little more interesting when it comes to assistant’s salaries or non-football/men’s basketball head coaches and support staffers however, who could fall under the purview of the cap.

In other words, some creative accounting practices might have to be implemented by schools like UCLA or Cal or else they’ll be at a significant disadvantage compared to their private school peers like USC or Stanford as well as conference rivals like Arizona or Oregon.

It’s far from certain the amendment will pass given that it requires a two-thirds vote in the state legislature as well as passing muster on a state-wide ballot measure during a general election. We don’t typically see college coaches wade too far into political waters but, in this case, they might be forced to because its one that directly affects their wallets.

Arkansas moving back to natural grass field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2019

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It’s a new era at Arkansas with Chad Morris and a new athletic director in charge and not even the turf will be spared from seeing changes.

Per the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the school will be moving to a natural grass field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium instead of replacing their current artificial turf again as it nears the end of its lifespan.

“Let me say my preference is I love natural grass,” Morris told the paper a few months ago. “That’s just me. Maybe that’s just the high school coach in me.

“Worrying about what the next surface out here looks like is irrelevant to me. I just want to get through a practice and get better today. But I prefer, I’m a natural grass type of guy. I love being on a grass field. There’s nothing better than that in college football, or football period.”

Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek confirmed this weekend that the change was being made in Fayetteville after the 2018 season concludes. The current turf was put in back in the Bobby Petrino era in 2009 and will need to be replaced after a decade or so of heavy use.

This will not be the end of Razorbacks playing on turf however, as they will not only see the stuff for games at neutral sites and at other SEC opponents but also when they make their annual trek to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock — which had turf installed a dozen years ago.

West Virginia President on old Big 12 expansion craze: ‘Little bit messy’

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E. Gordon Gee is one of college athletics’ most recognizable figures, which isn’t exactly what you typically say about school leaders like him. The West Virginia President known for his trademark bow tie (and who has never shied away from an interview or a quip he didn’t like) is on the cusp of his first set of spring meetings in the conference as the new chairman of the Big 12 board of directors.

Speaking to the Dallas Morning News about a range of issues around the league prior to meeting in Dallas, Gee seems to have come around on conference expansion from a few years ago and thinks it not only could have been handled better, but it probably shouldn’t be done in the first place because being the smallest Power Five league has its advantages too.

“I’m not certain it was the best way to do it,” Gee told the paper. “It was a little bit messy — and I was part of the mess.

“Intimacy gives us an opportunity to do something that a lot of other places can’t do… We’ll play to our strengths. We’re small, but we can be very aggressive in positioning ourselves uniquely.”

I’m sure the folks at places like Houston and BYU would agree the entire process was messy but will certainly disagree with Gee about the Big 12 sticking with just 10 members. It certainly sounds as though the issue has been put to bed for the foreseeable future but if the merry-go-round gets going once again, at least we know that the process everybody goes through will be a lot different.