Group of Five Update: Boise State and Cincy stumble, while Toledo, Houston and Temple impress

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Just two weeks into the college football regular season has seen two of the top Group of Five contenders for the New Years Six take a fall. Last night saw both Cincinnati and No. 20 Boise State lose to drop to identical records of 1-1. There is still plenty of football to be played, and Boise State and Cincinnati may still end up being the top two teams in the Group of Five mix, but their early stumbles provide an early shake-up in the underrated Group of Five conversation and competition moving forward.

The American Athletic Conference was full of intrigue on Saturday. The big winners in the conference were Houston and Temple. Both won huge games on the road, although each was important for different reasons. For Houston, a win on the road against Louisville of the ACC gave Tom Herman and his new program a nice road win against a power conference opponent. I called for a big year from Houston in the regular season, with just one loss en route to the first American Athletic Conference championship game. As it turns out, I still feel good about that outlook in conference play, but Houston just won the one game I predicted them to lose. If Herman can keep it going, Houston will be the rising favorite for the New Years Six bid.

Temple’s win was also key. With the road win at Cincinnati the Owls have done a couple of things they never did under Al Golden; beat Penn State and win a big conference game. Kudos to Matt Rhule for getting Temple to take those steps forward that have stood in the way for so long. The win against the preseason conference favorites puts Temple in first place in the division, and the Owls will later host UCF and Memphis in conference play. Temple does not have Houston or Navy on the schedule (and a home game against Notre Dame already looks more interesting given this weekend’s developments). Maybe Cincinnati proves to be the better team over the course of the season, but they are now playing catch-up against a Temple team that has a legitimate defense led by Tyler Matakevich.

At the end of the year, a 12-1 Boise State team with a Mountain West Conference title will be tough to pass on by the selection committee, but that leaves a slim margin for error for the Broncos. Boise State gets a slight benefit by way of reputation, something other Group of Five programs do not have. For now though, Boise State will have to chase down Air Force, who got off to a 1-0 start in conference play with a win over San Jose State.

The biggest surprise of the weekend in the Group of Five pack was Toledo heading down to Arkansas and coming home with a good defensive win. The Rockets, playing without its top offensive player (running back Kareem Hunt was suspended), managed to upset the Razorbacks on the road. Arkansas entered the game with a top 25 ranking, which means Toledo now owns the most impressive win in the Group of Five. For now, that’s enough for me to put them atop my latest Group of Five ranking.

The College Football Playoff selection committee does not have to worry about ranking teams for another couple of months, but here is how I would rank the top five Group of Five teams at this point in the season, taking into account wins and losses over perceived talent.

  1. Toledo (1-0): Most impressive win of the bunch, at ranked Arkansas.
  2. Temple (2-0): Dominated Penn State, won on road at Cincy
  3. Houston (2-0): Nice win at Louisville, although Cardinals are now 0-2
  4. Air Force (2-0): First-place in Mountain Division of MWC
  5. Memphis (2-0): Blowout win at Kansas, but it was Kansas

Northern Illinois just missed my cut. So did Navy, after appearing in my ranking last week. Boise State and Cincinnati drop out of my top five for now based mostly on losing, but they are certainly on the radar. Meanwhile, Conference USA’s Western Kentucky is floating back there as well, with the overall strength of C-USA still a concern. The committee did not give the conference much respect last season. Nobody in the Sun Belt Conference reached Week 3 without a loss.

Texas A&M AD Ross Bjork puts Arkansas series at AT&T Stadium on the chopping block

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Week 5 means it’s time for Arkansas and Texas A&M’s trek to the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex for their annual conference game at AT&T Stadium but the days of the old SWC-turned-SEC West rivals meeting in the area might be on the way out.

While a number of fans on both sides have clamored for a return to campus sites for the yearly division meeting, it seems they have picked up a key ally in new athletic director Ross Bjork, who gave some pretty strong indications to the Dallas Morning News that the series is unlikely to continue after the contract runs out after 2024.

“Here’s how I should view it: we should have every SEC home game on our campus from here on out,” Bjork said. “How we do that after the contract is over is still yet to be determined. I think we should have four SEC home games every single year on our campus.”

Bjork said he has spoken about the series with his counterpart at Arkansas, who has even more of a juggling act to do given that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (a former player and prominent booster) enjoys hosting his old team at his palace of a stadium. Still, the Razorbacks have to be interested in a return to campus in at least some form given that they also play a number of games in Little Rock and have just two SEC games in Fayetteville some years — including in 2019.

We’ll see what ultimately becomes of the Arkansas-Texas A&M dance in Dallas but the comments out of College Station right now certainly put it on a path to ending in the near future.

Former Syracuse football player gives program $25 million donation

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There’s giving back as a former player and then there’s giving back to your old program.

The latter was certainly the case for Syracuse this weekend as the school announced a record $25 million gift from former offensive guard John Lally during their game against Western Michigan at the Carrier Dome.

“For Syracuse University Athletics to become even more competitive in both the ACC and on the national stage, the program needs to have first-class facilities, operations and support,” Lally said in a statement. “Laura and I are committed to Syracuse University Athletics, and in particular positioning the university to attract, recruit and retain high-performing student-athletes who succeed on and off the field, inside and outside the classroom and in their communities.”

Lally made his money as the owner and president of PCB Piezotronics Inc., a company he founded after playing offensive guard for the Orange from 1977 to 1981.

While the extra large gift didn’t have any specifics attached to it, the size certainly points to at least some minor facilities upgrades. According to Syracuse.com, Lally already donated nearly $1 million for renovations to the Carrier Dome prior to writing an even bigger check on Saturday in the middle of the Orange’s victory over the Broncos.

It’s not uncommon but for players, especially those in the NFL, to pony up for a new locker room or weight room at their old program but the size of Lally’s generosity is certainly notable in a very welcome gift for Syracuse.

Ole Miss officials not happy with Pac-12 refs after ending against Cal

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There were some absolute bonkers endings in the Pac-12 this weekend, from the #Pac12AfterDark special that was UCLA’s comeback against Washington State, to Colorado stunning Arizona State to California remaining the league’s only undefeated team thanks to a goal line stand against Ole Miss.

While the Golden Bears escaped Oxford with a 28-20 win, the victory was not without controversy — something Rebels officials want answers on.

For those who didn’t catch the action, Ole Miss was down eight in the final minute. After a big pass play got the team into the red zone, the Rebels faced 3rd-and-goal from the three yard line with just 17 seconds left. QB John Rhys Plumlee rolled out and quickly threw it to Elijah Moore right at the goal line.

Officials, who were from the Pac-12, ruled Moore short of the end zone however and marked him down inside the one yard line. The home team had no timeouts left and scrambled to get a QB sneak in, which was stuffed by Bears linebacker Evan Weaver.

Ole Miss interim athletic director Keith Carter took to Twitter to express his frustration over Moore’s catch not being reviewed (which would have stopped the clock) as to whether he broke the plane or not, not holding back at all at the Pac-12 officials involved.

The conference has already acknowledged an error their crew made in Arizona State’s victory over Michigan State last week, where Pac-12 refs missed a call that would have allowed the Spartans to get a first down on a missed field goal. Something could be released on Sunday afternoon but that’s unlikely to appease the Rebels, who now sit at 2-2 on the year and face the always brutal SEC slate over the coming months.

All of which Pac-12 fans probably shrug their shoulders over and say get in line Ole Miss given the mistakes the league’s officials make on a weekly basis out West.

Cal shoots up to No. 15 in latest AP Poll, UCF sinks to No. 22 after loss to Pitt

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AP Poll voters shook up their ballots quite a bit after a fairly wild Week 4 of action in college football.

Among the biggest risers are No. 15 Cal, which celebrated a controversial victory at Ole Miss on Saturday to become the Pac-12’s only unbeaten and now the conference’s second-highest ranked squad after No. 13 Oregon. The folks out West had a number of movers and shakers when all was said and done, with previously ranked Arizona State and Washington State dropping out after losses and No. 21 USC returning to the top 25 after beating a Utah squad now ranked No. 19 on Friday night.

One of the big drops came at the hands of new No. 22 UCF, which had been sitting in the top 15 prior to losing at Pitt on Saturday in a wild one from Heinz Field. That left new No. 16 Boise State as the highest ranked Group of Five team. Michigan State also returned to the rankings at No. 25 while Kansas State is now ranked in both the AP and Coaches Polls after an idle week. No. 23 Texas A&M hung on to a number in front of their name after a second loss to a top 10 team while Michigan dropped nine spot and sat at No. 20 after being destroyed by Wisconsin.

In the top 10, Notre Dame stuck around after their close loss to Georgia, the Badgers moved to No. 8 and Oklahoma and Ohio State flipped spots in the 5/6 range after the Sooners were off and the Buckeyes scored 76 unanswered against Miami (OH).

Here’s the full AP Poll heading into Week 5:

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Georgia
  4. LSU
  5. Ohio State
  6. Oklahoma
  7. Auburn
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Florida
  10. Notre Dame
  11. Texas
  12. Penn State
  13. Oregon
  14. Iowa
  15. California
  16. Boise State
  17. Washington
  18. Virginia
  19. Utah
  20. Michigan
  21. USC
  22. UCF
  23. Texas A&M
  24. Kansas State
  25. Michigan State