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.

As of now, Jim Harbaugh plans to play Shea Patterson and Dylan McCaffrey in every game

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Michigan does not open training camp until Aug. 2 and does not play its first game until Aug. 31, so any “as of right now” statements are devoid of 20-odd practices worth of context.

Still, as of Big Ten media days, Jim Harbaugh plans to play both Shea Patterson and Dylan McCaffrey in every game.

“Yeah, I do (see games where they’ll both play). Where it stands right now, and that could change later or not, is I see them both playing,” Harbaugh told the Detroit Free Press. “Where it stands right now, I see it as maybe redefining what a starter is…. I’m really not talking about playing them both at the same time (on a play), when I say both in games it’d be they’re both playing quarterback during the same game. And in the way it stands now, in every game.”

Harbaugh has been a one-quarterback man for the entirety of his career, but Patterson’s inconsistency and McCaffrey’s talent may demand a change. Michigan did juggle quarterbacks in 2017 — John O’KornBrandon Peters and Wilton Speight each threw at least 81 passes — but that was due to necessity, not strategy.

Patterson completed 64.6 percent of his passes last season for 2,600 yards (on 8.0 per attempt) with 22 touchdowns against seven interceptions while rushing 76 times for 273 yards and two touchdowns. In his second year in the program, McCaffrey completed 8-of-15 passes for 126 yards with two touchdowns whilst rushing 10 times for 99 yards and a touchdown.

The son of Ed McCaffrey and brother of Christian McCaffrey is certainly the heir apparent in Ann Arbor, and it appears Harbaugh isn’t willing to wait for the future to arrive in order to unleash arguably his most talented quarterback recruit since Andrew Luck.

Big Ten could realign divisions yet again, according to PJ Fleck

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Whether he knew it or not, Minnesota head coach PJ Fleck broke news that will set certain circles of the college football blogosphere (including this one) by touching on the topic that is consistently gobbled up like Thanksgiving turkey: realignment.

“Change is inevitable,” Fleck told The Athletic. “I think we all know that. I think that the East and West have been around for a while. I like it, I like the division of it. But I don’t think it will stay the same. I think we’ll change it at some point because change is coming somehow, some way. And I think people are going to want to move it around, and shake it up a little bit.”

Fleck said the topic came up during the Big Ten’s spring meetings in Arizona; the conference did not comment on the topic.

The Big Ten split into divisions upon Nebraska’s 2011 arrival, memorably going with the idiotic Legends and Leaders alignment that was designed to protect rivalries and preserve competitive balance. That alignment lasted three years, until Maryland and Rutgers joined the party in 2014 and the conference rejiggered its alignment into a more sensible East and West split.

While a geographic divide does preserve rivalries and makes both logistical and logical sense, it has come at the price of competitive balance. The East champion has gone a perfect 5-for-5 in Big Ten title games under the current arrangement.

However, the East is a mere five games ahead of the West in regular season matchups, an average of one extra victory per season.

If — and at this point’s a very big if — the Big Ten does realign again, the conference could return to a Legends and Leaders format (hopefully with different names) or it could scrap divisions altogether, giving each school two or three protected rivals while putting the rest of the league in a regular rotation. The positive aspect of this alignment is it guarantees the top two teams would meet in Indianapolis, but the drawback is it could trigger an instant Michigan-Ohio State rematch.

It’s too early to report when and if a second realignment would happen, but as Fleck reminded us this week it is never too early to speculate.

Penn State DE Yetur Gross-Matos, RB Journey Brown suspended through rest of July

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The season does not begin today, but if it did Penn State would be without one of its best players.

Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin confirmed to the press at Big Ten media days that defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and running back Journey Brown are presently suspended for a “violation of team rules” dating back to spring practice. The suspension is slated to end Aug. 1.

Gross-Matos, a junior, led Penn State in sacks (eight) and tackles for loss (20) while registering 54 tackles, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery on the season. He enters the year a candidate for the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award.

“I talk to him all the time,” Franklin told Lions247 of Gross-Matos, despite the suspension. “[He is] doing great.”

Brown, also a junior, posted eight carries for 44 yards and a touchdown in 2018.

Ex A&M, Arizona LB can’t walk on at Colorado because of domestic violence arrest

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Santino Marchiol‘s college football career was brief and scandalous, and now it appears it’s over.

Marchiol first joined the news cycle at Texas A&M, where he attempted to cast himself as a whistleblower against NCAA violations committed by Jimbo Fisher‘s staff. When that stick of dynamite turned into a dud, Marchiol transferred to Arizona to reunite with the coach who signed him out of IMG Academy, but he was gone from Tucson as quickly as he arrived after video surfaced showing Marchiol using a racial slur against his black teammates at Texas A&M.

Marchiol returned to his native Colorado in attempt to walk on at CU, but that comeback attempt has once again died before it could live as it turns out Marchiol was arrested for domestic violence on June 24. From the Denver Post:

According to Pueblo police records, Marchiol was arrested at about 3:30 p.m. on June 24 and booked on suspicion of second-degree assault bodily injury, a felony. Marchiol faces two misdemeanor assault charges, court records indicated, as well as a violation for contempt of a court protection order. He was released on bail June 25.

“Santino was never enrolled as a CU Boulder student,” Colorado said in a statement. “He was invited to be a walk-on for the football team this fall. Coach Tucker has since rescinded that invitation.”

Marchiol would’ve had to sit out the 2019 season due to NCAA rules, but now it seems as if he may sit out the remainder of time as it’s unlikely any other college football staffs will take on a player who attempted to narc to the NCAA on violations that, frankly, aren’t a big deal to begin with, then was caught using a racial slur against black teammates and then was arrested for suspicion of domestic violence.