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.

In shocking turn of events, Alabama is media’s pick to win SEC in 2019

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We hope you’re sitting down to hear this next bit of news… But Alabama is the media’s pick to win the SEC in 2019.

Yes, it’s shocking that a program that has made the national title game in each of the last four seasons and has one of the greatest coaches of all time leading the program would be the media’s selection to win the league but we’re just passing along the news release here folks.

In all seriousness though, the Crimson Tide were the overwhelming favorites in both the SEC West and the conference overall to take home the trophy at the beginning of December. Alabama garnered 253 first place votes, compared to runner-up LSU (five). The full West division predictions were as follows, first place votes in parentheses:

SEC West Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Alabama (253)
  2. LSU (5)
  3. Texas A&M
  4. Auburn (1)
  5. Mississippi State (1)
  6. Ole Miss
  7. Arkansas

In the East, things were a bit more interesting. Georgia was still the massive favorite to win the division but all schools sans Vanderbilt received at least one first place vote to make it to Atlanta.

SEC East Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Georgia (233)
  2. Florida (21)
  3. Missouri (3)
  4. South Carolina (1)
  5. Tennessee (1)
  6. Kentucky (1)
  7. Vanderbilt

Finally… somebody voted for Tennessee and another voted for South Carolina to win the entire SEC in 2019. That is a thing that happened and sadly we won’t be able to find out who without bribing somebody in the league office.

SEC Champion Prediction

  1. Alabama (203)
  2. Georgia (49)
  3. LSU (3)
  4. Mississippi State (1)/Tennessee (1)/Florida (1)/South Carolina (1)/Auburn (1)

Kansas fans will be able to buy alcohol at Memorial Stadium this year

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Les Miles isn’t the only big addition to Kansas football for the 2019 season.

No, the school has something much better that will help pass the time during Jayhawks losses in the form of expanded beer and alcohol sales to general seating areas of Memorial Stadium.

“In consultation with the University, Kansas Athletics has introduced the sale of beer and wine at selected venues on a trial basis to help assess the viability of a broader offering of alcoholic beverages,” athletic director Jeff Long said in a release. “That program has been very successful, and with the support and collaboration of on-campus entities, we are now prepared to expand it. Fans have told us that one of the best ways to enhance their experience at Kansas Athletics events is for them to have the ability to enjoy beer and wine, and we are pleased to provide this opportunity.”

We’re not sure if by “enhance their experience” the fans of KU football mean forget what they’re seeing on the field by we digress.

The school notes that the Jayhawks will be the sixth Big 12 school (along with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Texas and Texas Tech) to allow such sales in the general seating areas. That should make the conference the first with a majority of its programs selling beer and alcohol to the public during football games this upcoming season.

It also makes Kansas one of some 50 total FBS schools who have opened up the taps officially. Something says the new head coach is no stranger to just such an environment either so good news all around for KU fans during a week where negative headlines were more closely associated with the program.

Rutgers WR Zihir Lacewell transferring to junior college to play DB

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We’re in the final stages of the offseason in college football with training camps across the country starting as early as next week but it’s never too late for a player to transfer elsewhere for 2019.

One such case comes in the form of Rutgers wide receiver Zihir Lacewell, who NJ.com reports is transferring to Garden City Community College in Kansas. While a backup player leaving the Scarlet Knights from time-to-time isn’t all that interesting, the fact that Lacewell is departing to flip sides and play defensive back is.

The Staten Island, NY native did see action last season at Rutgers but played in only four games to preserve his redshirt. He was not expected to crack the starting rotation on offense in 2019.

Rated as a three-star recruit by 247Sports, Lacewell was one of the program’s highest-rated recruits in the class of 2018 and held offers from a host of Power Five programs in the Northeast.

Wisconsin launches early Heisman campaign for RB Jonathan Taylor

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The Heisman Trophy has generally been synonymous with the best quarterback on one of the best teams in recent years but there have been a few running backs who have broken through to win the most prestigious award in all of college football.

Hoping to become the next tailback to break the signal-callers’ grip on the stiff arm? That would be Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, who appears to have a budding campaign for the trophy that was launched by the school on Thursday:

Herschel Walker. Ron Dayne. Ricky Williams. Adrian Peterson. LaDainian Tomlinson. Dominant running backs. Legendary names. Unrivaled production … until now,” one tagline reads. “There’s a new kid on the block and he’s “Bringing Running Back,” back into the spotlight, just like those that came before him. And his name is Jonathan Taylor.”

The website goes through all of the notable stats that Taylor has piled up in just two seasons in Madison and while it doesn’t explicitly say everything is designed to raise the junior’s awareness ahead of Big Ten Media Days and the upcoming 2019 campaign, it does note that his fellow Wisconsin Doak Walker Award winners have all been finalists in New York at some point in their career.

i.e. hint, hint media this guy is pretty good.

And nobody is debating that after he has set numerous records during his first two years on campus. Key to actually making it to New York though might be how Taylor’s team does around him. If the Badgers can get back to being in contention for the Big Ten title once again in 2019, chances are high that the tailback’s play will play a bigger part in getting him the attention he deserves than a website and a hashtag.