Group of Five Update: Toledo still undefeated but Temple on the rise

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As we get to the middle of October the separation between contenders and pretenders is starting to take form in the national championship and playoff picture. The same is true of the Group of Five race. This weekend saw one undefeated Group of Five contender go down on the road with Navy not able to keep up the pace with Notre Dame in South Bend, but otherwise it was more of the same in this weekly jockeying for position in the Group of Five pecking order.

Toledo went down early against Kent State but ripped off 38 unanswered points for a 38-7 victory over the Golden Flashes. Things are looking solid for Toledo,already with a road win at Arkansas and a home win against Iowa State for a pair of Power 5 victories. The Arkansas win occurred when the Razorbacks were a top 20 team and Toledo was without its top player, running back Kareem Hunt. Arkansas is now just 2-4 overall and is in danger of not qualifying for a postseason bowl game. Is that still the best win out there for Group of Five contenders? It may not be anymore (I’ll get to that later). However, things appear to be falling into place for Toledo with about as favorable schedule as it could get the rest of the way in conference play. Toledo has a road trip to Bowling Green in mid-November and home games against Northern Illinois and Western Michigan that can still be tricky, but Toledo is eyeing up a potential undefeated season, which will make them a strong candidate for the College Football Playoff selection committee when it comes time to awarding a spot in the New Years Six (no, we will not be discussing playoff chances here). But will that be enough to guarantee Toledo a spot in a big bowl game?

It is time to give the Temple Owls a bit more props for their body of work. The season-opening win against Penn State was a bit of a stunner, but week by week that win against the Nittany Lions is beginning to look like the best win on paper that any Group of Five team may have. Penn State improved to 5-1 yesterday, which helps boost Temple’s performance to date. Toledo has been riding the road victory at Arkansas for a while, and that may still carry more weight in the long run, but Temple’s dominating win over a 5-1 Penn State looks even better than Boise State’s wins over Washington and Virginia, Memphis victories over Kansas or Toledo’s win over Iowa State. The question is whether or not Temple will keep this going. If the Owls can avoid slipping up in conference play the next two weeks at home against UCF or on the road at East Carolina, Temple will prepare for a showdown in Philadelphia with Notre Dame on Halloween. The Irish, now 5-1, host USC next week and get a bye week before making the road trip to Philly. Unbeaten Temple vs. 6-1 Notre Dame is a very real possibility, and that would be a major game in the Group of Five discussion, and a possible gamechanger. But let’s cross that bridge if we get there.

What about Boise State? The Broncos are ripping through the competition now. Despite a mild setback at BYU earlier in the season, the Broncos carry a 5-1 record and have outscored opponents 244-72, and 96-10 in Mountain West Conference play. The Broncos have the most notable brand going among Group of Five contenders outside of Navy, but the overall performance of the Mountain West Conference coudl come back to haunt Boise State even with one loss. The loss to BYU likely means Boise State will end up needing some assistance in the American Athletic Conference (which scored a nice victory over the ACC with USF blasting Syracuse). A one-loss Boise State may be able to sneak by one or two conference champs in the MAC and AAC, but it is far from a given. Boise State needs to continue shredding conference opponents and wait for something to happen in the MAC or AAC. It is far from impossible with so much football to be played. Remember that Memphis, Houston and Navy all play each other in division play, Temple is scheduled to play Memphis later this regular season. At least three AAC contenders are going to take a loss in conference play, and it is possible all four could take a hit.

Once again, here is how I would be ranking the Group of Five contenders at this point in the season, with consideration given to record, overall body of work and conference competition.

  1. Toledo: Still has best win of the bunch and Rockets looking to run through MAC
  2. Temple: The Owls are playing with the one of the best defenses in the Group of Five right now, and have a win against a Penn State team that is now 5-1.
  3. Memphis: The Tigers are still probably the team to beat in the American Athletic Conference and are undefeated to stay just ahead of Boise State.
  4. Boise State: The Broncos are dominating in conference play, which is exactly what they need to do.
  5. Houston: The Cougars had a tussle with SMU for a while, but pulled away for a solid win. Cougars can be explosive.

On the radar: Navy may have taken a hit in South Bend, but Midshipmen are still a very real contender in the AAC moving forward. Ohio is now 5-1 but lacking a signature win (lost to Minnesota 27-24). Bobcats get Bowling Green and Northern Illinois and could face Toledo in the MAC Championship Game. Bowling Green has two losses so is barely making a blip on the radar, but Falcons are worth paying attention to just in case everything falls apart elsewhere.

Penn State AD hired search firm to negotiate new James Franklin contract

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Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour appears to really be a fan of a particular search firm. So much so she hired one to do part of her job and recommended them to a rival school to boot.

Those are a few of the takeaways after reporter Andy Wittry decided to dig a little deeper into the recent Michigan State coaching search. This included a freedom of information request for emails to Spartans athletic director Bill Beekman that uncovered several gems.

While there were the notable ‘fan suggests hiring XYZ coach’ type emails, there was also a note that Barbour sent along to her counterpart in East Lansing:

“Sorry to hear about Coach Dantonio’s decision to retire,” the Nittany Lions AD wrote. “As I think we’ve discussed in the past, we have been partnered with Chad Chatlos and Ventura Partners for the last three plus years, utilizing them as our search consultant on all head coaching searches as well as a number of upper level administrator hires.

“Although we have not had to do a football search at Penn State during my time, frankly Chad and I have prepared for a football search on several occasions and he most recently served as our negotiator for Coach Franklin’s latest extension. He is/was fantastic.”

MSU did use a search firm to eventually hire Mel Tucker and spent six-figures with DHR International.

Beyond it being fascinating (and to some PSU fans, perhaps concerning?) that one AD would recommend a particular person to work with to a division rival, it’s notable that Penn State brought in outside help to lock their head coach up with a new deal.

The school confirmed on Feb. 26 that James Franklin had agreed to an extension worth over $35 million over the next six years.

While it’s no shock to see a search firm involved in finding a new coach, it’s a bit unique to bring one in for a renegotiation with a current coach — something most AD’s handle internally with an opposing agent.

The close ties with Chatlos and Ventura Partners is also interesting given that Collegiate Sports Associates was the search firm that wound up helping the university find Barbour for her current role. Typically that leads to a bit of a quid pro quo where the same firm is used for other searches but the Nittany Lions have instead gone exclusive with another.

Take note, as well, that Barbour said she has prepared for a football search on several occasions. Perhaps that little nugget is the result of Franklin’s name popping up in connection to spots like Florida State and USC in recent months.

Instead he appears to be sticking around Happy Valley for several years to come with that hefty new salary that was recently negotiated.

Mel Tucker reportedly hiring Kansas State’s Scottie Hazelton as new Michigan State DC

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One of the best beards in college football is headed to Michigan State.

No, not the one on the face of Illinois head coach Lovie Smith, but rather that of Kansas State defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton. Per The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, the Wildcats assistant is leaving for the same position in East Lansing on Mel Tucker’s newstaff.

Hazelton spent just one season in the Little Apple after being hired by KSU’s Chris Klieman. The two briefly overlapped on the defensive staff at North Dakota State before reuniting in the Big 12.

In addition to a productive tenure leading the Bison’s defense at the FCS level, Hazelton has put together quite a diverse coaching career. That’s included coordinator stops at the NAIA, Division II and Division III levels as well as a season at Nevada in 2013 and a run at Wyoming from 2017-18. He also coached linebackers at USC in 2012 and did the same for the Jacksonville Jaguars during Gus Bradley’s tenure in Duval.

Now Hazelton will link up with Tucker as the final member of the MSU assistant ranks. The head coach has quite a large salary pool to work with and you can probably assume that had something to do with luring a Power Five DC so late in the typical hiring season. At K-State, Hazelton made $550,000 last year according to USA Today.

Either way, the bearded new defensive coordinator won’t have long to get acclimated to East Lansing as the Spartans begin spring practice on March 17.

Boise State shifts home-and-home with Wazzu back a few seasons

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A potential Nick Rolovich’s return to Boise State will have to wait a bit longer.

The former Hawaii head coach’s new school of Washington State announced on Thursday that they had agreed to a home-and-home with Fresno State for 2026 and 2027. One issue? Well, the dates given by the school happened to be the same as a previously scheduled home-and-home with another certain Mountain West school famous for its blue turf.

It turns out that there’s a reason for that. Per the Spokesman-Review, the two games against the Broncos have instead been shifted back a few years at the request of BSU brass. They will now take place in 2030 (Boise State) and 2031 (Pullman).

That leaves both programs with one non-conference opening in both those years as a result. The Broncos still have games against Oregon, BYU and East Carolina in 2026 and against Rice, USF and BYU again in 2027. Wazzu, meanwhile, takes on the aforementioned Fresno State both seasons and travels to Kansas State in 2026 and hosts Kansas in 2027.

Also notable is that the Spokesman-Review says that Rolovich’s 2020 debut will come against Utah State on Thursday, Sept. 3 instead of the previously set Saturday contest.

UCLA completes 2026 schedule by bringing Nevada to the Rose Bowl

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There’s been a flurry of Pac-12 and Mountain West matchups made public in recent days and UCLA added one more just under the wire this week.

The school announced on Friday that they had added Nevada to their 2026 schedule. The Wolf Pack will visit the Rose Bowl on Saturday, Sept. 19 that season.

This will surprisingly be just the second meeting between the two teams. The first also came at the Rose Bowl — an eventual 58-20 victory for the powder blue back in 2013.

With the addition of Nevada, the Bruins have now wrapped up their 2026 non-conference slate. The team also hosts fellow Mountain West power San Diego State that year and will travel to Georgia in a cross-country season opener.

On the flip side, the Wolf Pack are just getting started in their scheduling as this is the first game on the calendar that year. Jay Norvell’s squad is no stranger to taking on the Pac-12 though. In addition to this contest, the school will take on Cal in 2021 and USC in 2023.

Interestingly, both programs will open in Week 0 for this upcoming season. The 2020 campaign for UCLA kicks off against New Mexico State at home while UNR takes on UC Davis in Reno.