Toledo’s Tuesday night big MAC challenge: Northern Illinois

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When it comes to the Group of Five conversation this season, the American Athletic Conference has continued to take the lead with three teams currently ranked in the top 25 (Memphis, Houston, Temple) and another suffering just one loss (Navy). With the Mountain West Conference slipping this fall, the American has taken advantage and pushed to the front of the line. There is one potential obstacle beyond the control of the AAC though; Toledo.

The MAC frontrunners are off to a solid 7-0 start this season, which includes a victory on the road at Arkansas and a home win against Iowa State. For a while the win against the Razorbacks was the top Group of Five performance of the season, but Memphis has since taken that title with a win against Ole Miss. Still, Toledo has a chance to run the table this season and add a MAC championship that would see a 13-0 program be up for strong consideration for the New Years Six bowl reservation awarded to the top-ranked Group of Five conference champion. If that ends up being the case, Toledo head coach Matt Campbell will have some interesting job offers come his way this coaching carousel cycle (he has already been a trendy name for some coaching stories this season). There is still business to attend to for Toledo before we can dive head first into those debates and discussions about where the Rockets stand against other contenders like Memphis, Houston or perhaps still Temple and Navy. First up is Northern Illinois.

Toledo takes on Northern Illinois tonight in a Tuesday night MACtion special. This may not be a dominant NIU team, but it is still a scary one when it is rolling. The Huskies have scored at least 45 points in each of their last three games to rebound from a three-game losing streak that included a good scare for the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes. No team should be aware of how dangerous NIU can be than Toledo though. The Huskies have been a bit of a nemesis for the Rockets lately, with NIU claiming victory in each of the past five meetings. The Huskies took last year’s game, 27-24. In 2011 these two combined for 123 points in a 63-60 shootout. If Toledo is going to make a run at the MAC, shaking off the ghosts of Northern Illinois is a huge step forward in that pursuit. That may not be easy.

NIU will bring the MAC’s top running game to Toledo, averaging 217.5 rushing yards per game and a conference-leading 24 rushing touchdowns, 14 by junior running back Joel Bouagnon. Toledo is no slouch running he football with Kareem Hunt warming up and Terry Swanson and Damion Jones-Moore leading the charge for the MAC’s second-leading rushing offense. Toledo has allowed just five rushing touchdowns all season, so they will be put to the test tonight. For Toledo, the key will be to force fumbles, which NIU has been prone to do this season despite the big running numbers. NIU has lost nine fumbles this year, more than any other MAC program.

A win by Toledo will keep them in the thick of the Group of Five discussion, but the more important goal for the Rockets right now is simply winning the MAC. Toledo has not played in the MAC Championship Game since 2004, so it has been a long time coming. Northern Illinois and Central Michigan have dominated the appearances from the MAC West since Toledo’s last appearance in the game. After NIU tonight, Toledo will get a crack at CMU on the road next Tuesday night before playing in what could be a MAC Championship Game Preview against Bowling Green on November 17.

Toledo has some land mines to tiptoe by. If they manage to do so, the Rockets will have a decent argument at the end of the year.

In case you missed it…

Toledo is the big headline in the MAC right now, deservingly so, but Toledo is currently tied for first place in the MAC West with Western Michigan. The Broncos have somewhat quietly played their way into a good spot in the division race. P.J. Fleck‘s program got off to a rough 1-3 start with losses against the top two programs in the Big Ten (Michigan State and Ohio State) and a road loss at Georgia Southern (a blowout 43-17 setback). Things did not look great for Western Michigan, but in conference play the Broncos appear to have flipped a switch.

After clipping Central Michigan 41-39 in their MAC opener, Western Michigan has won each of the next three games on its schedule by a minimum of 22 points. Two of those wins have come against Miami-Ohio and Eastern Michigan, who are a combined 2-16 this season, but Western Michigan should not have to apologize for that. Western Michigan’s challenging schedule in MAC play is about to commence. On Thursday, they host Ball State, but after that they host MAC East-leading Bowling Green on a Wednesday night next week (a short week), and then visit Northern Illinois the following Wednesday.

If you are looking ahead, Western Michigan wraps up the regular season on the road against Toledo on November 27.

LSU students will go to class on Saturday to make up for national title game

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LSU students who got to skip class for the national title game (and the ensuing celebrations…) were hit with a dose of reality returning to Baton Rouge on Friday.

According to an announcement from the university, classes that were cancelled on Monday and Tuesday for the championship game have been rescheduled. As a result, students will have to go to class on Saturday, Jan. 25 and Saturday, Feb. 8.

So yes, Saturdays in the fall have resulted in a few Saturdays of work in the spring.

The school had received a bit of criticism when it was announced that classes were cancelled on the dates surrounding the championship game. While the practice has happened elsewhere, the nature of the game being less than an hour from campus in New Orleans certainly made things unique for the Tigers and their large fan base.

While some students no doubt had hoped that the classes at the time were indeed cancelled, it turns out they were in fact just being rescheduled. Going to school on a Saturday probably isn’t what many had in mind when signing up for the spring semester but there’s probably not a soul in purple and gold will take issue with the change given that it comes as a result of hoisting the ultimate football trophy on Monday night in the Big Easy.

Virginia safety Chris Moore enters transfer portal

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The transfer portal has claimed another name.

As first noted by ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg, Virginia safety Chris Moore has entered his name into the database as he explores a move out of Charlottesville.

Moore started five of his nine appearances for the Cavaliers in 2019 and wound up recording 42 tackles. While he was in line to become one of the key members in the secondary going forward, a prior  suspension for violating team rules back in November may have wound up playing a role in his departure and standing with the team.

The safety had previously missed all of the 2018 season with an injury as well.

Moore was originally a three-star recruit out of Ashburn, Va. in 2016 and, assuming the redshirt senior has a degree, likely has a season remaining as a grad transfer.

DL Jay Tufele, WR Tyler Vaughns skipping draft to stay at USC

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Clay Helton has a lot of issues to deal with at the moment. Having a talented USC football team is not one of them.

The Trojans received a rare bit of good news on Thursday evening as two key players announced they were skipping the 2020 NFL Draft. In back-to-back announcements, defensive lineman Jay Tufele and wideout Tyler Vaughns confirmed they would remain in Los Angeles for the 2020 season.

Tufele is one of USC’s best defensive players. He recorded 42 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season as a redshirt sophomore despite dealing with a handful of injuries. With leading sacker Drake Jackson also back, there’s a nice tandem up front for whoever the team hires as defensive coordinator to work with going forward.

Vaughns returning also makes a dangerous receiving corps that much deeper. Michael Pittman Jr. was lost to graduation but the next three top wideouts are set to be back in 2020. Add in a group of solid tailbacks and both J.T. Daniels and Kedon Slovis at QB and USC will once again have one of the top offenses in the Pac-12.

Whether it will all help save Helton’s job again remains to be seen. If nothing else though, there’s at least there’s some positive news for the cardinal and gold this offseason with Tufele and Vaughns back in the fold going forward.

Nebraska and OC Troy Walters “mutually agreed to part ways”

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A year after significantly falling short of expectations, an offseason of change has commenced at Nebraska.

In one of the first big moves since Scott Frost took over at his alma mater, the Cornhuskers and offensive coordinator Troy Walters announced on Friday that they had ‘mutually agreed to part ways.’

“Troy has been a valued member of our coaching staff for the past four years,” Frost said in a statement. “Troy is a good mentor for his players, provides great energy on and off the field, and carries himself with a presence off the field that will be missed. I want to thank him for his work on our coaching staff, and wish him and his family all the best going forward.”

The duo first came together when Frost was hired at UCF and led a number of prolific offenses, including the undefeated 2017 team for the Knights. Walters was a finalist for the Broyles Award that same season though has not called plays for either team.

Walters had a distinguished career as a player at Stanford that included All-American honors and a Biletnikoff Award in 1999. He spent several years in the NFL before going into coaching during stops at Texas A&M, N.C. State and Colorado.

The departure of Walters could interestingly lead to a reunion between Frost and a familiar name in Mark Helfrich. The latter was head coach at Oregon when Frost was elevated to offensive coordinator for the Ducks and is in search of a job after being let go by the Chicago Bears from a similar role.