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.

Gary Patterson wants names of NCAA employees approving transfer waivers

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Unless I’m missing someone, the coaches that have spoken out about the glut of high-profile transfer waivers that have been approved lately are all against them. Florida Atlantic’s Lane Kiffin said just one day ago that players are transferring because it’s “sexy” and now TCU’s Gary Patterson has cannonballed into the pool with some strong comments of his own.

“I want the names of all those people [at the NCAA] that are deciding to do that, so everybody knows their names when they ruin the game,” Patterson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I don’t care if there’s lawyers involved. I don’t care if any of that’s involved. The bottom line to it is we need to do what’s best for the game.

Patterson’s point, and it’s not necessarily a wrong one, is that coaches who believe tough love is the best way to mold players — i.e. Gary Patterson — will then see all their players leave before that love can appropriately toughen them up.

“After they get away from here, as a general rule, they come back as they mature and understand, they figure out what we were trying to do and accomplish,” Patterson said. “If you can’t go through that process with a young man, and grow them up just like a parent does, then we’re cheating them to be honest with you. That’s my personal opinion about it.”

The good news for Patterson and his ilk: if free agency is truly here, it’s likely not here for long. The NCAA announced last month it will take another look at its loosened transfer protocol, and it’s unlikely you’d make such an announcement if you planned on loosening those restrictions even more.

North Carolina CB KJ Sails, Jr., embarks toward transfer portal

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North Carolina cornerback KJ Sails, Jr., is sailing away from Chapel Hill and voyaging toward a new destination.

The Tampa native on Friday announced he will enter his name onto the transfer portal for his final collegiate season. “Thank you to my Carolina family for giving me the opportunity to play the game that I love this is a great school and I will forever love the university,” he wrote in an iPhone note posted to his Twitter account. “My family and I have decided that it is best for me to seek other opportunities.”

After playing sparingly as a true freshman in 2016, Sails started 11 games for the Tar Heels in 2017, collecting 30 tackles while ranking ninth in the ACC with 13 pass break-ups.

He started three games in four appearances in 2018, but an injury knocked him out for the remainder of the year.

Given that he played in only four games, Sails can use last season as a redshirt and play a second senior season elsewhere in 2019, provided he receives a waiver or graduates from North Carolina.

Michigan CB Benjamin St-Juste medically retires

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Cornerback Benjamin St-Juste was not listed on Michigan’s spring roster, and there’s a reason for that. St-Juste has medically retired from football, the program confirmed to the Detroit Free Press.

A 4-star recruit from Quebec, St-Juste appeared in 12 games as a redshirt freshman, primarily on special teams.

He suffered a hamstring injury ahead of the 2018 campaign and did not see any game action. With a similar prognosis ahead of him for 2019, St-Juste has decided to hang up his cleats for good.

LB Jaden Hunter was second Georgia player arrested in March

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A member of the Georgia football program was arrested Wednesday night. Linebacker Jaden Hunter was arrested and charged with driving with a suspended or revoked license. He was also charged with stopping, standing, or parking in a prohibited area.

Hunter spent just two hours in jail after being released on bond late Wednesday night.

The charges are misdemeanors and his status with the Bulldogs has not been confirmed with regard to any possible suspensions or other forms of discipline by head coach Kirby Smart. Given the nature of the charges, it would seem this would be far from calling for removal from the program or any significant form of discipline unless there is more to the story behind the scenes.

Hunter did become the second Georgia football player to be arrested in the month of March. Earlier in the month, redshirt freshman Latavious Brini was arrested on one count of simple battery.