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.

UCF close to selling out season tickets for 2019 season

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The last couple of seasons have been great for UCF. With back-to-back undefeated regular seasons, a New Years Six bowl victory over Auburn and a claimed national title, the Knights are rolling right now as a program and hoping for another big year in Orlando this fall. And the excitement seems to have been catching on with the season ticket sales as the school is claiming there are fewer than 200 season tickets remaining for the 2019 season.

On behalf of our coaches, staff and student-athletes, thank you for your support of UCF Athletics. Season ticket members are an integral part of a championship winning program.

As of today, fewer than 200 season tickets remain,” an email from the UCF ticket office claimed on Wednesday. “In other words, it will be more challenging than ever to assist you with access to single-game tickets during the 2019 season (and possibly in future seasons).”

Spectrum Stadium, the home of the UCF Knights, has a seating capacity of 44,206 (according to Wikipedia), and the Knights have averaged 44,019 fans per game last season. The Knights saw the second-largest attendance growth from the 2017 season, with an increase of 7,173 fans per game from 2017 to 2018, according to the NCAA’s attendance records. Only Northwestern had a higher average attendance boost in 2018 (home games against Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame certainly helped boost attendance for the Wildcats last season en route to a Big Ten West Division crown).

UCF’s home schedule has some good games on the agenda with visits by Stanford from the Pac-12, Dana Holgorsen and Houston, and rival USF. Of course, the end of the Civil ConFLiCT could be in the mix too with UConn making a visit south at the end of September.

For a school that went 0-12 just four years ago, being this close to selling out season tickets is quite a feat for the program.

Helmet sticker to the college football community on Reddit.

Randy Edsall releases statement as UConn trustees approve move back to Big East

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The future of the UConn football program is as foggy to predict as it may have ever been. On Wednesday, the UConn Board of Trustees formally voted to approve the school’s move back to the Big East for non-football sports, with basketball at the forefront of the call to change conference affiliation. The move will make sense for UConn basketball programs but leaves the future of the football program heading into unchartered waters with not a ton of options to work with.

Now that UConn’s leaders have voted to move forward with a reunion with the Big East, the school must now determine what happens to the football Huskies. UConn currently is set to play the upcoming 2019 season in the American Athletic Conference. While it is not quite officially a parting of the ways for the AAC and UConn on the football field, the general assumption is the Huskies will play one final season in the conference before beginning to play as an independent football program once again, just as it did when the school moved up from the FCS to the FBS prior to joining the Big East. The AAC is expected to remain at 11 members, but this type of story leads to plenty of rumors that carry various amounts of weight at any given moment. This time as an independent will be different than the last time, as it was part of the plan for the Huskies to join the Big East in football after moving up from the FCS to essentially replace Temple, which was ousted by the Big East. Now, there is no clear future vision for the program other than to move forward.

Now the Big East is set to hold a grand press conference at Madison Square Garden in New York on Thursday to officially welcome UConn back to the conference. The event will include appearances by UConn leaders, including athletic director David Benedict and men’s and women’s basketball coaches Dan Hurley and Geno Auriemma. Basketball first. Basketball second. Football…?

That puts head football coach Randy Edsall in one of the toughest positions as a head coach of a college football program. How do you sell your program when there are so many questions about its future?

As far as Edsall is concerned, you focus just on the things you can control.

“As I told my TEAM on Sunday afternoon, we have a schedule for 2019 and that is what we have been preparing for since January and they have been doing a great job of staying focused and not allowing any distractions to get in the way of our preparation and training,” Edsall said in a released statement to the media earlier today.

“All my focus and work has been on getting this program and facilities back to where we all want it regardless of WHERE WE PLAY OR WHO WE PLAY [Note: emphasis kept as written in Edsall’s statement], so I’m leaving the decision up to the Board of Trustees, University Leadership and Athletic Director to find the best situation for our Football Program.,” Edsall continued in his statement. “Myself, my staff and my players will not address this situation in the future as our focus is all on the 2019 season which is right around the corner.”

Oh, how naive of Edsall to think this subject won’t be brought up again. Don’t forget that conference media days are coming up quickly. How this subject is discussed at AAC media days will be something to watch form a variety of angles.

But in all honesty, what more is Edsall supposed to do at this point? As much power and responsibility, we think head football coaches have, they are still at the will of the leaders above them. This isn’t a football power we are discussing either, as anyone who has been watching UConn can say. This is a rare situation in which basketball comes first, and UConn clearly sees that as the priority, which is OK. For UConn, at least.

Edsall may not be particularly happy about what is going on that is out of his control, but there’s nothing he can really do about it. The decisions have been made and the wheels are in motion for UConn’s transition as an athletics program. How long Edsall stands by to lead the Huskies into the great unknown remains to be seen.

Troy adding emoji swords to new football field

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With the summer heat spreading, now is the time to perform some top-notch grounds-crew maintenance on football fields for the upcoming fall. Or, in the case of schools with artificial turf, now is the time to tear up the old rug and install the new one. That is what Troy is doing now inside their football stadium.

Troy showed off a look at the brand new artificial turf being installed in The Vet to be ready for the beginning of the 2019 season. The previous turf had been used since 2012, and as artificial turfs go, it has seen its fair share of wear and tear for the Trojans.

“This is an important project on numerous levels,” Director of Athletics Brent Jones said in a released statement. “First and most importantly the new turf is a commitment to the safety of our student-athletes, and the dynamic design of the turf will enhance our already strong brand recognition with every one of our home games broadcast live via an ESPN medium. The design also returns some traditional elements which our fans will enjoy while watching games in The Vet.”

As the diagram shown off shows, the Troy logo will be found at midfield and the shades of green will alternate every five yards. The Sun Belt Conference logo will be shown at the 25-yard lines, one toward each sideline. “TROY” will be painted in one end zone, and “TROJANS” will be found in the opposite endzone, both in accompanying Troy school colors. But if you look closely, you will see what appears to be the dueling swords emoji (⚔️) found at the 35-yard lines. That is intentional, as the university uses the emoji on social media platforms.

The turf is manufactured by Hellas Construction in Texas. The same company has provided turf surfaces to the Los Angeles Rams, Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins, and Oakland Raiders for either stadium surfaces or practice fields.

UConn adds three transfers, including former FIU kicker

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While there is tumult surrounding its conference affiliation moving forward, the UConn football program continues to go about the business of player procurement.

In a series of tweets Tuesday, the Huskies officially confirmed the addition of three players to the roster — safety Diamond Harrell, offensive lineman Andrew Torres-Silva and kicker Sean Young.  Harrell and Torres-Silva join the team from the junior-college ranks, while Young heads north from Florida International.

All three additions will be eligible to play immediately for the Huskies in 2019.

After spending the 2016 and 2017 seasons at a junior college, Young served as a kickoff specialist for the Panthers this past season.  His Panthers bio states that Young “[h]elped FIU rank second overall in C-USA for kickoff yards (5,075), kickoff average (64.2), touchbacks (54), and net average (41.8).” His touchback percentage of 81.4 was eighth at the FBS level as well.