What We Learned In Week Seven of the Group of Five

That’s right people, I’ve had enough of parsing out six different articles each week going one conference at a time. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Instead, we’ll just roll with one nice long article that hits all the high points. Ready set go!

American Athletic Conference

USF is probably more lucky than good. They didn’t take their first lead of the game against Tulsa until the field goal that gave them the win as time expired.

I understand that this was a road game, and that Tulsa’s defense is talented, but the fact that USF couldn’t force a turnover by an offense that had committed 19 in their first five games is not a strong sign. In fact, Tulsa only has four games in their last 18 with no turnovers, and two of them are last year and this year against USF.

It’s time to talk about Darrell Henderson for the Heisman. I was at the Memphis game versus Tulane. Henderson cracked off a 47-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage but was then held to only six carries for four yards the rest of the game. Yet he’s still got 1,133 yards through seven games.

Henderson is on pace to top 2,000 rushing yards as long as Memphis goes to a bowl game, and if you instead extrapolate using his yards per game outside the now clearly anomalous Tulane game, he’ll enter the postseason with a chance to be the 17th running back to ever eclipse 2,100 yards in a season.

Of course, as we have discussed with Donnell Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny, Henderson is likely just going to be the latest G5 running back to have a career year running the ball and be “lucky to receive votes” when the final Heisman tally comes in, but it’s still fun to discuss.

Conference USA

UAB is in the driver’s seat for the whole enchilada. After another dominant performance by the defense, with the offense following suit this week, the Blazers are the only undefeated team remaining in the West division, and a win Saturday would all but stitch up the division.

North Texas would have two losses and would need to win out and have UAB lose three of their remaining four conference games. La Tech would have a better shot, but would still need to have UAB lose twice as well as beating both FAU and USM on the road.

Impossible? Not in this year’s CUSA, but the Blazers would then be the heavy favorite, and the West is perhaps the stronger division this year.

Western Kentucky is an unsolvable mess. The ‘Toppers blew a three-touchdown lead at home to FCS Maine, and a month later they hit their bye week with a 1-4 record, but also three losses by a field goal.

And yet, somehow, here we are. Two weeks after nearly taking down Marshall in the Moonshine Throwdown, WKU had a bye week and therefore two weeks to prep, and laid an absolute egg on the road at Charlotte.

Western Kentucky lost 40-14 to a 49ers squad who in the 5+ seasons of its existence only had one other FBS win by more than seven points. Again; a team that had 6 FBS wins by a total of 20 points just beat WKU by 26.

I really don’t know what to think anymore.

Mid-American Conference

Turns out hiring Mike Jinks really was a bad idea. Bowling Green fired Mike Jinks as head coach of a team that couldn’t even achieve “interestingly bad.”

Jinks was a weird hire to begin with, a 43-year-old whose only coaching experience above the high school ranks was as a running backs coach for three seasons at Texas Tech.

Yes, I hear you, UNLV hired Tony Sanchez from Bishop Gorman. But it’s one thing to hire the head coach from easily the best high school program in your own state. It’s another thing to hire a guy who was successful but not quite elite in one of the best high school football states in the country. A guy with no high school ties in your state.

The Falcons went 7-24 under Jinks, and they were never really close; they were only 3-6 in one-possession games, a number that drops to 1-5 if you remove FCS games. That’s right, this year’s 42-35 win over EKU was their most lopsided FCS game under Jinks.

Add in 11 losses by 20+ points, and the plug needed to be pulled. Having Carl Pelini as interim coach is a different discussion, but don’t be shocked if he does well enough to get serious consideration for the full-time gig.

We still don’t know if Northern Illinois is good, but they’re hot. They are 4-3 overall, 4-0 in conference, and also 4-0 in one-possession games. Against both CMU and Ball State, the Huskies led 21-9 going into the fourth, gave up a touchdown with about 9 minutes left, scored a field goal with about five minutes left, and that was it.

Last week they trailed 21-9 going into the fourth but pulled out a win. The Huskies haven’t been amazing, but they’re right on track for “business as usual” aka going into November with the trifecta of NIU, WMU, and Toledo battling for the division title.

Is Eastern Michigan ever getting over the hump? I mean that quite seriously. In Chris Creighton’s first two seasons, the Eagles were 3-21 overall and only 1-2 in one-possession games. Since the start of the 2016 season, the Eagles are 15-17, including a ridiculous 10-12 in one-possession games.

Think about that for a minute. In the last two and a half seasons, EMU has only played ten games decided by more than seven points. Talk about living on the edge. We expect that kind of razor-thin margin in the MAC, but that list also includes wins over Purdue, Rutgers, and Wyoming as well as losses at Army, Kentucky and San Diego State.

Mountain West Conference

I really hope that Utah State and San Diego State meet in the title game. I know that the resurgence of Fresno State – and, God forbid, Hawai’i – makes things a lot less certain for San Diego State, but this would be a fascinating matchup to me.

Utah State lost to Michigan State by one score on the road, and have since won five straight by an average score of 56-21. Heck, BYU finished +3 in turnovers and still lost by 25. Air Force, the only team to stay close, only did so because they’re also the only team to get a score on defense or special teams.

The Aztecs have struggled on offense and struggled to stay healthy in general, which is why their five-game win streak has produced five wins by a total of 34 points. They nearly blew it against Eastern Michigan and didn’t lead Sacramento State until the fourth quarter.

Ryan Agnew has been a competent quarterback and the Fighting Rocky Longs are never short on running backs, but they can’t keep leaning on their defense to bail them out, especially against Fresno State and the other volatile offenses left on their schedule.

Colorado State is… back? OK, it’s probably much too early to say that, but the Rams have suddenly won two in a row and are actually in the divisional race for the time being.

KJ Carta Samuels is still probably not as accurate as he needs to be, and I’ll be a lot more shocked to see CSU beat Boise, Utah State or Air Force than I was to see them beat San Jose State or New Mexico, but it looks like they’ve at least patched the holes in the bottom of the boat for now.

Sun Belt Conference

Arkansas State fans have lost their minds. I can appreciate the frustration when it comes to unanticipated losses, and a down year, but the team is still 3-3 and is still the best team in the weaker division, so it is still very realistic to expect a conference title game appearance as well as a bowl game for the Red Wolves.

Despite this, in the immediate aftermath of getting dominated by Appalachian State, numerous fans were calling for Blake Anderson to be fired, with some even suggesting that ASU bring back Hugh Freeze as head coach.

I don’t think I need to explain why bringing back Hugh Freeze is a bad idea. However, Blake Anderson – the first stAte coach in 30 years to produce consecutive winning seasons, by the way – does not deserve this kind of treatment.

A program that couldn’t keep a coach to save their lives finally has one that wants to be there, and now they start to talk about getting rid of him at the first hints of a losing season.

The East isn’t a three-team race anymore. Appalachian State dominated yet another opponent and has now given up only 32 points in their last four games. The offense will need to make some tweaks after the unfortunate loss of Jalin Moore, but it didn’t slow them down last time out and the rest of the division is iffy.

Troy’s offensive limitations with Sawyer Smith under center got exposed by Liberty, and the Trojans will face multiple teams with better defenses down the stretch.

Georgia Southern is undefeated, but their offense got super conservative protecting a lead against a talented Texas State team and only won because the Bobcats’ offensive coaches are incompetent, not because the Eagle defense was amazing.

Don’t get me wrong, these are still the three best teams in the conference, but Troy and Georgia Southern have started showing cracks in the armor first.

Louisiana might finally be done pretending to play two quarterbacks. Andres Nunez played out of his mind against New Mexico State. Sure, he benefitted from an injury-riddled defensive line that made a bad run defense worse, and that in turn opened up the passing.

That said, hopefully, 19-for-25 for 315 yards and five touchdowns will finally convince Coach Napier to stop wasting 5-10 snaps per game on Levi Lewis. Don’t get me wrong, Lewis is a good player, but he’s not there yet as a passer and Nunez has shown enough that he should just be the guy from here out unless injury or garbage time pops up again.

Independents

New Mexico State continues with one step forward and two steps back. Josh Adkins appears to be the quarterback of the future. He’s eager to learn, he’s a skilled quarterback, and he’s growing into a leader.

Problem is, now that the offense has got its act together, the defense is falling apart from injuries. Terrill Hanks should finally be back against Georgia Southern, but now Malik Demby and Deshawnte Lloyd are both done for the season, putting a big hole in the defensive line depth heading into another game against a potent rushing attack.

The Aggies aren’t done winning, but a bowl game might be far-fetched without a defensive turnaround at this point.

Army, on the other hand, does have a defense. And the Black Knights use that and their rushing attack to pummel everything in their path.

The West Point boys are 4-1 in their last five games, and Oklahoma is the only team in that span to score more than 21 points – and they needed overtime to do it. The defense completely shut down Tyree Jackson, did the same to San Jose State, and will look to continue dominating the MAC in the coming weeks.

As always, this team is not without its flaws. That said, they only have one true road game left and will be favored from here out. I don’t know about 10 wins, but I think eight is their floor for sure.

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