Bad Surprises of the Group of Five at the Halfway Mark

Alright, I had so much to say about the good things that it made no sense to just keep rambling on and on about the negatives that balance that out.

Here in part two, we can go a little bit deeper. Again, these surprises are somewhat relative to preseason expectations, and I’m sure there are a number of more granular individual player surprises that are worth mentioning, so feel free to come at us with those.

That being said, I think we can cut to the chase and discuss the surprises we wish hadn’t happened so far this season.

AAC – Houston, UCF, and USF

If Houston starts the season 2-0 in one-possession games instead of 0-2, they’re probably flirting with being ranked. Instead, they sat at 1-3 and watched D-Eriq King and Keith Corbin redshirt.

Since then, the Cougars are officially somewhere between “good enough to beat UConn on the road” and “good enough to flirt with beating Cincinnati” – which is a pretty wide range of possibilities.

The Cougars essentially started over with a new offense and it’s too early to know where they’ll end up for sure, but with SMU, UCF, Memphis and Navy all still to come, my money is on a losing record for sure.

To be fair, it’s an achievement that a 5-2 UCF team who is playing a freshman at quarterback is a disappointment. The loss against Pitt still stings, and Pitt winning the division again won’t really change that even if it happens.

It was rough watching Dillon Gabriel struggle in the loss to Cincinnati with a healthy Darriel Mack on the sidelines, and hopefully, Josh Heupel won’t be so hesitant to pull the trigger in the future. With Mackenzie Milton returning next season, I would expect one of these two to transfer, and as such reps in the present tense are at a high premium.

They need to prove themselves on the road against Temple this weekend for conference title hopes to remain alive, but this season is only really bad because the previous two were so good.

USF is likely moving on from Charlie Strong this offseason. They’re now 3-10 in the past year, with two of those wins coming against UConn and South Carolina State. After watching BYU beat Boise this weekend, I have no clue how they lost to USF.

As this team has further transitioned from Willie Taggart’s recruits to those of Strong, the results have gotten worse – that 3-10 record includes seven losses by 21+ points. The Bulls face ECU on the road this weekend, followed by four games against teams whose combined record right now is 22-6.

Strong has a very real chance of ending this season on another losing streak, which would make him 0-3 against UCF, 3-10 in November and December, and probably looking for a job.

Mountain West – Fresno State

Watching Jorge Reyna play quarterback for the Bulldogs has been a true roller coaster, as he spends most Saturdays challenging Cole McDonald of Hawai’i for “Mountain West quarterback whose performance you are most likely to describe as ‘interesting'”, but the Bulldogs’ on-field results have been a similar wave.

They opened by doing just enough to lose against UCS and Minnesota, then beat the hell out of Sacramento State and New Mexico State. Now that they’ve moved to conference play, they dominated UNLV for four quarters and hung with Air Force for two.

Against UCS and Minnesota, Reyna threw three interceptions and was sacked seven times, yet Fresno still nearly found a way to win. In four games since, Reyna has only thrown a single interception and been sacked four times, but three of those were against Sacramento State – a game they didn’t lead for good until the final seven minutes – and that lack of errors didn’t help a defense that couldn’t stop the triple option to save their lives.

I’m not too concerned about them reaching bowl eligibility, but that was supposed to be the floor for this team.

Sun Belt – Georgia Southern

We technically could have put an underperforming Arkansas State team here. However, I think we can all agree that having to change quarterbacks after four games in addition to your head coach losing his wife to cancer right before the first game buys you all the forgiveness in the world.

Not so much for the Eagles, who appear to have planned to do their usual – great defense and just enough offense to win – but have failed with flying colors when they have the ball.

The option is supposed to give you, well, options. But there is definitely such a thing as too many options. Georgia Southern has six players who have carried the ball at least 30 times through the first six games, and nobody has produced consistent success.

Wesley Kennedy returned from his four-game academic suspension and racked up 117 yards on 24 carries against Coastal Carolina… right as Logan Wright (who tallied 114 yards against Maine) was lost for essentially the remainder of the season.

Matt LaRoche went off for 154 yards against Maine, but has only 64 yards on 22 carries since. JD King was supposed to be the big add after transferring from Oklahoma State, but he’s only managed 3.6 yards per carry across a team-leading 88 touches.

Shai Werts and Justin Tomlin have taken turns being a consistently poor passer and an inconsistent runner. This many returning players, and this many talented runners, there’s no reason for them to rank this far behind the other triple-option programs when it comes to offensive S&P+:

  • Air Force 25th
  • Navy 48th
  • Army 83rd
  • Georgia Southern 119th

The recent passing of Jordan Wiggins will continue to cast a shadow over this 2019 season, which has been one of fits and starts for Coach Lunsford and his team.

Conference USA – Florida International

Then we have the team that was supposed to win the division in the preseason. Things have gotten so sideways that now the Panthers, at a minimum, need to win out and have WKU lose at least three of their four remaining conference games in order to play for a conference title.

The offense has rebounded nicely after doing next-to-nothing against Tulane and WKU, but their three-game win streak has come against UMass, Charlotte and UTEP, who are the three worst defenses in the country by S&P+ and not much better on offense.

A promising season is now going to likely require a road win in Murfreesboro and a home win against Old Dominion in order to reach bowl eligibility, but 6-6 would still be a disappointment for this team.

Mid-American – Toledo and Akron

I’m still not entirely sure what’s going on at Toledo. A couple of weeks ago they were 4-1 and their only loss was on the road at Kentucky.

Now, they’ve followed up getting dominated by an atrocious Bowling Green squad – a 20-7 loss to a Falcons team that has lost their other five FBS games by an average score – of 48-9 – by getting blasted even worse by the Ball State squad we just talked about.

There now appears to be a book on Toledo, and while I would still anticipate them defeating Northern Illinois, a bowl bid is looking iffier by the week.

Things we knew about Akron: They were rebuilding with a new coach, so they were liable to struggle. Things we didn’t know about Akron: that they would struggle this much.

In their home opener against UAB, they managed to score a total of 20 points, but 14 of that came in the fourth quarter, long after the game was decided. In three home games since, they’ve managed 10 points. The Zips have now been outscored 237-86 and are in serious danger of not winning a single game now that both NIU and Bowling Green have shown signs of competence against opponents far superior to Akron.

Independents  – Everyone But Liberty

UMass is 1-6, and while they did find a way to beat Akron their closest loss was to FCS Southern Illinois by 25 points. The Minutemen led 21-7 at the end of the first quarter of their first game, and have been outscored 342-123 since then. The Minutemen are dead last in defensive S&P+, and they’re as close to #129 UTEP as UTEP is to #119 Bowling Green.

New Mexico State became the first team in the country to reach bowl ineligibility last weekend, and have been unable to get out of their own way to the tune of a -15 turnover margin and 3+ turnovers four times in seven games.

Army has been much better than those two, but the season has taken a hard turn for the worse. After a 3-1 start that saw them take Michigan to double-overtime before losing, the Black Knights have lost three in a row and are suddenly 1-4 in one-possession games.

First they got worn down by Tulane’s rush offense, then they got shut down (and nearly shut out) by Western Kentucky’s defense, and last weekend their plan to ball control and minimize turnovers was torpedoed when their only forced turnover of the game was followed by one of their own.

The Fightin’ Monkens will probably still get to six wins, but it’s looking more and more like they’re going to have an uphill battle to either win the Commander in Chief’s trophy or lock up a bowl bid.

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