By Jonathan Lowe
October 20, 2016
Well, I guess I took my bye last week. Funny, since I didn’t even get my thoughts started until a quarter of the way through the season. But it’s time to hunker down. There’s a lot of games featuring a lot of big names, along with a lot of names we haven’t really heard of in a while. This week, though, we’ll focus on some of the lesser-known names. There are some intriguing stories from those programs that don’t necessarily demand the spotlight. Here, though, why not give some pixels to those teams playing for, in their minds, as much as the national contenders are.
Memphis at Navy: The Beale Street Tigers are possibly proving that they’re not a one-coach, one-quarterback program. Justin Fuente is in Blacksburg now. Paxton Lynch is playing on Sundays in Denver. Quietly, though, Memphis has piled up a 5-1 record. Granted, they lost to the only opponent most folks feel is legitimate (Ole Miss). But in past seasons, this program would hope to not be blown by the Rebels the same way that they did to Bowling Green (to the tune of 77-3). My, how times have changed.
The Midshipmen have already taken down one of their contemporaries (Houston) at home. They get the chance to take down the other two contenders (Memphis and Tulsa) in Annapolis as well. And, hey, they’re also doing it with a different leader. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds is trying to earn an NFL paycheck. And at his alma mater, the triple option keeps churning along. Navy only outscores opponents by 8 points a game. They are out-gained by their opponents (392.0 to 398.6). But Ken Niumatalolo keeps putting his kids in position to win. That’s all that matters.
BYU at Boise State (Thursday, Oct. 20th): The Cougars may have found their swagger after three straight wins. However, Kalani Sitake’s team seems to play right on the edge. Their three losses have come by a total of seven points. Three of their four wins wins have come by a total of eleven points. The only comfortable spread for BYU (in either direction)…at Michigan State, believe it or not. The Cougars look to stretch their three-game win streak to four, along with ending the Cinderella hopes of another Mid-Major stalwart.
The Broncos just continue to win, with the Washington State victory looking better by the week. They’ll also be seeking some revenge. The Cougars ended BSU’s dreams of unbeaten bliss early, winning in a Week 2 matchup in Provo. You know that the Broncos are going to score (35.3 ppg, 466.7 total ypg), but could their defense be the side that carries the night (19.3 papg, 371.0 yapg)? They’ll need it to be stout against an extremely balance BYU attack.
Washington State at Arizona State: Speaking of the Palouse, did anyone realize that the Wazzu Cougars are 3-0 in the Pac-12 (well, outside of some of my friends)? This all coming to pass after starting the season 0-2 (losses to the aforementioned Broncos and FCS neighbor Eastern Washington). The attacking offense has an opportunity to put up more eye-popping numbers against a Sun Devil defense that allows 506 yards a game.
Is the season starting to turn into a disappointment for Todd Graham’s bunch? They’re right where they have been over the last few years, which is right in the South Division hunt. But last week’s loss to Colorado put them behind the eight-ball. It’s almost assured that the program will go bowling again. However, if they want to reach the next level, they may have to win out and get some help along the way.
South Florida at Temple (Friday, Oct. 21st): Who knew that the Bulls were 6-1? The only loss Willie Taggart’s team has endured this season was against Florida State. The 35-point total was also the squad’s worst offensive output of the year. USF is averaging 44.1 points a game. Leading the way, quarterback Quentin Flowers has amassed a total of 2,190 yards (1535 passing and 655 rushing) and 20 touchdowns (13 passing and 7 rushing). Those aren’t quite 2016 Louisville numbers, but they are impressive.
The Owls had a magical season last year. While 2016 won’t match what happened in 2015, Temple has showed a lot of resolve after their season-opening loss to Army. That appeared to be amplified in Saturday’svictory over Central Florida. Matt Rhule’s guys came back from a 25-7 2nd quarter deficit to stun the Knights in the last second of the 4th. That puts the Owls at 4-3 and on track for a second straight bowl bid. With a win on Saturday, they would also be on track to play in their second consecutive AAC title game.
We all know that the SEC West is tough. It has been apparent how competitive the ACC Coastal and Pac-12 South have been in recent years. This year, though, how ‘bout we give a nod to the MAC’s West Division. Entering this weekend, five of the six teams sports a winning record. The division leader is enjoying its first-ever period of time in the nation’s Top-25. On Saturday, the top four will square off in a weekend that could boil the division down to a two-team race…or open it up into a five-team free-for-all.
Central Michigan at Toledo: The Chippewas survived a big scare from Northern Illinois. Now, they’ll head on the road to face a Rockets squad that has been pretty great in all facets of the game. Toledo hasn’t missed a beat under new coach Jason Candle, scoring 43 points and amassing 565 yards per game. They’ve also been fairly stubborn on defense, allowing 23.3 points a contest (five points below CMU’s average). The Rockets may not have their perfect season intact, but they still have a chance to put their stamp on a division crown.
Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan: I don’t think that this can be said enough. The Eagles of Eastern Michigan are doing special things this year. Their last .500 season was 2011. Their last winning season was 1995. Their only bowl season was 1987. In its 42nd season of Division I play, this program sports a record of 139-321-7 (a .305 winning percentage). The fact that they’re 5-2…the fact that all three directional Michigan schools will head to a bowl game in the same season…EVER! Maybe the Cubs are destined to win it all. On the other side, the Broncos are only playing to stay in the New Years’ Six bowl hunt. No pressure.
Texas A&M at Alabama: OK. So, I couldn’t completely ignore the contenders.
The Aggies found magic in Tuscaloosa before. It was Johnny Manziel’s breakout contest in his glory days. It was Kevin Sumlin’s announcement that this program could play with the SEC’s big boys. They haven’t beaten the Crimson Tide since that Saturday afternoon in November of 2012. Last season, ‘Bama came into College Station with the Aggies sporting a 5-0 record. The Tide proved, once again, to be too good for “Gig ‘Em”. Could this be the best chance for the Aggies to get past the Tide since that 2012 upset?
The winner of this tilt will be favored to win out all the way until the SEC Championship game in Atlanta. Ole Miss, Auburn, and, most importantly, LSU will have a say in the proceedings. However, you’d have to believe that either the Tide or Aggies will take the lead in the drive for the SEC title and a national semifinal berth.