It’s Week 3, and there are no Group of 5 teams in the AP Poll. BUT! Every conference and the New Year’s Six spot looks up for grabs, and there’s plenty to talk about. Let’s get into your questions.
(Note: Submitted questions have been lightly edited for clarity and length.)
Can Boise State regain its mojo? Would Washington State and Oregon State joining/merging be a net positive (a rising tide lifts all boats) or negative (increased competition)? — Brad B.
These are good but very separate questions, Brad. First, this year. I was someone who came into this season thinking Boise State might be the best Group of 5 team in the country, with so much returning from last year’s team that finished the year strong and had a quarterback. Now the Broncos are 0-2 with a blowout loss to Washington and a last-second loss to UCF.
Can Boise State prove its best days are still ahead?
We knew the beginning of the schedule was incredibly difficult, but I’ve been disappointed with Boise State’s performances on offense and defense. The Broncos averaged 5.4 and 5.8 yards per play on offense in the first two games and allowed 9.3 and 8.2 yards per play. Quarterback Taylen Green is completing less than 50 percent of his passes and has three interceptions. Perhaps the departure of last year’s interim offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has had a bigger impact than expected.
As for Washington State and Oregon State, I can see benefits and drawbacks from both sides if they’re in the same conference. On one hand, yes, that’s two more strong programs Boise State has to compete with for conference championships. On the other, Boise State would be less likely to lose recruits to them. Washington State and Oregon State, which can’t typically compete for the top-tier kids already, could always hold Power 5 conference status over Boise State when recruiting those middle-tier kids. People around Boise State believe it could help the Broncos in recruiting.
Big picture, check this stat out: B.J. Rains over at Bronco Nation News noted that Boise State went 100-4 at home from 1999 to 2014, but it’s 8-6 on the blue turf over the last 14 home games. Nothing sums up how Boise State isn’t the same Boise State like that does. Outside of the second half of last season, coach Andy Avalos, in his third season, hasn’t found consistent success. Going back to the Bryan Harsin era, even when the Broncos had good seasons, they’d drop a surprising game or two, and it would cost them New Year’s Six contention. Boise State hasn’t made a BCS/NY6 game since 2014. It’s reaching the point where the new generation doesn’t remember how good and how dominant this program was. The 0-2 start was a missed opportunity to change that. With San Diego State and Memphis coming up in the next three weeks, it needs to turn around quickly.
Boise State had a 15-year stretch from 1999 to 2014 in which they went 100-4 at home. Yes, 100-4.
I know that won’t ever be duplicated, but 8-6 past 2-plus years compared to 100-4 over 15 years is nuts. https://t.co/A8G9DNifR6
— B.J. Rains (@BJRains) September 11, 2023
Do you believe SMU bought the last ticket to a P4 conference from G5, especially considering the only way into ACC was forgoing media monies for nine years? Candidates like San Diego State, Memphis, Tulane and WSU and OSU are worthy, but is the bar of entry to P4 status now completely out of reach? — Mark C.
It’s a fair question, Mark. SMU definitely felt like this might be its last chance to have a chance, hence the financial sacrifice. Right now, I don’t see the P4 conferences adding any more Group of 5 schools anytime soon. But what if there is more movement within P4s? What if conferences grow to 20 teams and need to find new members?
UCF, Cincinnati and Houston got the call because the Big 12 needed to backfill. SMU got the call because the ACC wanted to grow as much as everyone else. Who’s to say we won’t enter another growth phase at some point? Even TCU got the call more than a decade ago because Texas A&M and Missouri left. You usually don’t win your way in. Spots need to open up. Circumstances can always change, and recent years have shown the need to be ready at any moment.
The dollars and dreams behind SMU’s realignment triumph and ACC ambition
With an 0-2 start to year five for Mike Houston, how concerned should East Carolina fans be this year, and is his seat getting warm? — Andrew J.
That seat is not getting warm at all. Relax, Andrew. ECU’s past two seasons (7-5, 8-5) were its best since 2014. The program finally turned the corner. The first loss this year was to Michigan, so that’s expected. The second was to a Marshall team that won nine games last year. A team you want to beat, but it’s certainly no guarantee.
The Pirates had to replace forever-QB Holton Ahlers and star running back Keaton Mitchell. A step back on offense was expected. This year’s schedule is also really tough out of the gate. Don’t overreact. The last time the school fired a winning coach at the first sign of trouble, it got rid of Ruffin McNeill and set the program back almost a decade.
What would it take for a MAC team to leave the conference, and who would it be? Do any MAC schools, maybe a Toledo or Buffalo, have wandering eyes for the AAC? — Andy S.
The first rule about leaving a conference is that somebody has to want you. For most of the MAC, there’s no real other place to go, nor a reason to. I’ve not heard much of anything about MAC schools receiving interest elsewhere nor having any themselves. MAC schools don’t want to join CUSA, so that leaves only the AAC. The MAC itself passed on Western Kentucky when MTSU backed out of a potential move to the MAC together.
The MAC is a conference full of like-minded and similarly-resourced schools that are almost all near each other. Unless you’re in the Power 2, that’s actually the long-term environment you want to be in. The only outlier geographically is Buffalo. The AAC in its most recent expansion went for Texas (UTSA, Rice, North Texas) or major markets/recruiting locations (Charlotte, UAB, FAU). Nobody in the MAC really makes sense in the AAC, nor do I think there’s much reason to want to leave, especially for a conference that requires a lot more spending.
Chris, the 12-team playoff includes a berth for the highest-ranked G5 champion. What if there is no ranked team from the Group of 5, like in the current polls? What would the CFP selection committee do then? Thanks! — KC M.
It would be the same protocol as now. If there is no Top-25 Group of 5 team, the CFP committee looks at the five G5 conference champions and picks the best one for the New Year’s Six spot. Beginning next year, that would be for a CFP spot (pending potential format changes due to the Pac-12’s situation).
If you’re commissioner Mike Aresco and the AAC, wouldn’t you be better off going after a James Madison or App State instead of Army? The service academies are in for a tough road without being able to use the transfer portal or NIL in the years ahead. I know neither draw national interest like Army, but this seems very short-sighted, with potential to not be a strong long-term addition. — Trent Y.
Army will always be a national brand and a terrific school that recruits a lot in Texas, as all service academies do. The profile fits what the AAC has looked for in expansion, and it’s more appealing to TV for that reason. The Army-Navy Game is always one of the most-watched games of the season, typically drawing more than 7 million viewers, and the league would love to be a part of both sides of that, even if it’s made to be a nonconference game.
Back in 2021, there was a possibility of both Air Force and Army joining Navy in the conference, but it didn’t come together. While Army football has slipped in the past year, it’s too early to say the program is on a major decline.
As for the other possibilities, Appalachian State has been discussed, I’m told, but it’s not as much of a natural fit. App State also likes being in the Sun Belt with rivals and a lot of games fans can travel to. While the AAC comes with a more valuable TV deal, it would also require App State to up its athletics spending to compete with the rest of the league. That’s difficult to do, and App likes winning. Elsewhere, when JMU was looking to move up from FCS, it was interested in the AAC. That interest was not reciprocated, JMU officials told me last year. But the Sun Belt has proven to be a great fit.
At what point does Butch Jones’ seat go from neutral to hot? Being outscored 110-3 in two games seems like the time. — Bobby W.
That determination will come once conference play begins, and Jones has to show something this year. The blowout loss to Oklahoma was nothing to look into, but the 37-3 loss to Memphis this past week was. That game used to be competitive, but this was not. Arkansas State has Stony Brook, Southern Miss and UMass in the next three weeks. The Red Wolves need to win two of those games to feel like they’re on the right track.
It’s been a complete rebuild for Jones, who was given time to do so. Arkansas State had one of the youngest teams in the country each of the past two years. It also signed a top-two recruiting class in the Sun Belt in each of those cycles. But that youth movement needs to show actual progress this year as the season goes on.
If Liberty dominates CUSA the next 3 years, should it expect an invite from the Sun Belt or AAC? — Lucas H.
I wouldn’t say “expect,” but it’s possible. The reason Liberty didn’t get an FBS conference invite for years was twofold. One, the school’s outspoken involvement in political issues. And two, its ability to outspend everyone by a significant margin. CUSA was desperate and needed teams, so Liberty as an FBS independent made sense. If Liberty dominates CUSA, that could be appealing for another league. Perhaps CUSA breaking that seal makes it more salient for other conferences to stomach. But it could also further the belief that Liberty will outspend everyone and would scare other conferences away.
Group of 5 top 10
1. Tulane (1-1)
2. Wyoming (2-0)
3. Fresno State (2-0)
4. Western Kentucky (2-0)
5. SMU (1-1)
6. Troy (1-1)
7. Coastal Carolina (1-1)
8. Memphis (2-0)
9. Air Force (2-0)
10. Rice (1-1)
Just missed: UTSA (1-1), James Madison (2-0), San Diego State (2-1), Appalachian State (1-1), Boise State (0-2)
Games of the Week
American: Tulane (-11.5) at Southern Miss
4 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Pick: Tulane covers if Michael Pratt plays
CUSA: Liberty (-3.5) at Buffalo
Noon ET, CBSSN
MAC: Iowa State (-2.5) at Ohio
Noon ET, ESPNU
Pick: Iowa State
Mountain West: Fresno State (-3) at Arizona State
10:30 p.m. ET, FS1
Pick: Fresno State
Sun Belt: James Madison vs. Troy (-2)
7 p.m. ET, NFL Network
(Photo of Boise State quarterback Maddux Madsen: Loren Orr / Getty Images)