College football season is over and the holiday season has begun, so let’s put a bow down to the year and look forward to the 5-man group mailbag this week.
Highlights and highlights of the G5 and the transfer portal – which teams benefited the most and which were hurt the most and/or which weren’t? – the above. F.
Let’s simplify this into a list of winners and losers.
Winner: SMU. Not only does Rhett Lashlee have the best G5 transfers, but one of the best in the country, period. With 17 additions (and possibly more to come), the Mustang has the #6 haulage class in 247Sports’ rankings. This class includes two four-star prospects at Texas A&M running back L.J. Johnson (Top 50 Player of the Class of 2021) and Texas A&M Offensive PJ Williams (Top 100 Player of the Class of 2022). Other highlights include five players from Miami (FL), where Lashley previously coached, and a total of 13 players from Power 5 teams. Lashlee was with Sonny Dykes when SMU was at the forefront of transfer gate recruiting. That continued under Lashley.
Loser: Kent State. This isn’t a surprise, given that head coach Sean Lewis left to be Colorado’s offensive coordinator, but nearly every major contributor from an offense that was No. 2 in the MAC in yards per game has left. Quarterback Colin Schley went to UCLA, Marquis Cooper went to Ball State University, and the top three went to Power 5 schools, as did two of his offensive linemen. New head coach Kenny Burns will have to rebuild this program from scratch. This process involves a large number of incoming transfers, but it is difficult to immediately replace the lost amount.
Winner: Charlotte. Freshman coach Biff Poggi earned 20 more transfer scholarships, including 15 Power 5 players. The highlights come on the defensive line, with notable additions like Maryland defensive lineman Austin Fontaine, Jackson State defensive lineman Catron Evans, Osita Ekono , All Miss Age Rasher Damon Clooney, and Uzita Ikono. Most notably, On3 has Charlotte’s credit with 36 transfers, and 14 of those played at St. Francis High School in Baltimore, where Poggi coached from 2017 to 2020. Don’t be surprised if there are more to come, too.
Loser: Western Michigan. Like Kent State, WMU has experienced an exodus of top talent following a coaching change. I fired Tim Lester, and Sean Tyler, who was running back 1,000 yards, went Minnesota. Andre Carter (13.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks last year) went to Indiana. Defensive lineman Braden Fisk (12 TFLs, six sacks) went to Florida State. In total, six WMU players have left for Power 5 schools.
Winner: Western Kentucky. I’ll have a bigger story coming soon, but WKU is here for the no-losers, not the no-winners. Quarterback Austin Reed, who led the nation with 4,744 yards, went to the gate but later dropped out and stuck with WKU despite interest from several Power 5 teams. The same thing happened with edge rusher JaQues Evans. Receiver Malachi Corley also chose to stay and didn’t get into the gate despite there being plenty of potential interest. WKU still loses five players to Power 5 schools, but a program that’s been among the biggest winners with additions like Reed and Bailey Zappe in recent years has done a good job of holding on to the talent. The Hilltoppers should be a C-USA favorite next year.
Thoughts on the ASUN/WAC “Massive Conference” coming soon? – Pete J.
I can tell you that was a major conversation point with almost everyone I spoke with at an NCAA conference a couple of weeks ago. I’ll find out more about this later, but I can share my initial thoughts after speaking with Oliver Luck (who is consulting on this project) and the other people around him. First and foremost: This mostly has to do with creating a football-only FCS conference, since ASUN and the WAC are both low on members, and their waiver of an automatic joint FCS playoff spot expires in another year or so. This would officially create something like the Missouri Valley Football Conference or the Pioneer Football League for the football teams. Logical.
The idea of moving to FBS as a conference… I’m skeptical. Basically, there’s no rule that says they can’t or they can’t, so everyone is going to have to figure that out if they get to that point. I can tell you that none of the current G5 conferences are open to giving away a share of the College Football Playoff money. Luck will visit all 10 schools and do an audit to see how invested and prepared each school is and proceed from there. For me, the move of FBS as a conference is unlikely. As the people at North Dakota State told me, if the conference could move together, the Bison would go with the MVFC rather than join a lower league in order to move.
The Big 12 and Pac-12 will likely want to continue expanding. Who are the next G5 teams to gobble up? – Christopher B.
All I’ve been told, and previously reported, is that the Pac-12 will complete the media deal first and do the potential expansion second. All the people I spoke to at the NCAA conference agreed that San Diego State would be at the top of the list, given its location in Southern California, its success in football and men’s basketball and its new football stadium and expanded campus. If the Pac-12 wants a new presence in the region after losing USC and UCLA, SDSU fits in. The Big 12 has also been public about wanting to play late night soccer games with a West Coast team. Playing SDSU in the Big 12 stretches from California to Florida to Ohio wouldn’t be ideal for travel, but it might be another option if the Pac-12 invitational doesn’t come along.
Next, it’s a mix of schools. The Pac-12 and Big 12 are looking at Gonzaga, maybe just for men’s basketball or all the sports he plays (he doesn’t play football). SMU will bring money, strong academics, access to Texas, and add the Central Time Zone to the Pac-12 or possibly the ACC if it expands (a Big 12 invitation is unlikely). UNLV’s biggest advantage is Las Vegas as a popular tourist destination, one the Pac-12 has tried to own with its football championship game and basketball tournaments. The Renegades have been among the worst FBS teams in two decades and haven’t had huge crowds, but it will be a calling for road fans. Fresno State is also pushing the P5 with the support of the city, and Boise State’s football success is well known nationally. Memphis still has big dreams.
But before another G5 team moves to P5, it must fall many dominoes. The Pac-12 needs to complete its television deal, and we need to see if the Big 12’s dream of adding existing Pac-12 teams comes true. Then, many G5 schools will head to the front of the line.
Troy, Southern Miss, and South Alabama have all seen dramatic improvement from their last campaigns and I don’t think ULL won’t be around for long. Is this a sign that the power in the Sun Belt is shifting to the western section or is the SBC still going through the east? – Ryan B.
It seems clear to me that it did. The Troy and South Alabama rushers under John Summerall and Ken Womack, respectively, were dramatic, and they came on the backs of a solid defense. This wasn’t about a great quarterback. Elsewhere, Will Hall continues to turn Southern Miss into a respectable program once again, and Texas and Arkansas State should improve in 2023. The East division continues to run deeper from top to bottom – and coastal Carolina Grayson McCall, Marshall and James Madison still have great starts. South Georgia has bounced back and the App State still has a long track record.
But the top two Sun Belt teams last year were in the West, and that could be the case again in 2023.
Why doesn’t Eastern Michigan’s Chris Creighton get more attention during a head coach cycle, especially when jobs like Purdue open up? He’s consistently won some tough places going back to his days at Wabash College? – Michael M.
Creighton’s 46-61 overall record at EMU, lack of Power 5 experience and lack of a solitary 10-win season combine to hold him back, even if I totally disagree with that concept. Creighton just produced the second nine-win season in EMU history, he’s pulled off unprecedented success in one of the toughest jobs in the country winning everywhere he’s been.
But this is the theory that a lot of decision-makers are peppered with. You’d think the success of Lance Leipold and Chris Klieman’s P5 would change that, but it hasn’t yet.
Did you see something like what happened to MTSU? They gave Rick Stockstill, a . 500 coach unpopular with fans, who hasn’t won a conference title in 18 years, essentially a lifetime contract (automatic extension for a 6-6 season). A once-growing program has dwindled to an awkward presence, and there’s no interest whatsoever thanks to mediocre recurring seasons, poor staffing, poor development, etc. —Douglas R.
MTSU is a bit like G5 Iowa, with a head coach contract they can’t get out of. Good enough to catch bowl games on a regular basis, not good enough to win the league. Everything is kind of stuck at “above average,” with one season notching over eight wins (10-3 in 2009).
There are certainly worse places to be from a fan standpoint, but after 17 years under Stockstill I understand why fans want more. It is especially notable in a region with a growing population and football talent that MTSU should be able to draw from.
Has CFP expansion so far had a domino effect on the scheduling of future games between the G5 and P5? If not, when will we start to see these unintended consequences? – Tom W.
Not yet, though top programs like Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State have scheduled more erratic games on the road. The real answer comes with scheduling the conference in the future. Will the SEC move to nine league games? Will the Big Ten return to the Eight? Is the Pac-12 changing?
Former Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson told me in 2021 that the MWC had talked about moving to nine conference games if there were fewer P5 games there. AAC doesn’t want to go to nine because it wants as many P5 games as possible. This will be determined by the number of league games played by the P5 conferences when the realignment is settled.
How do you assess—and what do you hear—Trent Dilfer’s influence at UAB? – Tyler J.
There was some skepticism in the coaching community and agents about the personnel Dilfer worked together. In his introductory press conference, Dilfer admitted that he did not know much about the day-to-day work of recruiting and running a college football program, but he would hire people who did. His offensive coordinator, Alex Mortensen, never headed the FBS job room, having spent the past eight years as an assistant and graduate analyst at Alabama. Defensive coordinator Sione Ta’ufo’ou followed Dilfer out of the high school ranks.
Of the nine announced coaches, only three had been full-time assistant coaches before: linebackers coach Hindley Brigham and Stars/Nickels coach Ernest Hill, both retained from the former UAB staff, and secondary coach Kenneth Gilstrap. Most of the coaches are off-the-field employees from places like Georgia, Alabama, and Ohio State. That’s not to say that this won’t work for Dilfer. It’s only been two months. But the questions people asked when he took over remain questions.
(Top photo of Rhett Lashlee and SMU: Chris Jones/USA Today)