2023-08-24 13:27

Jack6 is doing it again. I do appreciate his love for writing the Block of Granite series, for several seasons now. I truly hope you guys enjoy the read and the insights, as I do. Cheers, and some applause for Jack6


Hello everyone, it's time for some College Football again.

We are right now in the next bigger conference realignment phase, after the big one between 2010 and 2014.

Just to give you a small lesson in history, 2010 to 2014 did many teams change their conference, which gave us the structure we had the past roughly 10 years.
Smaller changes happen after 2014, but the major shift did happen in that time period.

What did happen?

The BIG 10 did announce they would consider expanding, shortly after, also the PAC-10 (named that way at that time, now PAC-12) reported expansion plans.
That did trigger domino effects, shaking up the whole landscape and created massive problems for the smaller conferences.

The BIG 10, at that time with 11 members, added Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers.
Nebraska came from the BIG 12, Maryland from the ACC, Rutgers from the BIG EAST (later outsourced and renamed to AMERICAN ATHLETICS). The BIG 10 became a 14-team conference by that.

The PAC-10 did add Colorado and Utah to become the PAC-12.
Colorado came from the BIG 12, of which the PAC-10 wanted several other members moving, but failed to build a good package and Utah came from the MOUNTAIN WEST. Now the PAC-12 existed, with 12 teams.

The SEC gained TEXAS A&M and Missouri, both from the BIG-12.
The SEC became that way a 14 Team conference.

The BIG-12 lost Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri and were close to shutting down, since they were down to 8 with Texas and Oklahoma sitting at the table as money eating monsters.
The conference invited West Virginia from the BIG EAST and TCU from the MOUNTAIN WEST to stay at 10.
It was speculated they would try to expand further to have the conference title game playable, which was at that time forbidden for conference below 12 members, but the rule was dropped, and all interested teams were ignored.

The ATLANTIC COAST did add Pittsburg, Syracuse and a bit later Louisville from the BIG EAST to become a 14 teams conference with Maryland leaving.

The BIG EAST lost 5 teams, West Virginia, Pittsburg, Syracuse, Louisville, Rutgers and became instable. The tension between the basketball-oriented schools and the football oriented schools became that huge, that basically the conference did split up. The Basketball schools did stay in the new BIG EAST, which eliminated the conference from football, and the football teams did form the AMERICAN ATHLETICS. The AAC did add UCF, Houston, Memphis, SMU, East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa from the C-USA.

The MOUNTAIN WEST lost BYU to independence, TCU to the BIG-12 and Utah to the PAC-12, but gained members from the WAC by adding Boise State, San Jose State, Fresno State, Nevada, Utah State and Hawaii. By that, they did grow bigger and became the 2nd strongest conference in the group of 5.

CONFERENCE USA did lose UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU in 2013, and East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa in 2014. They did fill the ranks from the SUN BELT by adding Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Middle Tennessee, North Texas and Western Kentucky. Plus, they added from the WAC Louisiana Tech and UT-San Antonio and also from FCS Charlotte and Old Dominion.
It was a huge make-over of the conference.

The WESTERN ATHLETIC did basically stopped being a FBS-Football-Conference by losing such many teams.

And the SUN BELT did fill up their ranks by digging deep into the FCS and was able to save the conference over the years. But they were close to also leaving for good the FBS Conferences. They only survived, because so many FCS teams wanted to jump to FBS at that time.

The only conference basically not effected by the whole circulation was the MID AMERICAN, which stayed untouched.

OK, that was longer than expected.

Bottom line is, a lot of teams did move and NOW the next movement is coming, and we are not finished, which is why I can't give you a such compact overview as of 2010-2014.

What do we know so far?

It all started, when the shocking news came in about Oklahoma and Texas would leave the BIG-12 to join the SEC.
Why was that shocking?
Because Oklahoma and Texas ARE the BIG-12, they are the big programs, the 2 teams bullying the rest, for money and prestige, recruits and all other stuff. And they did announce they leave.
After some time, the reason became clear. The money is greener and bigger inside the SEC than it can ever be inside the BIG-12, so at the end the teams had to decide whether they wanted to be the biggest fishes inside the mediocre conference or bigger fishes inside the biggest conference. They did choose the later.

This news did not create many actions in the 1st place, but of course, if 2 teams of a 10-team conference leave, the conference has to act. So, it was clear there would be changes coming.
And then it was said that BYU would join from independent status and that also UCF, Cincinnati and Houston would join from the AMERICAN ATHLETIC.

Then there was the next shock, that UCLA and USC would leave the PAC-12 for the BIG-10. Another big move, which subtracts 2 big programs from the west coast to join also a bigger conference for money (of course).

It became a wild speculation what the reaction would be and how the conference will regain strength. Well, a few weeks ago the answer become clear.
It started when Colorado did announce to return to the BIG-12.
Then Arizona was announced and a bit later Arizona State and Utah to do the same.
If you know the structure of the PAC-12 you know NOW, ALL teams from the south are gone by then.
And then came the info, that Oregon and Washington will leave for the BIG-10, on top.

That leaves the PAC-12 long-term with right now 4 Teams, which likely don't know what to do.
They are not THAT attractive but are also bound to multi-million-dollar-income to finance large athletic programs.
Income, the smaller conference can't provide, and so far the bigger ones did NOT call out to absorb them, too.
There are rumors the ACC might look for Stanford and Cal, maybe even the others, but so far nothing final.

Sure is that the AMERICAN ATHLETIC had to fill some spots from the leaving teams and they did again plunder the CONFERENCE USA, gaining Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, UAB, North Texas, Rice, and UTSA. A big loss for the CUSA.

The SUN BELT absorbed in addition CUSA-teams, Southern Miss, Old Dominion and Marshall. And they got FCS Team James Madison.

The CONFERENCE USA did add independent Liberty, New Mexico State and added 3 FCS teams, Jacksonville State, Sam Houston and later Kennesaw State.

The ATLANTIC COAST is so far not affected, thanks to some long-term running contracts. But it is expected that the big teams will look at the developments and will decide what to do. They are right now in the risk to lose ground to the other big programs and if that happens, the shot for national title would shrink. So, it is expected that something happens, once the legal aspects are sorted out and a move can be done with a positive development for the moving team. In fact, Florida State did already spread some anger and discomfort info and did also hire several lawyers to get through those binding contracts. Some other teams are in rumor to be on the list for the right now to be called 'winning' conferences, so BIG10 and SEC, but of course, that will take time. Also, no info on additions.

And also the MOUNTAIN WEST was so far spared by the movements, but it is expected that several teams would move, or that the conference would make a move, once the things get hotter.
With the PAC-12 basically almost done, it's more likely to see the MWC absorbing something remaining, of the PAC-12, than teams moving out. Washington State and Oregon State would make sense, but the money will be an issue, so either the teams have to invent themselves new, the conference generates more money, or the teams will look elsewhere, with not many options so far.

Why do I tell all this?

Because this season is a big one, where the first part of the transition will be visible quite heavily. It's not all set and done, but the conferences will already look different, and some teams will have a shot at a title they were so far not able to win, and some teams will have the last shot for a title they will never win again.

Where to start?

Well, I thought I do start again with the weakest (at least for me) conference and get to the top. I will also not spam the conference in the next 2 weeks, I will preview just a few per week, so this will take a while.

Conference USA

Well, it's not a good time to be the commissioner of the CUSA.
Gone are UAB, FAU, Charlotte, UNT, Rice and UTSA, all to the AAC.
But a few spaces were filled by FCS teams, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston, and Independent Teams, Liberty (not long ago a FCS team) and New Mexico State.
That leave in total 9 teams inside the conference, which is OK, but does not look good in a market were 10+ teams in a conference seems to be a healthy region.
No divisions this season and likely an overall weaker conference, even some of the additions did win against quite good FBS teams in the past, or even did win against very good teams.

With so many new faces the predictions will be a dice throw, but I think 2 teams do right now look like the best contenders for a title. Which one you prefer most is your decision and what aspects you value most.

Western Kentucky is under the watch of Tyson Helton, now in his 5th season. He won a division once, but had 9 wins in 3 of 4 seasons so far and won 3 of 4 bowl trips.
The teams, who did beat the Hilltoppers in the past few seasons and preventing conferences title game spots or the title itself are gone.
The team does return some crucial parts on offense and defense and does look like a sure thing. The OC did change, which might have an impact, but overall, this team looks like this will by their year.

If not for Liberty, joining the conference. Liberty had a really terrific start in their live as FBS team. 1st season was already 6-6, but a coach change to Hugh Freeze (now Auburn HC since this season) did elevate the team as Indy team to 34-16 record, including a 3-1 bowl record. Some established FBS teams did not see a bowl since years and Liberty did win it all. Highlight was 2020 with 10-1. But that success did lead to the coach going away and the program hired Jamey Chadwell from Coastal Carolina as successor. He was very successful with his old team, so likely the Flames with surprising deep pockets (likely the deepest of all CUSA) WILL win the CUSA at some point, but maybe not this season. There are not many returning starters this season, which means Chadwell cannot rely on experience and just fine tune the squads, he will have to build his team from within, which might become also a strength, since by that all positions are up for grab and those best suited and fitting will likely flourish and by that also the team will do so. The Flames have a good shot for all, at least for the finale.

Middle Tennessee is one of those programs which do rollercoaster up and down, based on recruits and how they develop. Rick Stockstill is in his 18th season and he did see it all. He won a conference long ago (at that time the team was in Sun Belt), won a division (CUSA), won many games (109) and lost almost as much (103), had 10 Bowl trips, won 4 of them, which is not bad as Sun Belt or CUSA team. The past 2 seasons the team was quite good, won 7+ games, won 2 Bowls in a row, and with the heavy changes inside the conference the team should be primed to have a winning season at least, maybe more. Problem is, they do not return many starters, especially on offense, including the QB. So, it's again the recruits and the last season backups who will lead the way the Blue Raiders will play. The coach should bring in the experience.

New Mexico State was one of the worst programs since 2005, if you subtract last season. 2004 was Tony Samuel not renewed after 8 seasons with a 34–57 record, the last was 5-6. At that time the team was not good, but not too bad. Then came Hal Mumme (4 seasons, 11–38), DeWayne Walker (4 seasons, 10–40) and Doug Martin (9 seasons, 25–74, but somehow 1 time a winning season, including a bowl win, which explains the long contract time) with basically bad seasons after bad seasons. Last season Jerry Kill came in and won in his 1st season 7 games, including a bowl. Well, I guess Aggies fans are excited and want more of the sympathetic coach and his team. The team moved in the conference this season, last year they were Indy, which means some stuff will get easier, some tougher. The offense should be ok, if not good with a bunch of returners, including the QB, defense will have to be rebuilded, which might become a problem. The team could surprise all, but that is valid for all directions. I think Kill will form a good unit, the rest is up to the players to execute well.

Sonny Cumbie did win with his new team, Louisiana Tech, 3 games last season, but through the off-season did get many transfers, so likely the team will be better this year. Many of the improvements are on offense, but the main question will be, whether the not-so-good-defense of last season will get the points allowed and yardage gained numbers down to a healthy level, since only then the team can escape the just-score-circle of death they had last year. They had many games last season with 30+ points allowed, which did kill them.

Now let's have a look at UTEP. Dana Dimel is now in his 6th season and did save his contract in 2021 with a 7-win seasons. But last year the team did not build on that, instead it fell to 5 wins. They have one of the best QBs in the CUSA back, so potentially the team might get into the winning zone, if only the rest of the team would improve. Likely the season will be on the line in the last 3 weeks, when they host the likely 2 toughest teams and travel to Middle Tennessee. Could even decide the fate of the coach himself.

Jacksonville State is new inside the conference and FBS. They have Rich Rodriguez as HC, the guy who once was supposed to win at Michigan after great seasons with West Virginia, but who was fired after 3 seasons, landed at Arizona, where he was fired because of some sexual harassing allegations. After that he did get some OC jobs until he became the HC of Jacksonville State on FCS level, where he had a 9-2 season. Now he has to adjust the team to the FBS, in a weak conference, which should help. The sorting here does only reflect my doubts on how the team will have an impact, they COULD run the table early on, or they might some seasons to get into the mix, on talent and strength. Usually FCS-teams need some time to become better, but they were already quite good, but lost to Tulsa big time.

Then there is Sam Houston, another former FCS team. K. C. Keeler is in this 10th season and can now bring his team to FBS level. He won several conference titles on FCS level with the team and the national title in 2020. But last season was only 5-4 for the Bearkats, likely because they did plan already for 2023 and redshirted some potential starters. So, everything is possible, they could land here or much better.

FIU was a mess the past few seasons. They did react and hired Mike MacIntyre last year, a longtime coach at Colorado and San Jose State, guiding both teams to 10 win seasons once. And the Panthers, who did win only 1 game in 2 seasons, did react and won 4. Unfortune, injuries and outgoing transfers did weaken the team on paper, so if no one does surprisingly step up, an improvement from 4 wins will be tough.

Sun Belt Conference

The Sun Belt did last season see some changes, they added James Madison from FCS, Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss from CUSA.
James Madison did almost win the East Division, had enough wins for a Bowl and went almost to the Championship, but they ended up in a tie with Coastal Carolina for the Division and their transition status prevented any post season activities.
The other new teams did shake up the standings, but likely most surprising was the Rocket-like rise of Troy to win the Championship after a sub-.500-season a year before.
This season no change in the teams setup, and James Madison is still not eligible to win a Championship or to play a bowl.

The Conference has still 2 Divisions, East and West.
The predictions for the division titles are quite open, but usually for the East James Madison, Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina are named to win the most games, with Marshall as dark horse. Since JMU is not eligible, to play in the Championship game, this would be only be the division title, but the next in line team would participate in the Championship game.
And on the West usually it's Troy, South Alabama and then Louisiana and Southern Miss.
Hard to say, which team might become #1 in each division.

I think James Madison really has all the tools to win the division, since they have a quite stable line and Curt Cignetti in his 5th season as HC only needs to find a good QB replacement. Some transfers should help here. But of course, if that backfires, the Dukes will have to play a good running game and defense.

I would put Marshall at 2nd, with Charles Huff as HC in his 3rd season to make it or break it. The units did good in the past, a lot of transfers did come in to strengthen the team. Only concern might be the schedule with tough road trips.

At 3rd we might see Coastal Carolina, now under a new HC, Tim Beck, a longtime assistant coach, in the past few years the OC of Nebraska, Ohio State, Texas and NC State. He did not stay long on neither of the teams, so no sure what to expect here. It's his 1st gig as HC and he inherits a teams which made a terrific debut on FBS level and the Sun Belt. All expect him to lead the team to the same level, if not higher, but chances are also good the team will collapse. The talent is there, it will heavily depend on Becks integration, whether CCU will compete this season, or not.

At 4th I would put Appalachian State, with Shawn Clark in his 4th full season as HC. The Mountaineers had a great season 2 years ago, dropped to 6-6 last year and are expected to improve again. Overall, the team should be better this season and if they can convert close losses to wins, they will compete for sure.

Georgia Southern did hire Clay Helton as HC last season and now in his 2nd season the improvements should be even higher. But some makeovers on the roster will likely make live a bit tougher than expected, so either Helton can fix issues fast during the season or we will see less wins than last year. I think he can do it.

Shawn Elliott is now in his 7th season with Georgia State and had one of the worst results since a long time. The defense will be a project, the offense should be OK. Most will depend on how the new faces will be integrated on defense and whether the team will lose again so many games by a few points.

And Old Dominion with Ricky Rahne in his 4th season, but thanks to covid only 3 played seasons, is projected to have another losing season. Some key players did transfer out and the incoming players have to be integrated. It would be a surprise to see the team winning more than last season, but we will see.

In the West the I prefer South Alabama under Kane Wommack in his 3rd season to win the division title again, but this time ahead of Troy to play for the Championship. The defense is almost intact from last season and the offense returns the key starters, especially at QB. Key game will be the Troy-game, this season on the road starting of November.

Troy will do their best to get back to the Championship game and win it again. Jon Sumrall did turn the team around in his 1st season and won it all. The team is almost as intact as South Alabama, so it will depend on, whether the team can compensate the loss of the 2 best wide outs within a mediocre offense. If the offense in total makes a jump, especially on QB, they will likely be again the top team, but that's a big IF.

Will Hall is now in his 3rd season at Southern Miss and the team will likely be better this season. Last year was 7-6, including a bowl win, and the team did get some interesting transfers. Main focus will be Frank Gore Jr., star RB in the making. If the team can make lanes and play tough defense, they might have a chance to compete for a title.

At 4th I see Louisiana, now in the 2nd season under Michael Desormeaux. They have a good team, a good schedule, which should net them some extra wins, where other teams will have a hard time, and the makeover of the team should be progressed much further. Still, I have some doubts, since the top teams in the division are very good on defense.

It seems, Butch Jones, now in his 3rd season with the team, has lost his Mojo at Arkansas State. The team had some great seasons in the past decade, so there is no reason why the team should not be in bowl regions or better. But Jones has won so far 5 games in 2 seasons. This season again some makeover is needed, hence likely the will win some more game, but less than a bowl trip would demand.

Texas State made a small splash in the coaching market, when they hired G. J. Kinne at age of 34 away from just one season as HC at Incarnate Word, a FCS program, where he had a terrific season at 12-2 going to the semis of the playoffs, last year. He is one of those next-hot-coaches and Texas State hopes to have him long enough to establish the program as one of the top programs inside the Sun Belt. Th program has all the tools, but needs some makeover. Likely we will see the effort to establish a high-power-offense, which will start and end with a QB. Some SEC transfers are destined to do that. Overall the program will likely not sky-rocket to the top, but it will be fun to watch.

Last in line is Louisiana-Monroe, under Terry Bowden in his 3rd season. The team did win 4 games in each of the seasons, whether they will win more is open for this season. The offense should be better this season, but the defense is a project and only time will tell, whether Bowden was able to fix it.

And then there is the real reason to start the blog again. The season will start again with the now already traditional week 0 / week zero matchups.

This year we have a quite unique game at week zero, with Notre Dame playing in Dublin, Ireland. And they start the season with the rivalry game against Navy.


Sat. Aug 26
Navy @ #13 Notre Dame
Navy - Notre Dame is a long-lasting rivalry, with 95 meetings so far, annually since 1927, only broken 2020 because of covid.
It was played in Ireland twice so far, 1996 and 2012.
Notre Dame leads the series 79-13-1, with the Midshipmen winning the game the last time in 2016.
It's hard to see Navy winning this year, the teams do aim in different directions.
Navy had some bad seasons lately, which led to coaching change and Brian Newberry, DC of the Midshipmen for the past 3 seasons, did get the job, when Ken Niumatalolo was let go after 15 seasons with the team and 3 losing seasons in a row.
Newberry will have a hard time to turn things around quickly if that's possible.
On the other hand, we have Notre Dame, who lost their long standing HC last year and selected a young DC as successor. Marcus Freeman won 9 games last year and the expectations are, to win more. Whether the team can do that is open, but for sure the level of talent and the momentum is much better with the Irish.
Week zero is always tricky, since you have to get your players into playing mood and make them click as a unit and sometimes on the 1st gameday this clicking is not there, or not enough.
But an upset would be a great trick by the Midshipmen.
The betting line is -20.5 right now for the Irish.
I'm not sure how the game will play out, but a new coach, road trip, 1st game, foreign country ... I don't see the Midshipmen in position to really break the Irish here.
We might see some funny game, but I think we will see ...
Irish win.

Ohio @ San Diego State
For a few days, San Diego State was in the chatter to become a PAC-12 team. And then the PAC-12 did collapse and maybe the remaining PAC-12 teams will become Mountain West teams.
Here we have a Mid-American vs Mountain West game, and clearly SDSU is favored, but only by 3.5 points.
The reason is, Tim Albin, HC of Ohio, did turn Ohio around in 2 seasons and expectations are, they will stay on the level.
And a good MAC team can challenge a mediocre Mountain West team for sure. Brady Hoke is in his 4th season and HC of SDSU and he had good results, but the team dropped to 7-6, including a bowl loss, last seasons. Will they rebound?
Nobody knows.
All I know is, they play in San Diego, which will be a challenge for the team from Ohio.
The rest is speculation.
I think the home team will have a hard time, but ....
Aztecs win.

Hawai'i @ Vanderbilt
Last year did Timmy Changs Hawaii win 3 games and lost the week zero game against Vanderbilt, at home. This season is his 2nd and of course expectations are there to have some kind of improvement over the 3 wins.
A win against Vanderbilt, this year on the road, is likely not the cause. Clark Lea is in his 3rd season with the Commodores and has shown some improvements over the 2 seasons and to be clear, the program expects some more and for that you need to get the team on a level, where wins against group-of-5-conference teams, especially against the weaker ones, are a must.
So, 2 teams, likely on the rise, but with likely different speed, since Vanderbilt can recruit in the SEC territories, with SEC money and facilities, while the Rainbows have the island, but not much more.
The betting line is -17.5 in favor of Vanderbilt.
Upsets do happen, but in this case I doubt it WILL happen.
Commodores win.

And the other interesting games are (all of then, there are not too many):

UTEP @ Jacksonville State
Both teams are expected to be close in terms of strength, Jacksonville State will play at home their 1st FBS game ever. It will likely come down to motivation and preparation.
The betting line is EVEN, which does not happen often.
In doubt the home team, right?
Gamecocks win.

UMass @ New Mexico State
A bad team visits a team, which was bad, but did hire a good coach and seems to get better. Well, I will not UMass on the road, for sure.
The Aggies are 6.5 point favorite, which looks OK, but for me not enough.
Aggies win.

San Jose State @ #6 USC
A mediocre to good MWC team visits the pre-season ranked #6 team of the country under a very hot coach ....
Let me think ....
I did guess the betting line would be -14.0 to be polite, but betting is business, so the line is not polite, it's -31.0 USC.
Trojans win.

Florida International @ Louisiana Tech
One of the worst teams of the past few seasons visits another bad team of the past. Both with 2nd year coaches, both hard to predict regarding changes and progress.
Well, I did preview FIU to be the worst team in the CUSA and as do many more, so it fits the betting line is in favor or LT by 11.0 points.
Bulldogs win.

Overall, not a very interesting week zero and no real BIG game.
Even the Notre Dame - Navy game is only nice, especially because of the location, but not something big as in the past few seasons.
Well, at least the season starts again.

'Til next time

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