Highlights: CSJ FBS Group of Five Top Five Games and Recap of Week 3

Marshall Celebrating Opening TD in Win over App State, 17-7 (Courtesy of Marshall Athletics)

While there was a number of great match-ups in all of college football this weekend, the biggest news of the week was the return to play of the Power Five’s Big 10 Conference.

The news of the Big 10 returning has the two Group of Five leagues that canceled five weeks ago contemplating on their return to play plans.

The two Group of Five leagues that canceled in the first part of August were the Mountain West and Mid-American Conferences. There are currently no official plans for those two leagues to resume play but signs are pointing to a similar October 24th weekend start to the season with conference only play for these two weeks.

The MAC presidents met Saturday to discuss their return to play but no vote has taken place as of yet but are scheduled to reconvene next week.

The Mountain West has not held a reported meeting as of yet and there are some questions with Hawai’i with its state 14-day COVID 19 quarantine period for football but this seems to be resolved as the state is set to lift these requirements by Oct. 15th. Air Force was given an exemption to play its Command-In-Chief trophy rivals of Army and Navy so they may not want to play a MWC schedule that would interrupt these two games. And the state of California also has both the strict COVID 19 rules, as well as much of the state is fighting devastating forest fires currently so Fresno State, San Jose State and San Diego State could be in question but reports from these schools seem to indicate they are a go.

The other Power Five Conference in the Pac-12 is also meeting next week to decide if it will restart.

The Oct. 24th weekend appears to be the last weekend to make a go at this season with the College Football Playoff announcement coming on Dec. 20th this year. This would allow for a conference championship game to be played on Dec. 19th after eight conference games.

We shall see if these leagues restart most likely within the next week.

But on the field currently, the American, Conference USA, and Sun Belt Conferences, along with independents of Army, BYU, and Liberty are already in action and this weekend, we saw a number of close games, surprises, and upsets this week.

Knights Beating a Power Five Again

UCF started its season this week with a road contest at the ACC’s Georgia Tech, who had one its first game at conference foe Florida State in Week 2. QB Dillon Gabriel threw for a career-best 417 yards and four touchdowns, leading the AP No. 14 Knights to a 49-21 victory over the unranked Yellow Jackets.

The win for UCF was its third in its last five games against a Power Five league opponent.

UCF is coming off a three-loss season in 2019 but seem to have all the ingredients to make a return trip to a New Year’s Six Bowl game like it did in 2017 and 2018.

Gabriel looks like the perfect quarterback for the up-tempo Knight offense to get UCF possibly even to the College Football Playoff. He has plenty of weapons at his disposal. WR Marlon Williams had 10 catches for 154 yards, and WR Jaylon Robinson added six catches for 105 yards. Both came up big after lead receiver Tre Nixon left the game after landing hard on his shoulder making a 25-yard TD catch in the first half and didn’t return in the second half.

UCF, however, will later have to tangle with Cincinnati and Memphis in what might be one of the top four conferences in all of the FBS.

Ragin’ Cajuns Eke Out Sun Belt Opener

Louisiana was ranked in the AP poll for the first time this past week since 1943. The chances, however, looked dim for the 19th ranked team in that poll to stay there after falling behind Georgia State on the road for both team’s conference opener.

The Ragin’ Cajuns were coming into this game after its opening game win at the Big 12’s Iowa State–the first road win over a ranked team. And the team was flat to begin the game.

Louisiana trailed 14-7 at intermission and QB Levi Lewis then threw an interception on the opening drive of the second half. Georgia State, who was playing its season opener, quickly used that to take a 21-7 lead.

But the Cajuns were able to come back.

QB Levi Lewis, who completed 21 of 37 passes for 279 yards, rolled left to complete a 4-yard touchdown pass that cut the lead to 21-14 midway through the third quarter.

RB Elijah Mitchell burst free down the left side for two long gains on the next two Cajun possessions; a 59-yard touchdown run that tied it at 21 late in the third, and a 53-yard run early in the fourth that set up Trey Ragas’ 2-yard touchdown run for Louisiana to take a brief lead.

Georgia State tied it at 28 on Coates’ 4-yard run with 7:37 remaining. The two defenses stiffened the rest of regulation play to send the game to an extra period.

In overtime, Mitchell ran 12 yards around the right side and was untouched as he crossed the goal line for the final score. He finished with 16 carries.

“I think human nature, when everybody’s patting you on the back, maybe you relax a little bit,” Louisiana Coach Billy Napier said after this game. “I feel like we practiced well. I feel like practice was up to par. I do think that, no matter what, some of that has a residual effect on you. I think it’s important we learned a good lesson here.”

Thundering Herd Show Up for Showcase Game

Earlier this week, the main network of CBS announced it would showcase the Appalachian State at Marshall game. The game did not disappoint a national audience that typically watches the best Southeastern Conference game of the week on the national network especially if you like a more defensive game like me.

The game was seen (at least by me) to be a showcase for Appalachian State, who I thought had a very good chance at an undefeated season but instead, I was impressed by the Thundering Herd and its 17-7 win over the Mountaineers.

App State, who has won the Sun Belt championship the past three seasons, were held to their fewest points since moving from FCS to FBS in 2014.

Offensively, App State’s 96 rushing yards were the lowest output in the past six seasons.

Defensively, the Mountaineers have won 29 consecutive games when surrendering fewer than 200 rushing yards, but Marshall knocked that statistic out of relevance with 216 yards on the ground.

The Herd put together a seven-play, 51-yard drive mostly by done by RB Brenden Knox, which gave Marshall an early 7-0 advantage.

Appalachian State quickly answered Knox’s opening-drive score, marching 85 yards on 11 plays before QB Zac Thomas found WR Jalen Virgil on an 11-yard pass in the left side of the end zone to tie it at 7-7.

Those were the only touchdowns in the opening half, but Herd K Shane Ciucci booted a career-long 29-yard field goal with 2:28 left of the second quarter that was set up by CB Steven Gimore’s interception of App State QB Zac Thomas took the 3-point margin into halftime.

R-Fr. QB Grant Wells scored on a 12-yard run late in the third quarter and Marshall’s defense came up with stop after stop in the second half.

App State did cause a few of their own misery with turnovers and a missed field goal, however.

Marshall defeated a ranked opponent for the first time since winning at 6th ranked Kansas State in 2003. It also was the Thundering Herd’s first victory over a ranked opponent at home since 1976.

Upset in Bowling Green, Kentucky

I will have to be honest that I did not see this one coming. Western Kentucy, who I selected to win the Conference USA title in my preseason picks, had just lost to the ACC’s Louisville.

A tough loss but one that is understandable to a AP Top 25 ranked team on the road.

I did not see a loss to Independent Liberty coming this week though.

But that is just what happened.

Malik Willis rushed for 168 yards and three touchdowns in his Liberty debut as the Flames opened their season with a 30-24 victory over Western Kentucky on Saturday.

Willis, a backup quarterback at Auburn for two seasons before transferring and sitting out last year, ran for two short touchdowns in the first half and added an 18-yard run early in the fourth quarter for a 30-17 lead. He had 21 carries and threw for 133 yards on 13-of-21 passing.

Tyrrell Pigrome, a grad transfer from Maryland where he started seven games over four years, threw three touchdown passes, including a 36-yard score to Craig Burt Jr. to get the Hilltoppers within 30-24 with three minutes left.

Liberty, however, was able to run out the final minutes on the clock to secure the road victory.

Navy Rebounds in Second Half

Navy, which lost its season opener 55-3 to BYU two weeks ago, ran just two plays in Tulane territory in the first half and looked in danger of being blown out again late in the second quarter.

Tulane threatened to build on a 24-0 lead before an interception by Tulane QB Keon Howard at the Navy 3. The turnover looked far more consequential as the game wore on and Navy stunningly seized control in the second half, when the Midshipmen outgained the Green Wave 291 yards to 82.

Navy RB Jamale Carothers rushed for 125 yards and K Bijan Nichols booted a 33-yard field goal as time expired to seal the come-from-behind win 27-24. It was the largest comeback in Navy history on Saturday.

COVID 19 Lost Games this Week

Tulsa was able to reschedule this week after its Week 2 game was postponed and the Golden Hurricane nearly pulled off the upset over in-state rival and Top 15 ranked Oklahoma State. But Tulsa was not able to get the win in a 16-7 loss.

While that game was played, five others involving Group of Five squads were lost this week including Charlotte at North Carolina, BYU at Army, Houston at Baylor (Houston was originally slated to face Memphis but it was canceled and this game was scheduled earlier this week after Baylor lost its game with Louisiana Tech last week), Florida Atlantic at Georgia Southern, and FCS Central Arkansas at Arkansas State.

Next week has already lost at least one more. Memphis will lose its second consecutive game next week at UTSA. That game is canceled and Memphis, instead will face FCS Stephen F. Austin on Nov. 11. The cancellation of this game brings the total number of games canceled or postponed since Week 1 to 18 games so far (not including schedule changed games that were previously announced in early August due to conference scheduling changes).

Top Five Games of the Week

Below are my top five Group of Five games of the week with highlights and a full recap of the game in the hyperlink.

The first being a big early season Conference USA West Division clash that just might decide that division’s winner were Louisiana Tech overcame a 17-point deficit to win on the road at Southern Miss.

1. Louisiana Tech 31 Southern Miss 30(Hattiesburg, Miss.)

2. Louisiana 34 Georgia Stat 31 (OT) (Atlanta, Ga.)

3. Navy 27 Tulane 24 (New Orleans, La.)

4. Liberty 30 Western Kentucky (Bowling Green, Ky.)

5. Marshall 17 Appalachian State 7 (Huntington, W.V.)

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