PLAYOFF BUSTING BRONCOS?
Western Michigan is taking "Row The Boat" to new extremes.
RTB has been the mantra since P.J. Fleck took over as the Broncos' head coach in 2013. And now, in Fleck’s fourth season, the Broncos are rowing quite merrily.
Or, as Western Michigan's website said, This Boat is on Fire — referring not to burning boats but to the Broncos burning it up. For example:
- Western Michigan has won 10 consecutive games dating to last season, the second-longest in FBS behind Alabama's 19.
- The Broncos have scored at least 34 points in seven consecutive games and average 44.8 ppg, fourth in FBS.
- They are 8-0, their best start to a season since also going 8-0 in 1941.
- They are one of five unbeaten FBS teams along with Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Washington.
That last milestone puts Western Michigan in the lead for the Group of 5's berth in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2. They're the highest-ranked Group of 5 team after Boise State's 30-28 loss to Wyoming. They also moved up to No. 17 in the Associated Press Top 25 and play Ball State Tuesday night after a bye week.
So what happens if the Broncos run the table and one of the other undefeated teams lose?
It's worth asking given the rivalry games coming up in November: Alabama-Auburn, Clemson-South Carolina, Michigan-Ohio State and Washington-Washington State.
It's also worth asking because the College Football Playoff boasts "universal access." That means, according to the CFP website, "Every FBS team has equal access to the College Football Playoff based on its performance. No team automatically qualifies."
Really? So an undefeated MAC champion Western Michigan would be considered if it's one of the two, three or four remaining undefeated teams. Right?
Pardon the mixed metaphors, but that's a tough row to hoe.
"It's all relative because of the strength of schedules," said ASN analyst Jim Donnan, a Hall of Fame coach who led Marshall to the 1992 national championship in Division I-AA (FCS) and Georgia to four bowl victories.
"It's hard for a school outside the Power 5 to jump that far."
The Broncos will find out just how far they have to jump — or row — when the first College Football Playoff rankings are released Tuesday when they play Ball State.
FIRST AT FAVRE U.
With an 11-yard screen pass to Ito Smith during a 24-14 victory against Marshall Saturday on ASN, senior quarterback Nick Mullens became the all-time leading passer in Southern Miss history.
That's Southern Miss, where Brett Favre, Austin Davis and Reggie Collier among others played.
Favre entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2016 on Aug. 6 and now Mullens is in a class by himself. The first Golden Eagles quarterback to reach 11,000 yards passing (11,057), Mullens also holds the school's single-game (591 yards) and single-season (4,476 yards) records. He's four TD passes from eclipsing the school record of 83 set by Davis in 2008-11.
"AD [Austin Davis] texted me and said, ‘Easy on my records,’” Mullens told WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg, the home of Southern Miss. “And I told him, ‘Wins and championships is all that matters.’ So I’m still chasing what he’s got under his belt.”
Mullens told ASN he has also benefitted from the counsel of Favre, who pops up on campus every now and then. Last year, Mullens recalled, the Pro Football Hall of Famer addressed the Eagles before a game, telling them that football was meant to be enjoyed, and that the essence of the sport was the one-on-one competition.
And this summer, Mullens worked out with Favre.
“He’s retired, but he can still sling it,” the younger man said.
So can Mullens, who's more concerned about beating Marshall than setting records. USM improved to 5-3, including 3-1 in C-USA. The Eagles trail Louisiana Tech (6-3, 4-1) in C-USA's West Division.
"I'm just glad we won," Mullens said. "We've been greedy for a victory the past few weeks, and to finally get it. It definitely wasn't the easiest. But all other things — homecoming, the (passing) record, a pretty exciting and stressful game in the first half — it feels great (to win)."
And winning is what counts.
“The reason I committed to Southern Miss is because I knew they were going to win,” Mullens said. “I committed to Southern Miss because they’re a winning program. Those years are here.
"We have one four-game stretch to finish strong. Every day, I guess you could say we're writing our legacy. Just have to savor every moment."
EXCLAMATION POINTS FOR JAMES MADISON
James Madison's football team is keeping pace the basketball team. How?
- In eight games this season, the football team has done it twice — also 25%.
In 32 games last season, the men's basketball team scored 80 points eight times — 25%.
Talk about exclamation points!
Hey, we're not trying to stir up trouble, just pointing out a record-setting performance by the Dukes in their 84-7 CAA Football victory Saturday against Rhode Island.
They set the program record for points in a game, surpassing the 80 points scored in the season-opener against Morehead State on Sept. 3. It's also a program record for margin of victory (77).
They also set CAA Football record for most points scored in a conference game and tied the league record for conference-game win margin (77).
Quarterback Bryan Schor, CAAF's Offensive Player of the Week, passed for five touchdowns. He moved into 10th in school history with 22 touchdowns passes in 12 career starts. Schor leads CAA Football and ranks in the FCS top 10 in five categories — first in completion percentage (71.3%), third in pass efficiency (175.1), fifth in yards per pass attempt (9.39), eighth in point responsibility (138) and 10th in point responsibility per game (17.3).
President James Madison would be proud. pic.twitter.com/VVBhgH8vb8
— ESPNU (@ESPNU) October 29, 2016
"The big thing we challenged the team to do was finish the game," said JMU head coach Mike Houston. "We talked about it all this week that we haven't really finished a game since Morehead State."
The Dukes are also on a mission to finish the season on a roll. They were on a roll last year, starting 6-0 and averaging 47.1 points per game. Then a knee injury ended quarter Vad Lee's season during a 58-49 loss to Richmond. They finished 9-4, losing in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
JMU, picked third in CAA Football's preseason poll, is first in the league at 5-0, 7-1 overall heading into Saturday's game at Richmond (7-1, 4-1).
Speaking of James Madison, the Dukes moved up one spot to No. 7 in the STATS FCS Top 25.
The top six remained the same — No. 1 Sam Houston State, No. 2 Jacksonville State, No. 3 Eastern Washington, No. 4 North Dakota State, No. 5 The Citadel and No. 6 Richmond.
No. 8 Charleston Southern, No. 9 Chattanooga and No. 10 Villanova each moved up a spot to round out the Top 10.
The rankings that matter debut on Thursday when the NCAA Division I FCS selection committee releases the first of its three weekly Top 10 rankings.
Above: Western Michigan continues to row toward an undefeated season, but where the Broncos end up in the postseason is anyone's guess. (Courtesy Western Michigan Athletics)