Dee Hart

Which Group of Five school had the most impressive Week 1?

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The College Football Playoff selection committee will guarantee one spot in a big revenue bowl game at the end of the season to the highest-ranked conference champion from the so-called Group of Five — American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference, Sun Belt Conference. With no team from any of those conferences starting the season ranked in the top 25 polls, it was crucial for one team to step up and state its case for consideration early on. The opening weekend of the college football season saw more whiffs than home runs by schools fighting for that big bowl game at the end of the year.

Boise State and Utah State, perhaps two of the perceived leading contenders, came up small in their battles with SEC schools. Boise State was taken down by Ole Miss on a neutral field in Atlanta on Thursday night. On Sunday night Chuckie Keeton and Utah State were rolled by Tennessee in Knoxville. If either Boise State or Utah State would have won, they would have become the leader in the clubhouse for the guaranteed bowl spot. So who had the most impressive season debut from each of the Group of Five conferences? Is there a favorite at this point?

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

The favorites in the AAC did not get off to a great start this season. Houston was embarrassed by UTSA in the grand opening of Houston’s new football stadium. Defending champion UCF was sloppy for most of the afternoon in Ireland against Penn State. A change at quarterback gave the Knights a spark and UCF took a late lead on the Nittany Lions but a field goal by Penn State as time expired dropped UCF to 0-1. Cincinnati, the media’s preseason favorite, did not play this weekend due to some bizarre scheduling. East Carolina held up their end of the bargain with a home blowout of a FCS program, but you don’t win points for that.

Temple may have had the most impressive season debut out of the American Athletic Conference. The Owls opened on Thursday night on the road at Vanderbilt. After sitting through a lengthy weather delay, Matt Rhule‘s program blew away Vanderbilt and ruined Derek Mason’s debut on Nashville. Temple gets a chance to build on that start this weekend at home against a Navy team that gave Ohio State a battle until the fourth quarter.

CONFERENCE USA

In the opening weekend of the season Conference USA teams did not fare well against power conference competition, but the conference did score some big wins by picking on other Group of Five conferences, which is equally important in this conversation. UTSA’s win against Houston raised plenty of eyebrows and has thrown UTSA into contender status in Conference USA as a result. Perhaps just as shocking was Western Kentucky’s blowout of defending MAC champion and 2014 favorite Bowling Green. UTSA’s victory over Houston on the road against an offense that is supposed to put up plenty of yards and points may be the more complete victory in my book, but Western Kentucky smacking around Bowling Green the way they did should not go unmentioned. These two wins alone may have been enough to suggest Conference USA is ahead of the MAC early on. Conference USA is still full of young, growing programs though so let’s see how the season plays out.

MAC

The two most convincing victories in the MAC this weekend happened to come against a pair of FCS opponents. Akron and Northern Illinois had no problems with their season-opening opponents, but they will hardly do anything to convince voters to place them above the performances of schools like Temple, UTSA or Western Kentucky (naturally). There was one MAC contest played this weekend, resulting in Ohio getting a jump in the standings following a road win at Kent State.

MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE

On a weekend that saw Boise State, Utah State and Fresno State all lose to power conference opponents, Colorado State’s win against Colorado could not have come at a better time. Colorado State’s 31-17 victory over in-state rival Colorado put on display every reason why the Rams are expected to make a run in the Mountain West Conference this season. Having Dee Hart at running back will be a nice luxury after rushing for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Colorado may not be a great program, but Colorado State will take it. The Rams, right now, may be at the top of the pack among Group of Five contenders thinking about the big bowl reservation.

SUN BELT

It was not a great weekend for the Sun Belt Conference. Louisiana Monroe’s home victory over a weak Wake Forest team may be the best victory in the books in week one. Georgia Southern nearly pulled an upset at North Carolina State, which would have been the top win among Sun Belt teams this weekend. If not ULM, then Texas State should probably get the nod following a 65-0 victory over Arkansas Pine-Bluff, but again, no points for blowouts of cupcakes, even in the Sun Belt.

WHAT ABOUT BYU?

Under the new structure of the College Football Playoff and the associated bowls, there is not automatic way for BYU to be invited to the party. BYU is not eligible to be considered for the reserved spot among Group of Five champions, even if the Cougars are ranked and no Group of Five conference champion is ranked. BYU’s only way to gain a spot in the bowl rotation is to 1) be selected to play in the College Football Playoff as a semifinalist or 2) be selected as an at-large team in the remaining bowl spots that are open after conference champions and automatic bids are selected.

BYU had one of the most impressive wins of the weekend from any school not in a power conference, dominating UConn in Connecticut. It was just the Huskies, but it was a show of dominance by Taysom Hill and the Cougars that would fare well with any other victory from the Group of Five schools on the opening weekend.

UNLV goes Ivy in replacing RBs coach poached by North Carolina

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 12:  Members of UNLV Rebels marching band perform in the stands during UNLV's game against the Wyoming Cowboys at Sam Boyd Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. UNLV won 69-66 in triple overtime.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Raided by the ACC, UNLV has officially turned its eyes to the Ivy League for its coaching replacement.

Travis Burkett, the football program has announced, has been hired the Rebels’ running backs coach.  Burkett will replace DeAndre Smith, who left last week for a job at North Carolina.

Smith had been with Tony Sanchez‘s program for just three months or so, coming to Las Vegas by way of Purdue.

The past 10 seasons, Burkett served as an assistant at Cornell.  Prior to that, he was a graduate assistant at Bucknell.

This will be Burkett’s first job at any capacity at the FBS level.  His new employer added the following in announcing his addition:

At UNLV, Burkett inherits a rushing attack that stood 15th in the nation last fall with 241.5 yards per game, which ranked fourth in program history and was the most since 1979. All three of the team’s top rushers return in 2017.

Vandy turns to familiar face to fill coaching role of assistant fighting cancer

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 22:  Josh Crawford #22 of the Vanderbilt Commodores celebrates a touchdown against the Tennessee State Tigers scored by teammate Trent Sherfield #10 during the second half at Vanderbilt Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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With an assistant fighting a significant health issue, Derek Mason has turned to someone very familiar with the Vanderbilt football program to fill the coaching void.

Vandy confirmed Monday that Warren Belin has been hired as the Commodores’ outside linebackers coach. Belin will, at least temporarily, replace Osia Lewis, who stepped down from his job as he battles liver cancer. Lewis will transition into an of-field role within the program as he fights the disease.

The announcement came on the same day Vandy kicked off spring practice.

From 2002 through 2009, Belin was Vandy’s linebacker’s coach under Bobby Johnson. He was at Wake Forest in the same role from 2013-15.

Last season, he was with the Demon Deacons in an off-field role as director of high school relations.

Blocked from Pitt and Syracuse, Gus Edwards’ transfer from Miami to Rutgers is official

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 13:  Gus Edwards #7 of the Miami Hurricanes rushes for a touchdown during a game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Sunlife Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In opting to leave Miami in late January, Gus Edwards was restricted by the university from transferring to two of his top choices in Pittsburgh and Syracuse as they were on this coming season’s schedule. A little over a month later, the Staten Island native, who wanted to transfer and move closer to home as he was a new father, has found his new college football home in the same area of the country.

On its official Twitter account earlier Monday, Rutgers announced that Edwards has transferred into the Scarlet Knights football program. As Edwards will be coming in as a graduate transfer, he’ll be eligible to play immediately in 2017.

The upcoming season will be the running back’s final year of eligibility.

Edwards was third on the team this past season in rushing with 290 yards. For his Hurricanes career, the 6-1, 230-pound back ran for 977 yards and 12 touchdowns on 186 carries.

A foot injury suffered in summer camp cost Edwards the entire 2015 season. He received a medical redshirt for that season.

Mississippi State announces contract extension for Dan Mullen

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 5:  Head coach Dan Mullen of the Mississippi State Bulldogs celebrates with fans after the end of an NCAA college football game at Davis Wade Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Starkville, Mississippi. Mississippi State beat the Texas A&M Aggies 35-28. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
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With its Egg Bowl rivals knee/neck-deep in controversy — and with said rival reportedly trying to bring it down as well at one point — Mississippi State has taken the time to put a positive face on the current state of its football program.

The Bulldogs announced Monday night that they have reached an agreement on a four-year contract extension with head football coach Dan Mullen.  The new deal means Mullen is signed through February of 2021.

According to the school, Mullen’s financial package will be $4.5 million for 2017.  Mullen was paid $4.2 million in 2016, a figure that was seventh in the SEC according to USA Today‘s salary database.

“I am very thankful to the University and athletic administration for their belief in me,” Mullen, the subject of myriad coaching carousel rumors the last handful of years, said in a statement. “We have built a special program over the last eight years, creating a culture where winning is expected while achieving that in the toughest division in college football. I am proud of what we have accomplished, and I am truly excited about the direction we are heading as a program. This extension allows my family a long-term future here in Starkville, a place we are proud to call home.”

Since taking over as MSU’s coach in 2009, Mullen has guided the Bulldogs to a 61-42 record overall and 29-35 in conference play.  In those eight seasons, the best divisional finish was second in 2014.  In the other seven seasons, they were either fifth (five times) or fourth (twice) in the SEC West.

The Bulldogs have gone to a bowl game each of the past seven seasons, the longest such streak in school history.  They’re also 5-3 against Ole Miss under Mullen.

“Dan has brought unprecedented success to Bulldog football and is one of the elite coaches in the country,” athletic director John Cohen said. “From a school-record seven straight bowl games to our performance in the classroom, he continues to raise the standard of excellence.”