Boise State still in front of Group of 5, but Cincy-Temple is one to watch this week

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As you no doubt know by now, the highest-ranked conference champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or Sun Belt Conference will receive an automatic spot in the New Years Six bowl line-up. The ranking used is not the AP or coaches polls, but the ranking cooked up by the College Football Playoff selection committee. Last season the big bowl spot went to Boise State. The Broncos are once again a favorite to land that bowl invitation, but one slip along the way could open a door for others.

Boise State travels to Provo, Utah this week for a big match-up with BYU. BYU does not figure into the Group of Five conversation as a football independent, but the Cougars play a key role in the outlook anyway. BYU, coming off a wild win at Nebraska and losing quarterback Taysom Hill, could be in positions for a letdown game, but the Broncos and Cougars have put together some tough contests in recent years. This week should be no different. Boise State could potentially lose this weekend and still end the year on top of the Group of Five in the eyes of the selection committee, but one loss is a slim margin for error in this race.

Perhaps Boise State’s top threat in the Group of Five race is Cincinnati, the preseason American Athletic Conference favorites. The BearCats, with Gunner Kiel, should be a program ready to make a run for a New Years Six bowl game on a fairly regular basis given the resources available to them and the overall strength of the conference. If Boise State slips, Cincinnati is next in line. But what if Cincinnati loses this weekend?

Cincinnati hosts Temple this week, with the Owls fresh off their first victory over Penn State since 1941. If Temple manages to pick up a win at Cincinnati — something last accomplished in 1985 — then the Owls may become a trendy team to follow in this season-long discussion. The schedule certainly works in Temple’s favor at least. If Temple escapes Cincinnati with a win, the Owls then have a chance to bring a 3-0 record into the bye week with a road game at UMass. In conference play, Temple does not play Houston or Navy, two potential contenders in the AAC West Division. Temple also gets Memphis and UCF at home. If Temple’s defensive performance against Penn State was a preview of things to come, each of those games could be possible wins. Temple also hosts Notre Dame on October 31, which could make for a nice little spotlight opportunity for the selection committee.

If I had to rank the top five Group of Five teams after one week of play, here is how I think the selection committee might rank them based on performance to date;

  1. Boise State
  2. Temple Owls
  3. Cincinnati Bearcats
  4. Navy
  5. Louisiana Tech

Report: Sam Darnold expected to return to USC in 2018

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Sam Darnold was appointed the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft on the second day of 2017. As a redshirt freshman, Darnold torched Penn State to the tune of 33-of-53 passing for 453 yards with five touchdowns and one interception in a 52-49 Rose Bowl win.

One problem, though. Darnold hasn’t played like a No. 1 pick this season.

While he hasn’t been the most disappointing player on what’s turning out to be a disappointing USC team, Darnold has posted pedestrian numbers (for him): hitting 63.5 percent of his passes for an even eight yards per attempt with 17 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He ranks 38th nationally in passing efficiency. This puts him, coincidentally, one spot ahead of former USC quarterback Max Browne.

On Monday, NFL Draft analyst Benjamin Allbright shared a report that Darnold is expected to return to USC next season.

Considering Ronald Jones could return next season and that Stephen Carr is just a freshman, the prospect of Darnold returning in 2018 has to take the sting out of a lost 2017 for Trojans fans.

Texas QB Sam Ehlinger, C Zach Shackelford in concussion protocol

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Texas has lost two straight upset bids in strikingly similar fashion: true freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger leads a potential-game winning drive, scrambles, hits his head on the turf and ends the possession in a puzzling throw.

The first came in last week’s loss to No. 10 Oklahoma. Trailing 29-24 late in the fourth quarter, scrambled for two yards to the Texas-48 yard line but hit his head on the Cotton Bowl turf and was forced to leave the game for five plays. Shane Buechele pushed the Longhorns to the Oklahoma 31, but he was replaced after a sack and Ehlinger ended up throwing the ball away on 4th-and-13 from the OU 34 with two minutes to play. That, as they say, was that.

Fast forward to Saturday and Texas was trailing No. 11 Oklahoma State 13-10 in overtime when Ehlinger opened the possession with a scramble that again saw the back of his head bang against the Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium turf. He stayed in the game this time, but ended the game on a puzzling (to say the least) interception to absolutely no one on 3rd-and-4 from the OSU 6.

While Ehlinger was not evaluated for a concussion during the game, he did not practice Sunday and head coach Tom Herman said Monday that Ehlinger and center Zach Shackelford are in concussion protocol.

Complicating matters for Texas is that sophomore back-up Shane Buechele is playing on a gimpy ankle that kept him out against San Jose State and Kansas State that Herman said will not improve as the season goes on.

No matter, Texas will face a hungry Baylor team on Saturday (noon ET, ESPNU) that nearly completed a comeback against No. 22 West Virginia on Saturday night.

Tennessee OG Jack Jones retires due to neck injury

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The playing career of Tennessee offensive guard Jack Jones has come to an unfortunate end. On Monday, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones announced Jones was stepping away from football as injury concerns with his neck continue to interfere with playing.

Jones played in the season opener against Georgia Tech in Atlanta but has essentially been out of action for the entire season after that. After consulting with doctors, Jones came to the decision to step away from football as it became clear playing football would only put his long-term health in jeopardy.

The loss of Jones leaves Tennessee’s offensive line depth thin down the stretch. It could be quite a bumpy finish to what has already been a turbulent season in Knoxville.

Urban Meyer may have successfully talked his way out of a night trap at Iowa

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Sitting from his office in Columbus, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has been able to see just how dangerous a night game at Iowa can be. Last season, Iowa upset Michigan with the first loss suffered by the Wolverines setting off a wild finale to the Big Ten season. Earlier this season, a night game at Iowa nearly caught Penn State before the Nittany Lions managed to get out of Kinnick Stadium with a last-second victory. Knowing the history of Kinnick Stadium at night, Meyer may have managed to successfully lobby himself from having to play a night game at Iowa.

Big Ten kickoff times for Week 10 have started to come together on Monday, with Minnesota announcing it will host Michigan in primetime on FOX. The decision to have the Gophers and Wolverines in primetime was a tad puzzling considering two of the other game son the Big Ten schedule that day. Penn State is playing at Michigan State and Ohio State is playing — you guessed it — at Iowa.

The Buckeyes will be playing at either noon or 3:30 p.m. eastern on November 4, with the Nittany Lions and Spartans likely to be slotted in the other timeslot. The speculation is the 3:30 p.m. ET slot will be reserved for the winner of this week’s Ohio State-Penn State matchup, as the game will likely begin to take more weight in the College Football Playoff picture on top of the Big Ten championship hunt.

Meyer addressed concerns about playing so many road games at night this season, and perhaps the conference is responding to his concerns. Ohio State has already played four primetime games, including three on the road (Indiana, Rutgers, Nebraska). If not for the World Series coverage this weekend, odds are good the home game against Penn State would have been a lock for primetime as well. Ohio State also played a primetime game earlier this year against Oklahoma. But Meyer’s chief concern was playing so many night games on the road, as it becomes quite tiresome for players.

Was Meyer looking forward all along to prevent Ohio State from having to play a night game at Iowa? Regardless of the motive, the Buckeyes will not have to test the fates under the lights at Kinnick Stadium in two weeks.