Group of Five Update: Houston lost, but New Years Six still up for grabs for AAC contenders

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Houston may have been upset on the road by UConn on Saturday, but the Cougars remain in a solid position to reach the goal of any Group of Five program. The only thing Houston realistically lost Saturday was an undefeated season. Houston will get a chance to redeem themselves and play for a conference championship if it can score a win against a rising Navy this week. Better yet, the winner of the Houston-Navy game will get to host the first American Athletic Conference championship game, and the AAC is still in the bets possible position to send its champion to the New Years Six bowl line-up regardless if it is Navy, Houston or Temple.

South Florida remains in the AAC mix going into the final week of the season. If USF beats UCF and Temple loses to UConn, the Bulls will play for the AAC title against either Houston or Navy. If you are a Toledo fan, then you are buying a ticket to ride Coach T’s bus in Tampa. USF winning the AAC swings the door wide open for a MAC champion to fill the vacancy in the New Years Six reserved for the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion. The odds are probably stacked against the MAC champion, be it Toledo, Northern Illinois or Bowling Green, but USF could throw a wrench in the plans for the AAC.

With the final week of the regular season coming up for the majority of the Group of Five conferences, here is a rundown of the division scenarios at play in each. The final week of the season will see five division champions determined, with three being settled on the field between division contenders. Home field advantage is also up for grabs in a handful of contests.

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE DIVISON BREAKDOWN

AAC EAST

  • Temple wins with a win vs. UConn OR USF loss to UCF.
  • USF wins with win vs. UCF AND Temple loss to UConn.

AAC WEST

  • Winner of Houston vs. Navy wins division

AAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE

  • Navy hosts Temple/USF with win vs. Houston (best conference record)
  • Houston hosts Temple/USF with win vs. Navy (best overall regular-season record vs. Temple; best conference record vs. USF)
  • AAC East winner cannot host conference championship game according to AAC procedures.

MAC DIVISION BREAKDOWN

MAC EAST

  • Bowling Green has clinched the MAC East division and will play in the MAC Championship Game

MAC WEST

  • Northern Illinois wins with win vs. Ohio OR Toledo loss to Western Michigan
  • Toledo wins with win vs. Western Michigan AND Northern Illinois loss to Ohio

CONFERENCE USA BREAKDOWN

C-USA EAST

  • Western Kentucky vs. Marshall winner wins division

C-USA WEST

  • Louisiana Tech vs. Southern Miss winner wins division

CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE

MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN

MOUNTAIN DIVISION

  • Air Force clinched the division when New Mexico lost to Colorado State

WEST DIVISION

  • San Diego State clinched the West Division

MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE

Homefield advantage in the Mountain West Conference will be determined at the conclusion of the regular season. The highest-ranked division champion will receive the homefield advantage for the championship game.

SUN BELT CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN

  • Arkansas State wins with win vs. New Mexico State or Texas State.
  • Appalachian State wins with wins vs. UL-Lafayette and South Alabama AND Arkansas State losses to New Mexico State and Texas State
  • Georgia Southern wins with wins vs. South Alabama and Georgia State AND Appalachian State losses to UL-Lafayette or South Alabama AND Arkansas State losses to New Mexico State and Texas State

GROUP OF FIVE TOP FIVE (FINAL FOUR?)

If the College Football Playoff selection committee had to rank the top teams in the Group of Five, here is how I think the remaining contenders would be ranked (Memphis and Boise State, for example, are out of contendion).

  1. Navy: Clearly the team to beat as Keenan Reynolds makes Heisman case.
  2. Houston: Sure, they lost, but are still a top candidate for the big prize
  3. Temple: Owls scored big win against Memphis to put them one step closer to AAC championship game
  4. Toledo: Rockets need some help from Ohio, but if they sneak by Northern Illinois, they remain in the hunt
  5. N/A: The New Year Six spot will only go to one of the above four teams mentioned, so there is no longer a need to rank a fifth team in this spot. Sorry USF, Bowling Green, Northern Illinois and Conference USA. It’s nothing personal.

Division II, Division III and NAIA title games set while FCS heads into semifinals

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Outside of a thrilling Army-Navy game and the Heisman ceremony, it was an empty Saturday at the highest level of college football.

But no so at the lower levels.

The divisional playoffs are cranked into high gear. Let’s take a brief look at where everything stands in each division.

FCS

Top-seeded and defending champion James Madison needed a last-second field goal to survive visiting Weber State, 31-28, on Friday night, while No. 5 seed South Dakota State routed New Hampshire, 55-14.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed and winner of five of the last six national titles North Dakota State walloped Wofford, 42-10 in Fargo. No. 6 seed Sam Houston State outlasted upstart Kennesaw State, 34-27, to send the Bearkats into their fifth semifinal game in the last seven years.

Semifinals: No. 5 South Dakota State at No. 1 James Madison — 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU; No. 6 Sam Houston State at No. 2 North Dakota State — 8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2.

Division II

No. 4 seed West Florida traveled north and upset top-seeded Indiana (Pa.), 27-17 on Saturday, to send the Argonauts into their first championship game. No. 2 seed Texas A&M-Commerce fended off the option attack of No. 3 Harding (Ark.), 31-17, putting the Lions in their first title game as well.

National championship: No. 2 Texas A&M-Commerce vs. No. 4 West Florida — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Division III

In a similar dynamic to FCS, the defending champion is on a collision course with the traditional champion. In the first semifinal, defending champion Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) blanked Brockport (N.Y.), 24-0. The Crusaders will make their third trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, looking to win their second title.

In the other semifinal, Mount Union (Ohio) overcame a 21-10 deficit to beat Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 43-40. The Purple Raiders will play in their 20th Stagg Bowl — all of them coming since 1993, and 19 of them since ’96 — with a shot at their 13th national championship. However, Mount Union has won just — “just” — two national championships since 2009.

National championship: Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) vs. Mount Union (Ohio) — 7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN at Salem Stadium in Salem Va.

NAIA

The NAIA was off this weekend, taking a break in between last week’s semifinals and Saturday’s national championship. Defending champion Saint Francis (Ind.) out-gunned previously-undefeated Morningside (Iowa) 43-36 in the first semifinal, while Reinhardt (Ga.) held off undefeated Southern Oregon, 37-34 in double overtime.

National championship: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Reinhardt (Ga.) — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN3 at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Minnesota lands commitment from 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle

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P.J. Fleck is going to need a bigger boat.

Minnesota has landed a commitment from the largest recruit on record, as 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle Daniel Faalele has committed to the Gophers. Faalele made the announcement on his Twitter page on Saturday night.

A 3-star recruit, Faalele is rated as the No. 29 offensive tackle in the country, according to 247Sports. He listed 20 offers, including from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and LSU.

As the story goes, Faalele did not find football; football found him. He was discovered by a recruiter from Hawaii working out at a gym in his native Melbourne, Australia. He attended a Michigan satellite camp in Australia and played this season — his first season in pads — at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

In making the trip from the Land Down Under to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Faalele will be joined by a pair of IMG Academy teammates in offensive lineman Curtis Dunlap, Jr., and quarterback Zack Annexstad, who also committed to Minnesota on Saturday.

Those pledges now give Minnesota the 26th best recruiting class in the country and the sixth best in the Big Ten — but the No. 1 class in the Big Ten West — in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Minnesota’s class may not be the best in the country, but it’s among the biggest — both in size (the Gophers have 25 pledges thus far) and stature.

Texas A&M suspends DT Zaycoven Henderson amid felony gun charges

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Texas A&M defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson was suspended amid multiple felony charges on Saturday.

As detailed by Ben Baby of the Dallas Morning News, witnesses say Henderson pointed a rifle at one person outside College Station’s Campus Village Apartments and threatened to kill two others and allegedly threw the gun out of a fleeing car as police arrived on the scene. The car was later tracked down by College Station officers, who discovered marijuana in the car.

He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, tampering with evidence and marijuana possession. The first charge is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in a prison. The second is a third-degree felony and the third is a misdemeanor.

He was booked into the Brazos County (Texas) jail at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Texas A&M has suspended Henderson indefinitely, which really only lasts one game as the senior from Longview, Texas, was set to close his Aggies career in the Belk Bowl against Wake Forest on Dec. 29 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Henderson made 35 tackles with five TFLs and 2.5 sacks in 12 starts this season. He was honored as a member of Texas A&M’s senior class at the annual team banquet earlier this weekend.

UCLA reportedly hires Paul Rhoads as defensive backs coach

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Chip Kelly has reportedly hired one of the most respected men in the business to his staff. According to a report from Sports Illustrated‘s Bruce Feldman, Paul Rhoads is on his way to Westwood to coach UCLA’s defensive backs.

Rhoads spent the past two seasons at Arkansas, the first as defensive backs coach and the second as defensive coordinator in addition to his duties with the secondary. He’s best known, of course, for his 7-year run as the head coach at Iowa State, where he took the Cyclones to three bowl games and created this viral moment before any of us knew what “going viral” went.

In addition to Arkansas, Rhoads also owns defensive experience at Auburn, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Pacific, Ohio State and Utah State.

UCLA finished last season ranked 74th in pass efficiency defense, yielding a 57.1 percent completion rate for 7.3 yards per attempt with seven interceptions against 18 touchdowns.