HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 03:  Greg Ward Jr. #1 of the Houston Cougars takes the field for warmups with his teammates prior to the start of their game against the Oklahoma Sooners during the Advocare Texas Kickoff on September 3, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Group of Five Power-Ranking: It’s Houston and everybody else

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As you no doubt know by now, one spot in the New Years Six bowl line-up at the end of the year will be reserved to the highest-ranked conference champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or Sun Belt Conference as viewed by the College Football Playoff selection committee. Houston of the AAC took that honor last season with a 12-1 record and took advantage of it by smacking around Florida State in the Peach Bowl. As the 2016 season got underway, Houston left little doubt they intend to be back in the New Years Six lineup again this season, and they may even have their sights now locked in on a possible playoff debate down the line.

One thing to take note here is I tend to not give teams credit for winning games against FCS opponents. Naturally, there were a handful of those games this past weekend. Also, I do not include BYU or Army in this power-ranking, as they do not qualify for the automatic New Years Six bowl spot the way the system is currently organized. But each had solid victories this weekend as well. So, if I had to rank the Group of Five candidates after one week of games, here is how I would rank them to date.

1. Houston (1-0)

It’s pretty simple, really. Houston was the Group of Five team to beta last year and entered 2016 with that expectation once again. No better way to stay ahead of the pack than by jumping all over Oklahoma, a Big 12 favorite this season. It is predicted Houston could have a stranglehold on this top spot in my personal ranking for quite some time, as I actually have gone on record predicting an undefeated season by Houston. The odds are they could be tripped up somewhere along the way (Louisville?), but after getting by the Sooners you have to be feeling pretty good if you are a fan of Houston.

2. Western Michigan (1-0)

The Rowing PJ Flecks managed to do something in game one that Stanford was unable to a year ago; win a game at Northwestern. True, the Broncos did not have to battle against a time zone shift as the Cardinal did for an early kickoff, and the Broncos nearly handed Northwestern a win (quite literally), but a win’s a win. It’s not as though this is a hapless Northwestern squad either. The Wildcats won 10 games last season, but Western Michigan hung around long enough and took advantage of some late opportunities and had a lucky break go their way in the end. They’ll take it and claim the second spot in the ranking this week. They might just have enough to stay there for a while too.

3. Southern Mississippi (1-0)

Watch out for Southern Mississippi this season. Nick Mullens had some rough moments against Kentucky but pulled it together with a strong running game charged by Ito Smith and George Payne to rally on the road against Kentucky.Southern Miss outscored the Wildcats 28-0 after halftime en route to a 44-35 victory in Lexington, already putting the hopes of a bowl game on thin ice for Kentucky.

4. South Alabama (1-0)

Staying on the road in the SEC, we have the South Alabama Jaguars fresh off a nail biter of a road win at Mississippi State. The Jags fell juts behind Southern Miss here because they nearly let the Bulldogs off the hook. Mississippi State moved right down the field following a kickoff out of bounds, and had the game-winning field goal attempt clang(a) off the goal post, giving the Jaguars a win. But applaud the effort. They put Mississippi State in a hole when they needed it the most.

5. Boise State (1-0)

I whiffed at Boise State last season, but the Broncos got off on the right foot this season. While not of the same caliber of Houston’s win, it was hard not to be impressed with how Boise State smacked around Louisiana-Lafayette on the road. Boise State made the trip down to Louisiana and left with a 45-10 victory in far more impressive fashion than I anticipated for this one. It was the kind of blowout win Boise State would make routine in their prime a few years back. Could this be a sign of things to come? In any event, you get credit for winning head-to-head games against other Group of Five conferences, and the Mountain Wets Conference definitely needed that. Boise State could keep the pressure on Houston to keep winning, if the Broncos can avoid messing up things on their own.

On the Radar: Tulsa, Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Cincinnati, Navy, USF, East Carolina, Toledo, Wyoming, New Mexico, Air Force, Utah State, UNLV, San Diego State, Marshall, Georgia Southern

T. Boone Pickens prefers Houston and SMU for Big 12 expansion, rips Boren, still not besties with Gundy

BP Capital Management LP Chief Executive Officer T. Boone Pickens Interview
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If you though the rivalry between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State was strictly on the football field, think again. Bedlam reaches beyond the gridiron and now has T. Boone Pickens slinging mud at Oklahoma president David Boren.

According to Kirk Bohls of The Austin American-Statesman, the Oklahoma State donor shared some comments about the Big 12 expansion saga that continues to drag its feet. Pickens reportedly prefers the Big 12 to add within the current Big 12 foot print by inviting Houston and SMU from the American Athletic Conference. That’s probably good news for fans of Houston and SMU, if they believe Boone’s influence carries any weight in this process (it doesn’t, but we don’t have to pour cold water on this subject for now). But the interesting part of the report included a jab at Oklahoma’s president, who recently appeared to suggest he was fine with a 10-team Big 12 only to respond by saying no decisions have been made where Oklahoma stands on expansion.

“I’ve known David forever. He likes to talk. He gets a little bit confused sometimes,” Pickens said. He also suggested “maybe it’s time for David to retire.”

Pickens also updated his relationship status with Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy.

“I don’t have any conversations with Gundy,” Pickens said. In late December 2014 there appeared to be some friction between the head coach and top donor when Pickens proclaimed he didn’t care who coached the team while suggesting he will always support the program and university, his alma mater. Gundy looked to make sure the two were on common ground. Things appeared to have smoothed over by the following spring, but the two are not exactly hanging out together in their spare time.

“I don’t know, but Mike doesn’t handle people relationships very well. And he gets mad about things,” Pickens explained. “I’ve heard he’s written some notes about me that weren’t very complimentary.”

Excuse me while I file away a Freedom of Information Act request for access to these notes…

Nebraska regent chose to pursue removing protesting players off team rather than come to their support

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 27: Fullback Macon Plewa #42 of the Iowa Hawkeyes tries to get past linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey #15 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during their game at Memorial Stadium November 27, 2015 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Prior to last weekend’s game between Nebraska and Northwestern in Evanston, three Nebraska football players opted to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem during the pregame routine. Now, one regent at Nebraska wants those three players kicked off the team.

Hal Daub told The Lincoln Journal Star student-athletes are not to do anything that might create disparagement or negative implications. Apparently, in the eyes of the Korean War veteran and former mayor of Omaha, the act of taking a knee during the national anthem to protest social injustices in our nation, crossed the line.

“It’s a free country,” Daub told the Lincoln newspaper Tuesday. “They don’t have to play football for the university either.”

The three players who took a knee during the national anthem on Saturday were Michael Rose-Ivey, Mohamed Barry, and DaiShon Neal. Rose-Ivey has been eloquent in his explanation for why he has chosen to follow the lead of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others who have chosen to demonstrate for their beliefs during the national anthem. Rose-Ivey said fans in the stands hurled racially charged insults and comments suggesting they should be lynched or shot.” You would like to think Nebraska’s leaders would come to the  defense of their players, but that does not appear to be the case here.

“They know better, and they had better be kicked off the team,” Daub said. “They won’t take the risk to exhibit their free speech in a way that places their circumstance in jeopardy, so let them get out of uniform and do their protesting on somebody else’s nickel.”

Why is it OK to take a knee on the sideline when a player is injured on the field, but not during the national anthem. During the game, taking a knee is a show of respect for those hurt on the field. During the national anthem, taking a knee can be a show of respect for those who have been hurt by an unjust society that continues to try and work out our differences. It is a shame Rose-Ivey and other protesting players are on the receiving ends of hurtful comments when they simply want to express their voices of concern and wishes for a better world.

It’s even more of a shame some regent in Nebraska chose to push for their banishment from the program instead of come to their defense. This was a golden opportunity to help promote progress, and Daub fumbled it away.

The good news is Mike Riley and university president Hank Bounds have made it clear they do support the players who choose to voice their concerns, so none of these three players should have any fear about being removed from the prorgam.

Bobby Petrino confirms commitment to Louisville amid LSU speculation

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 05:  Head coach Bobby Petrino of the Louisville Cardinals looks on during the game against the Auburn Tigers at Georgia Dome on September 5, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher and Houston head coach Tom Herman were quick to go on record saying they have not been in contact with the folks at LSU looking to fill a coaching vacancy following the dismissal of Les Miles this week. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer confirmed his commitment to being the head coach at Ohio State. Stanford head coach David Shaw was quick to dismiss the mere idea of being considered for the LSU job. There is no doubt LSU will attract some high-profile candidates as the coaching search rolls on, but add one more notable coach to the growing list of coaches keeping a distance.

Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino, who once coached LSU rival Arkansas and gained a taste of coaching in the SEC (and SEC West), says he is not going anywhere and looks forward to continue building at Louisville.

“I’m not interested in going anywhere,” Petrino said during a weekly press conference on Tuesday. “I’m very fortunate to be the head coach here at the University of Louisville, very happy about that, very glad I have the support of our athletic director Tom Jurich. We were able to sit down last year and do a new contract. We’re going to expand the stadium. We’re coming off one of the greatest crowds and Card Marches I’ve been around. We feel like we’ve got everything going in the right direction.”

Then came the signature line that you would expect any coach to say about the current job position they own when approached about any other possible job vacancy.

“This is the job I want. This is where I’m going to be.”

Now, we have all been following this stuff long enough to understand that just about every coach is going to say these things. They have to for a number of reasons, including keeping the fans (and donors) calm and keeping recruiting efforts on solid footing. Sometimes coaches will lie when in this situation, and sometimes the honest feeling will actually change once details about a possible new contract enter the equation. It is the ultimate variable that can shift the balance of the entire outlook at any given moment.

So any time Petrino and any other coach has to go on record and say this, take it with a grain of salt. Petrino does indeed appear to be happy and settled in back at Louisville, where he arguably has experienced the height of his coaching success under two different stints, and few coaches can say the grass is not always greener once you leave Louisville. Plus, Petrino appears to have everything he might need to build a championship program at Louisville now and in the future that LSU might be able to offer (although recruiting at LSU would appear to be an advantage).

Petrino has a true ACC and playoff contender this season with Louisville. This week he takes the Cardinals on the road for a pivotal ACC Atlantic Division contest with defending ACC champion Clemson. A win for Louisville will pretty much wrap up the division with two months still to play barring a complete meltdown. Louisville already owns a win over Florida State and has quickly moved to being the betting favorite this weekend on the road at Clemson.

I’m dropping this gem from LSU Freek here just because…

UNC linebacker Allen Artis says he is not a rapist before heading to court Thursday

CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 9:  A view of two North Carolina Tar Heels helmets during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on October 9, 2004 at Kenan Stadium Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina defeated North Carolina State 30-24. (Photo By Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Suspended North Carolina linebacker Allen Artis is scheduled to begin a legal battle in court on Thursday to defend himself against misdemeanor charges of sexual battery and assault on a female student. Before heading to court, Artis made time for a sit-down session with the media, with his mother and aunt by his side. Artis says the sexual interaction was a consensual act and says he did not rape Delaney Robinson, the UNC student who filed the claim she was raped by Artis on Valentine’s Day this year.

Everything was completely consensual that happened that night,” Artis said in an interview with members of the media on Tuesday. ”That’s the truth.”

As previously reported earlier this month, Robinson reported the alleged rape to university police and UNC’s Title IX office. Robinson has accused the university of taking too long to proceed with its response to her allegations, which is why she made the decision to go public  with her story.

Once Robinson went public with her story, UNC indefinitely suspended Artis the following morning. At this point, the legal process will now run its course before UNC makes any further decision on Artis’ status with the program, and the university if needed.

Artis played in each of UNC’s first two games this season and, of course, has not seen the field since.