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Group of Five Power Ranking: Boise State returns to a familiar spot after Navy upsets Houston

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The Group of Five race was Houston’s to lose this season, and they have just lost it. After taking a road loss at Navy on Saturday, Houston’s grand dream of playing in the College Football Playoff has been dashed, and their chance to return to the New Years Six lineup at the end of the season has taken a critical blow, although it is not yet a fatal one.

The highest-ranked conference champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference and Sun Belt Conference will be granted one spot in the New Years Six bowl lineup by the College Football Playoff selection committee. Houston took that invite last season as the highest-ranked Group of Five champion following a victory in the AAC championship game. Houston looked primed to be the easy frontrunner for a return trip this season but a loss to Navy puts them behind the Midshipmen (and Memphis) for their own division championship. Without winning the division, Houston would be locked out of the New Years Six scenarios unless you believe they could be a worthy candidate with an 11-1 record as an at-large team. Honestly, an 11-1 Houston in the Cotton Bowl may not be all that far-fetched depending on what happens elsewhere around the country.

But with Houston taking a stumble, a familiar plucky underdog has risen to the top of the heap. Hello, Boise State. Welcome back to being college football’s top Rocky Balboa candidate.The Broncos are off to a perfect start this season with a pair of wins against Pac-12 programs and a good contest with BYU on the horizon. We are staring down the real possibility of Boise State going 12-0 and hosting the Mountain West Conference championship game (against San Diego State?), which puts the Broncos back in the

The Broncos are off to a perfect start this season with a pair of wins against Pac-12 programs and a good contest with BYU on the horizon. We are staring down the real possibility of Boise State going 12-0 and hosting the Mountain West Conference championship game (against San Diego State?), which puts the Broncos back in the familiar role of looking to crash the big bowl party. Can they do it once again? Absolutely, but the pressure to keep winning games will be on because one loss by the Broncos shifts the NY6 bowl spot back in the hands of whatever team ends up coming out of the AAC, in all likelihood (or perhaps Western Michigan).

So, if I had to rank the Group of Five contenders for the New Years Six spot today, here is how I would stack them up:

1. Boise State (5-0)

The Broncos are scoring roughly twice as many points as they are giving up and a win against Washington State starts to look better and better every week. Not having a loss helps keep the Broncos ahead of the pack for now. The next two weeks against Colorado State and BYU at home could ensure the Broncos stay ahead of the pack the rest of the way unless they trip themselves up. It’s happened before, but this Boise State team is on cruise control right now.

2. Navy (4-1)

The win against Houston is without a doubt the best win any Group of Five team has right now (you can argue Houston’s win over Oklahoma) more because of the situation it presents in the AAC. With a head-to-head win against Navy, the Midshipmen hold a critical tiebreaker against Houston that could lock the Cougars out of the AAC championship game, as long as Navy handles the rest fo their schedule. Navy has to lose twice in order for Houston to re-enter the conference title talk. The only thing holding Navy back from the top spot for now is a loss against Air Force, who will host Boise State at the end of the regular season.

3. Houston (5-1)

Truth be told, Houston may still be the better team than Navy, but results matter! Right now, Houston now is behind the curve and could be locked out of the New Years Six despite arguably being the best team the Group of Five has to offer. It would be unwise to count out Houston after one loss of course. For now, they remain very much in the hunt and could arguably still land the NY6 spot with a 12-1 record if it gets some help from Navy’s opponents.

4. Western Michigan (5-0)

I really want to place Western Michigan in my top three, but I still feel Houston is worthy of staying ahead of the other Broncos looking to make something happen. PJ Fleck has Western Michigan off to a 6-0 start with a very manageable schedule the rest of the way. The last significant hurdle appears to be the regular season finale against Toledo, at home, but expect plenty of rowing until that late November matchup that could decide the MAC West Division.

5. South Florida (5-1)

The only blemish on USF’s schedule is against Florida State, but Willie Taggart has shown USF’s hot streak to end the 2015 season has indeed carried over to 2016. The Bulls have already demolished Northern Illinois, Syracuse, Cincinnati and East Carolina and have the look of the team to beat in the AAC East Division, especially with Cincinnati off to a 0-3 start and Temple suffering a loss in conference play already. USF’s next three game swill be critical, with a road game at Temple and home date with Navy. Get through the next three weeks unscathed, or even with just one loss, and Taggart may be driving his bus to the conference championship game (and maybe a new job).

On The Radar: Memphis, Tulsa, Air Force, San Diego State

Arkansas kicker Cole Hedlund reportedly transfers to North Texas

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And you can pardon the whole of the state of Arkansas if they let out a collective “thank goodness.”

Citing multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, Brett Vito of the Denton Record-Chronicle is reporting that Cole Hedlund is transferring to North Texas.  After redshirting as a true freshman in 2014 at Arkansas, Hedlund spent the next three seasons as a placekicker for the Razorbacks.

The Argyle, Tex., native opted to transfer from UA for his final season of eligibility.  He’s the youngest son of UNT women’s soccer coach John Hedlund.

For his career with the Razorbacks, Hedlund hit on 14 of his 24 field goal attempts.  He also connected on all 91 extra point attempts.  His best season came in 2015 when he led the team in scoring with 85 points.

The past season, however, was a rough one.  After missing both field goal attempts in a Sept. 9 loss to TCU — the misses came from 20 and 23 yards out — Hedlund never attempted another kick for the Razorbacks the rest of the season.

“It was basically a PAT, and it was a perfect protection and a perfect snap. It’s inexcusable,” then-head coach Bret Bielema said at the time.

Longtime BYU defensive assistant Steve Kaufusi steps down

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A constant on BYU’s defensive staff for nearly two decades has taken himself out of the football program’s equation.

The Cougars announced Friday that Steve Kaufusi has stepped down from his post as linebackers coach.  Per the school, Kaufusi’s departure was triggered by his desire to pursue other unspecified interests.

Kaufusi, whose wife Michelle is the mayor of Provo and has two sons who will play for the Cougars this season, had spent the past 16 seasons with BYU.  From 2002-16, he coached the defensive line; he took over linebackers in 2017 and spent one season overseeing that position.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to coach at BYU for the past 16 seasons,” Kaufusi said. “I’m honored to have had the opportunity to represent the University and everything it stands for. I will always be a Cougar and look forward to watching my sons play at BYU.”

“Anyone who knows Steve knows he is an exceptional coach and mentor to young men, which you can see in the players he has coached over the years and also in his own family,” head coach Kalani Sitake said. “I wish Steve nothing but the best for his future.”

In tandem with the Kaufusi announcement, the program also confirmed that Preston Hadley has been hired.  Hadley, who played defensive back for the Cougars and coached at Weber State the past two seasons, will coach safeties in his return.

Ed Lamb, who was responsible for safeties, will take over Kaufusi’s linebackers.  All other coaches on the defensive side of the ball will maintain their current positions.

Michigan State promotes Mike Tressel to DC, adds ex-Kent State HC as DBs coach

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Mark Dantonio looked inside and out of his football program to fill some holes in his Michigan State staff.

Nearly two weeks ago, Harlon Barnett left as MSU’s co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach to take a job at Florida State.  That left Dantonio with two openings, one of which the head coach closed Friday by promoting Mike Tressel to defensive coordinator.

Tressel and Barnett had served as co-coordinators the past three seasons; the nephew of former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel will now serve as the Spartans’ solo coordinator moving forward.

“Mike has done a tremendous job working with the defense,” said Dantonio in a statement. “He’s been deeply involved with everything with the defense since we first arrived here, and has helped coach some championship defenses that have been ranked consistently among the best in the nation, year in and year out. He did a great job as co-coordinator the past three years. He’s certainly earned this opportunity and I think he’ll do an outstanding job.”

To replace Barnett as defensive backs coach, Dantonio turned to Paul Haynes.  The past five years, Haynes was the head coach at Kent State before being dismissed at the end of the 2017 regular season.

This serves as a homecoming of sorts for Haynes as well.  From 2003-04, he was the defensive backs coach for the Spartans under John Smith.

The 48-year-old Haynes has also been a secondary coach at Arkansas (2012), Ohio State (2005-10), Louisville (2002) and Kent State (1999).

“We’re very, very excited about Paul,” said Dantonio. “He’s coached here before so he’s got a Spartan background. He was secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, so he’s coached on the highest level with the secondary. He was a defensive coordinator at Arkansas as well. He’s been a head coach at Kent State, so I think that gives him a big picture feel. I think he’s an excellent recruiter. He’s a dynamic person as well, so we’re excited to have him on campus.”

Willie Taggart finalizes first Florida State coaching staff

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Exactly 45 days after being announced as Florida State’s new head coach, Willie Taggart has put the finishing touches on his first Seminoles staff.

Friday night, FSU confirmed that Taggart has completed his 10-man staff with the additions of five new assistants.  It was reported this week that Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell would be taking the same job at FSU; the school confirmed as much today, with Bell also taking over as quarterbacks coach.

The other four hires consisted of Greg Frey (offensive line/running-game coordinator), David Kelly (wide receivers/recruiting coordinator), Mark Snyder (defensive ends) and Alonzo Hampton (special teams coordinator).

That fivesome joins the other five assistants previously announced:

  • Harlon Barnett, defensive coordinator and defensive back
  • Odell Haggins, associate head coach and defensive tackles
  • Raymond Woodie, linebackers
  • Telly Lockette, tight ends
  • Donte’ Pimpleton, running backs

Haggins is the lone holdover from Jimbo Fisher‘s last staff.

“From the beginning of this process, my goal was to bring in the best coaches for our program and I believe we have done that,” Taggart said. “This group will do a great job of recruiting, developing, coaching and mentoring our student-athletes to reach their highest potential. I’m excited for the next few weeks as we are finalizing our 2018 signing class and then working with our team as we prepare for spring practice.”