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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

Ohio State starting RB still dealing with hamstring injury but expects to play in opener

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Ohio State’s newish looking offense is expected to lean on the ground game early in 2017 but a key cog in that machinery might not be 100 percent healthy heading into the Buckeyes’ opener against Indiana.

Starting tailback Mike Weber has dealt with a lingering hamstring injury he suffered over the summer and hasn’t participated at all in the team’s preseason camp. Despite that bit of concerning news, it seems both the running back and the coaching staff is expecting him to be good to go in less than two weeks when the team kicks off the 2017 campaign.

“I’m getting close,” Weber said Friday, according to Cleveland.com. “They’ve been holding me back all camp to make sure I don’t have problems with it during the season. … I talk to the trainer a lot and it’s looking pretty good. I’m not at full speed yet, but I’m going to get there and I should be ready for the first game.”

Weber rushed for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns last year as a redshirt freshman and will see an increased load carrying the ball with Curtis Samuel off to the NFL. True freshman J.K. Dobbins has apparently slid into the backup role but running backs coach Tony Alford told reporters that the starting job is Weber’s when it comes time to go against the Hoosiers.

We’ll see if that eventually holds up given how finicky hamstring injuries are for tailbacks but at least the prognosis is good enough that Buckeyes fans can breathe a little easier as camp winds down in Columbus.

VIDEO: Indiana hands scholarship to walk-on WR after singing school fight song

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Some training camp traditions are better than others but one universal truth every fall is that coaches will bring up players to sing the school fight song in front of the team. As you can expect, often times hilarity ensues because players either don’t know the words or are so off-key with the notes that you can barely recognize what they’re singing.

Indiana coach Tom Allen joined in on the act this week by putting a few players through the same paces by having them belt out the lyrics to ‘Indiana Fight’ in front of both the team and cameras. The school naturally released video of the event on Friday, including a very special message at the end for one of the players signing:

That would be now-former walk-on Luke Timian, a projected starter this season who received a brand new scholarship from the Hoosiers and was mobbed by his teammates after the message flashed on the screens. The junior was involved in every game last year for Indiana and caught 19 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown.

As cool as the unveil was for Timian though, it’s a good thing he’s now a scholarship player at IU because it seems pretty clear that American Idol is not in the kid’s future. We’re all still suckers for videos of coaches handing out scholarships to walk-ons though and this is certainly one of the more unique ways to let a player know the school is picking up the check this semester.

Alabama reportedly in talks to play Miami in 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game

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Mark Richt may no longer be in the SEC but he still might have to go toe-to-toe with Nick Saban one more time in Atlanta.

The Tuscaloosa News is reporting that Alabama is in negotiations to return to Atlanta for the 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and play none other than Miami for a compelling matchup between two powerhouse programs and do quite a bit to stir up nostalgia for some of a different era in college football. As is the case for the future high-profile season openers as part of the series, the contest is set to be played at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is nothing new for the Crimson Tide, as they open this year against Florida State in Week 1 and are scheduled to return to Atlanta in 2019 to take on Duke as well. The school has typically opened their season in such high-profile neutral site games but don’t have anything on the books for such a matchup starting in 2020.

Miami is also coming around to the idea of starting out the year at a big time NFL stadium for their opener and have set dates at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (against LSU) for 2018 and against in-state rival Florida in Orlando for the 2019 campaign. Adding Alabama to the slate in 2021 will just about lock up their non-conference schedule for that year, with home games against Appalachian State and Michigan State also on the docket.

Should the series eventually be confirmed (and there’s little reason to think it won’t), it will certainly be a welcome clash between two national title-winning programs. The pair last met on the field in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, when No. 2 Alabama topped No. 1 Miami 34-13 to deliver Gene Stallings and the Tide a national championship. The two current head coaches also have a bit of a history playing against each other when Richt was coaching at Georgia and staged a thrilling SEC title game in Atlanta back in 2012 that eventually sent the Tide on their way to another championship.

Hopefully everybody is still around when the time comes in 2021 because matchups like Miami and Alabama don’t seem to happen all that often.

Phone records show Hugh Freeze had over 200 calls with Ole Miss booster in NCAA case

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When Hugh Freeze was fired last month by Ole Miss, most thought that the troubling patterns the school discovered were mostly focused on the coach’s calls to what were later revealed to be escort services. As it turns out, that may not be the extent of the cell phone records that landed the coach in hot water.

USA Today dug a little deeper in Freeze’s phone calls and discovered that he had at least 200 conversations with Lee Harris, a now-disassociated booster at the school who is a central figure in the ongoing NCAA case surrounding extra benefits for recruits and players. Per the report:

“The phone calls included the period in which Harris became a part of the NCAA’s investigation into Ole Miss and continued before and after his interview with the NCAA on Nov. 16, 2016, in which he provided information that was determined to be false.

Freeze was not named or deemed culpable in the specific NCAA allegation related to Harris, and it is not publicly known what the two men discussed in the calls. According to Freeze’s attorney, W.G. Watkins, Freeze and Harris met by “happenstance” sitting next to each other at church at some point after Harris’ alleged violations occurred, formed a relationship and played golf together. Watkins said Freeze never discussed the NCAA case with Harris, which would potentially be a violation of bylaw 10.1 relating to unethical conduct.”

Harris was one of several boosters included in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations against the Rebels and was alleged by enforcement staffers to have provided free food and cash to linebacker Leo Lewis when he was being recruited by Ole Miss. Lewis eventually signed with in-state rival Mississippi State and later provided information to investigators as part of the case.

Though the phone calls are hardly a smoking gun for either Freeze or the school, the sheer volume of calls between the head coach and a booster who is alleged to have committed NCAA violations certainly raises a big eyebrow in Indianapolis and around the rest of the SEC. The fact that the calls took place on the coach’s cell phone also raises the question as to just how closely school compliance staff was monitoring their coach and whether he attempted to influence the investigation in any way by speaking about it with Harris.

Such points are bound to come up and need clear answers when Ole Miss goes in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions for a hearing scheduled for Sept. 11th.