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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

Shutout in first half, No. 25 Memphis tops Houston 42-38

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If there was ever a dictionary definition of a tale of two halves, this game was it.

Through two quarters of play, Houston held a relatively comfortable 17-0 lead on No. 25 Memphis as the AAC teams headed into their respective halftime locker rooms.  When the second-half dust had settled, the Tigers had righted themselves en route to a 42-point last two quarters in a stunning 42-38 come-from-behind win over the Cougars.

Riley Ferguson passed for 471 yards in the win, although he had just one touchdown pass on the night.  Patrick Taylor managed the scoring load for the Tigers, though, as he scored four rushing touchdowns on 14 carries for 39 yards; Taylor had just three touchdowns the first seven games of the season entering Thursday night.

Despite Memphis’ second-half scoring deluge, homestanding Houston actually held a 10-point lead with just under seven minutes remaining in the game.  Turnovers on their last two possessions, however, torpedoed any chance of the home upset of a ranked conference foe.

With the win, Memphis moves to 3-1 in American Athletic Conference play and into a temporary tie with Navy, which plays No. 20 UCF Saturday, for the top spot in the Group of Five conference’s West Division.

Washington State’s leading receiver suspended for Colorado game after reportedly getting a tad angry

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While everybody on the Palouse is worried about Mike Leach following athletic director Bill Moos to Nebraska this week, a more pressing concern for Washington State is getting back on track and beating Colorado on Saturday night.

That might be just a tad bit tougher now because the school has suspended leading receiver Tavares Martin Jr.’s for one game following his actions subsequent to the team’s loss at Cal last Friday. The reason he won’t suit up when the Buffs roll into Pullman? It seems he got a tad angry, throwing a bit of a temper tantrum and skipping a practice.

“He was a little angry, saying things hadn’t gone his way the last couple of games. He broke a team rule and needs to be punished for that,” the receiver’s father, Tavares Martin Sr., told The Seattle Times. “He just made a mistake, and he had to pay a price for it. It was a miscommunication between him and the coaches. He was upset. He said he felt like he should have been more involved in that game.”

Martin Jr. leads the team in receiving yards (502) and touchdowns (seven) after starting all seven games this season. Despite that, he had just three catches in the Cougars’ 37-3 loss in Berkeley that caused them to tumble out of the top 10.

The Florida native reportedly apologized for his actions and was placed on the scout team in practices prior to playing Colorado. It seems the stiff lesson is being learned quickly though as he is expected to be back for Wazzu’s game at Arizona next Saturday — likely with a much different attitude.

Notre Dame LB Greer Martini out for USC game after knee procedure

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The greatest intersectional rivalry in college football between USC and Notre Dame is turning into a potential battle of walking wounded on defense. The latest name on the injury list? Irish linebacker Greer Martini.

The starter and team leader has been dealing with a knee injury he suffered in practice and while there was some thought he could be back for Saturday’s massive showdown with the team’s rivals from Los Angeles, that appears not to be the case. Indianapolis Star beat writer Laken Litman reported on Thursday afternoon that Brian Kelly confirmed after practice Martini would miss the game and that he had a surgical procedure to clean up an unspecified meniscus injury on his knee.

Martini is a captain on the team and the third leading tackler on the defense. In his absence, junior Te’von Coney likely slides into the starting lineup at linebacker. The good news might be that Martini could be back for an equally important game against N.C. State that could loom large in any College Football Playoff discussion next month.

The Trojans are dealing with the loss of defensive tackle Josh Fatu and linebacker Porter Gustin for this week’s trip to South Bend as well so both sides have a number of injuries that could hamper their ability to stop the run on Saturday. Given that the game will feature two of the best tailbacks in the country in Ronald Jones and Josh Adams, things could turn into a track meet come kickoff time on NBC.

Michigan State RB LJ Scott reportedly arrested (for a seventh time!) over driving without valid license

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It seems the tumultuous offseason that Mark Dantonio has experienced dating back to last year is not ending with the 2017 campaign being well underway for his Spartans. That’s because the Michigan State head coach is dealing with yet another headache, this time caused by star running back LJ ScottThe Lansing State Journal reports that Scott was arrested on Wednesday for driving on a suspended license.

Now you might say, oh that’s not that big of a deal all things considered. Generally you’d be correct depending on the circumstances. Yet in this case it kind of is a big deal because this is the seventh time — yes, seven times — Scott has been arrested for the same general offense. So yeah.

Per the LSJ:

‘Scott, 21, was arrested and later released on a personal recognizance bond, East Lansing Police spokesman Lt. Chad Connelly said Thursday. He declined to comment further because Scott has not yet been arraigned.

The charge carries up to a year in jail if Scott is convicted because he has at least one prior conviction on the same charge, which is typically a 93-day misdemeanor.’

What might be worse is that the junior has been cited for the same issue across two different states, including Michigan and his native Ohio. The first instance happened back in February 2016 according to the paper, but charges were dropped after a citation was issued and a fine paid. Scott got caught later in March 2016 when he was speeding, another time in April 2016 after being involved in a car crash, and yet again in July 2016 by campus police.

But wait, there’s more.

Scott was pulled over and charged again this past March and another time as recently as July. The LSJ does not have information as to why his license was suspended in the first place but we can offer a few guesses.

What might be even more infuriating for Dantonio and the coaching staff is that Scott just posted a career high against Minnesota (194 yards) and seemed to finally emerge as the primary ball carrier over senior Gerald Holmes and fellow junior Madre London.

The school had not released a statement regarding the matter but it’s probably safe to assume that the Spartans will be without Scott on Saturday when they play Indiana.