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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

Auburn wide receiver Kyle Davis potentially out for spring

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Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was optimistic about wide receiver Kyle Davis returning to the team at some point this spring, but the tune has changed regarding his future. Malzahn is now saying Davis may be out for the remainder of Auburn’s spring practices due to personal reasons.

“Kyle Davis is still taking care of some personal business,” Malzahn said, according to SEC Country. “I’m not for sure if he’s going to be back before the end of the spring. He will be back for the fall, just taking a little bit longer than we initially thought.”

It was just a few weeks ago Malzahn said Davis was going to be out for the start of spring practices, which are now close to half over. For now, the plan is simply to have him return over the summer in preparation for the fall.

In the meantime, Malzahn confirmed John Franklin III is working primarily as a wide receiver, which had previously been suspected to be the case.

Penn State announces three captains for 2017 season

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With Penn State just about to get started with spring football practices, head coach James Franklin wasted no time in naming his captains for the 2017 season. Quarterback Trace McSorley, linebacker Jason Cabinda, and safety Nick Scott have been voted captains by their peers on the team.

“These three young men have been leaders in our program, on and off the field,” Franklin said in a released statement. “They live our four core values and act with the program’s best interest in mind. Our team is in good hands with these guys!”

McSorley took over the offense as Penn State’s starting quarterback in 2016. A bit of a mystery to most entering the season after being the backup to Christian Hackenberg, McSorley ended his 2016 season with a Big Ten-leading 3,614 passing yards and 29 touchdown passes with eight interceptions and played a key role in guiding Penn State to a late run to a Big Ten championship and an appearance in the Rose Bowl. He enters the 2017 season as one of the top quarterbacks returning to the Big Ten, along with Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett.

Cabinda, an All-Big Ten third team player in 2016, was Penn State’s third-leading tackler last season with 81 tackles. He accumulated that many tackles despite missing five games due to injury. He is slated to be the leader in the middle of the Penn State defense with a starting role already locked down and will look to help guide some younger linebackers stepping into key roles in the defense this upcoming season, such as Manny Bowen and Koa Farmer.

Scott has been a special teams leader for Penn State and is expected to continue to lead the special teams effort once again this season.

New Arkansas house bill will allow some concealed guns at football games

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Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has signed a bill regarding a person’s ability to carry a concealed handgun into various buildings at a public university or college into state law. However, House Bill 1249 will not allow all legal gun owners to carry a gun to a football game in the state of Arkansas.

Football games will be considered a “sensitive area,” which require enhanced training in order to be allowed to carry a gun into a football stadium. The law supposedly trumps any provisions already in place to prevent guns from being allowed on the premises.

“The enhanced level of training is very important, and I am convinced the public will be more safe,” Governor Hutchinson said. “This bill, in my view, reflects the view of the general assembly.”

The bill has received praise from Arkansas Republican state representative Charlie Collins and the NRA.

While the bill has now become an act in the state, it will not go into effect until January 2018, so guns will still not be allowed in football games where Arkansas, Arkansas State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, or Central Arkansas during the 2017 season.

The news of the new Arkansas state law comes on the same day the SEC has just unveiled a new clear bag policy for football games in the 2017 season. How the SEC handles this latest state law within its footprint remains to be seen (as well as the Sun Belt Conference). The bigger question will be where the SEC stands on this law considered the law is designed to overrule any stadium policies. The way the law is written, the SEC may not be able to do much to stand in the way, but the conference has those clear bag policies hammered down, rest assured.

Kentucky hands Mark Stoops a two-year contract extension

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After guiding Kentucky through its best season in nearly a decade, Mark Stoops has been rewarded.

Kentucky announced Wednesday afternoon that Stoops’ contract has been extended by two years.  The head coach’s previous deal had been set to run through June 30, 2020; the extension pushes that date out to June 30, 2020.

Stoops will earn $3.5 million in 2017, with the new contract calling for annual $250,000 raises.  In the last year of the contract extension, and barring any additional tweaking, Stoops could earn $4.75 million.

Additionally, if the Wildcats win at least seven games but no more than nine in a season, the contract automatically extends by one year.  If the team wins 10-plus games, it extends by two years. “Stoops will continue to receive $250,000 for each win beginning with the seventh win of each season and $50,000 per semester in which the team grade-point average is 2.75 or higher,” the release stated.

Participation in an SEC-affiliated bowl will net Stoops a $100,000 bonus, provided the Wildcats win at least six games that season.  There’s also a $50,000 bonus for earning a spot in a non-SEC bowl game, with the same six-win threshold.  Last season, UK qualified for a bowl game for the first time under Stoops and the first time under anyone since 2010.

“The last four years have been a grind for Mark and his staff, but he has never wavered in his commitment to building Kentucky football into a consistent winner,” a statement from athletic director Mitch Barnhart began. “While the work isn’t close to finished, we believe Mark is the coach to take us there. We are thankful to Mark and Chantel for all they have done to this point and we look forward to our program’s bright future under his leadership.”

The Wildcats’ 7-6 record last season was the program’s best since hitting the same mark in the last season under Rich Brooks in 2009.  The first three seasons with Stoops in control, UK posted a 12-24 mark.

In SEC play, they are just 8-24 since 2013, although they were 4-4 in conference play this past season.  The Wildcats have finished seventh (2013), sixth (2014), tied-fourth (2015) and tied-second (2016) in league play with Stoops as head coach.

“I want to thank Dr. (Eli) Capilouto, Mitch Barnhart and the Board of Trustees for their continued support,” Stoops said. “When we came here, doing a rebuild in a challenging situation, I said that full support from everyone involved was imperative and we have always received that. We needed great commitment, we’ve had great commitment and we’re continuing to get great commitment.”

If Stoops is fired by UK, he’s entitled to receive 75 percent of the remaining guaranteed compensation on the contract.  If Stoops leaves of his own accord, he’d owe the university $1 million regardless of how many years are left on the deal.