George Payne

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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