Cincinnati Bearcats

Louisville's Lamar Jackson jumps over Syracuse's Cordell Hudson and scores a touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Friday, Sept. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)
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AP’s top three teams each facing ranked road opponent for first time in poll era

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It’s not getting hype of Week 1, but Week 3 is shaping up to be a rather epic weekend of college football in its own right.

The top three teams in the most recent Associated Press poll, No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Ohio State, all play on the road, with all three games coming against ranked teams for that matter.  Top-ranked ‘Bama travels to Oxford to face No. 19 Ole Miss, which has beaten the Tide the last two seasons, while FSU must trek north to take on 10th-ranked Louisville and Lamar Jackson, the quarterback who has singlehandedly scored more touchdowns than all but 13 FBS teams.  Finally, OSU makes it way to Norman to take on a wounded but 14th-ranked Oklahoma.

The fact that the top three teams are all on the road against ranked opponents is a little bit of history in the making.

But wait, there’s more.

In addition to those games, you had the likes of No. 6 Houston-Cincinnati Thursday night as well as FCS power North Dakota State at No. 13 Iowa; No. 25 Miami traveling to an Appalachian State squad that nearly knocked off No. 15 Tennessee in Knoxville Week 1; Colorado at No. 4 Michigan in a revival of the 1994 “Miracle at Michigan” game; No. 22 Oregon at Nebraska, coached by former Civil War rival Mike Riley; Pittsburgh, coming off a win over its in-state rival, at an Oklahoma State squad still hurting from the screwing they received in Week 2; Mississippi State-No. 20 LSU and No. 17 Texas A&M-Auburn in a key pair of SEC West clashes; No. 12 Michigan State at No. 18 Notre Dame in the fourth of four ranked vs. ranked matchups; USC, reeling from a series of embarrassing incidents on and off the field the past couple of weeks, trying to right the listing ship against the best the Pac-12 has to offer, No. 7 Stanford; BYU playing host to Josh Rosen and UCLA; and capping a loaded weekend with seemingly revitalized and 11th-ranked Texas heading to the Left Coast to square off with Cal.

It may not be Week 1 good, but Week 3 is about as close as you can get.

Huge 4th quarter run helps Houston beat Cincinnati to open AAC play

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 15: Emeke Egbule #8 and Brandon Wilson #26 of the Houston Cougars make a tackle against Nate Cole #84 of the Cincinnati Bearcats in the first half at Nippert Stadium on September 15, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Greg Ward Jr. looked a little rusty in his return action on Thursday night but in the end Houston got just enough out of their Heisman Trophy candidate to leave Cincinnati with a 41-16 win in a game that had a little bit of everything.

And when we say everything, we mean it.

A safety. A double reverse with a fumble boomeranging back in bounds. Back-to-back pick-sixes. A reverse flea-flicker. Goal line interceptions. Long touchdown passes. Huge goal line stands.

All in a day’s work during the AAC opener for both teams.

Ward threw two interceptions and took a number of big hits during a shaky first three quarters but rallied in the fourth to help the Cougars pull away and keep their slim College Football Playoff hopes alive. The quarterback finished the night 24-of-36 for 326 yards and a touchdown on the night but did most of his damage on the ground (73 yards, two scores) scrambling for big plays.

Though the final score didn’t indicate it, Tommy Tuberville’s team was in the contest for most of the night thanks to the Bearcats’ active defense. They harassed Ward on nearly every play in the pocket and limited Houston to just 3.5 yards per rush. Linebacker Antonio Kinard was all over the field in particular, racking up 18 tackles, a sack and two pass breakups.

Cincy’s offense however, failed to show up — especially in the final quarter. Quarterback Hayden Moore threw two interceptions and backup Ross Trail added another for a team that did the bulk of their damage on just four plays but was otherwise ineffective.

Amazingly the Bearcats actually took the lead right at the beginning of the fourth quarter to make things interesting. Houston responded like the potential College Football Playoff contender they are by scoring 28 unanswered to make the final score a laugher however.

Like we said, a game with just a little of everything on a wild Thursday night.

Bizarre play helps Cincinnati tie things up with Houston at halftime

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 1: Hayden Moore #8 of the Cincinnati Bearcats drops back to throw a pass during the second quarter of the game against the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks at Nippert Stadium on September 1, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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Houston head coach Tom Herman worried before the season began about his team’s conference opener at Cincinnati. After seeing how the Cougars played early on the road Thursday night, it turns out those fears were spot on.

Defense, dropped passes and strange plays dominated a sloppy first half of play in Cincinnati, as the Bearcats were able to limit the normally prolific Houston offense to just a single touchdown and headed into the locker room tied at 10-all after two quarters of play of the AAC opener for both teams.

Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. returned to action for Houston after injuring his shoulder and missing the team’s blowout win over Lamar last week. He lofted a beautiful 39 yard strike to Chance Allen in the first quarter to show that his arm looked just fine but had issues throughout the half finding receivers because of a lack of protection from his offensive line. The Heisman Trophy candidate did pick up several first downs with his legs but took a number of shots that caused him to get up slowly.

The Bearcats defense, led by their very active line in the trenches, limited the visitors to just 3.6 yards per rush and picked off Ward during the second quarter. Linebacker Antonio Kinard was in on an impressive 12 tackles in the first half alone.

The Cincy offense didn’t quite bring the same amount of effort, stalling several times on drives into UH territory and finding the end zone just once on a busted play that resulted in a 61 yard touchdown for Devin Gray.

All that was just building up to the strangest moment of the game — and possibly the season so far. Houston ran a double reverse that was setting up to be a sneaky trick play but Isiah Johnson was hit by safety Carter Jacobs, jarring the ball into the air and inexplicably back onto the field.

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Grant Coleman ended up picking the ball up off the turf and returning it back into Houston territory to setup a late Cincinnati  field goal that tied things up going into halftime.

Given how things went, it could be a wild final few quarters between the two AAC rivals.

Greg Ward Jr. cleared for Houston’s Thursday night game vs. Cincinnati

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 03:  Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. #1 of the Houston Cougars waits on the bench in thre second half of their game against the Oklahoma Sooners during the Advocare Texas Kickoff on September 3, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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The man charged with triggering Houston’s offense in its march toward a potential playoff berth is good to go for the Power Five program’s next big test.

Greg Ward Jr. sustained an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder in UH’s 33-23 win over Oklahoma in the season opener. Erring on the side of caution, the starting quarterback was held out of this past Saturday’s win over FCS Lamar.

Sunday night, Ward participated in practice with his teammates. Tuesday, with the AAC opener on tap Thursday night against unbeaten Cincinnati, word surfaced that Ward has been cleared by UH’s medical staff to return to the playing field.

“I’m feeling better than I did,” Ward said according to the Houston Chronicle. “I continue to feel better every day.”

“No doubt I can go out there and just be who I am” with no limitations, Ward added.

In the season-opening win over the Sooners, Ward passed for 321 yards and two touchdowns. Kyle Postma, making his second career start in place of an injured Ward, passed for 125 yards and ran for two scores in the 42-0 win over Lamar.

Moving forward, it’d probably be optimal for and/or behoove the Cougars to keep Ward upright and healthy if they want to crash the playoff party.

Group of Five Power Rankings: Boise State is back? Boise State is back

BOISE, ID - SEPTEMBER 10: Running back Jeremy McNichols #13 of the Boise State Broncos runs through traffic during second half action against the Washington State Cougars on September 10, 2016 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. Boise State won the game 31-28. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)
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The highest-ranked conference champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or Sun Belt as ranked by the College Football Playoff selection committee is awarded a guaranteed spot in the New Years Six bowl line-up at the end of the year. Boise State earned that in the 2014 season and Houston claimed it in the 2015 season. Houston again appears like a very strong candidate for the spot once again this fall after two weeks of play.

Keep in mind these rankings do not include independent programs BYU and Army, as neither qualifies for the automatic New Years Six bowl spot reserved for the Group of Five representative. So, without any further delay, here is how I would rank the Group of Five contenders through the first two weeks of the season.

1. Houston (2-0)

Houston had to play without quarterback Greg Ward last weekend against Lamar, but that was no problem at all. The Cougars blanked Lamar, 42-0, a week after scoring one of the best wins of the opening weekend against Oklahoma. With that win, it may be difficult for any Group of Five contender to chase down Houston unless the Cougars stumble. The win over the Sooners will look even better if Oklahoma can pick up a home win this weekend against Ohio State.

2. Boise State (2-0)

The Broncos filled in at the fifth spot last week but get the jump up to No. 2 this week after picking up a win against Washington State. Now I know what you’re saying. But Kevin, Washington state lost to an FCS school at home! This is true, but the Broncos have been looking pretty decent out of the gate and may be emerging as the team to beat in the Mountain West Conference already.

3. San Diego State (2-0)

Oh yeah. Then there’s San Diego State, fresh off a win at home against Cal. Donnel Pumphrey is a one-man wrecking crew on the ground. Should the Aztecs be ranked ahead of the Broncos? It’s debatable. The only reason the Broncos get the edge for now is San Diego State has a win against an FCS opponent and Boise State went on the road to demolish a possible Sun Belt contender in the opener. San Diego State hits the road this week to play Northern Illinois, which could help nudge the Aztecs past Boise State.

3. Western Michigan (2-0)

I would have easily kept Western Michigan higher this week after putting up 70 against an FCS opponent, but the luster of a win on the road against Northwestern that was nearly handed away to the Wildcats lost a little luster when Northwestern lost at home to an FCS opponent, in which they only scored seven points. But that’s not Western Michigan’s fault! If Western Michigan goes 2-0 in Big Ten play, they could ascend right back up the ranking next week. The Broncos head to Illinois this week.

4. Southern Mississippi (2-0)

A week after a big rally on the road against Kentucky for a win, Southern Mississippi wasted Savannah State, 56-0, as expected. The Golden Eagles get Troy at home this week, after the Trojans just made Clemson work hard for a win. Get this one and the Golden Eagles should be in business.

5. East Carolina (2-0)

Making their season debut in the top five here is East Carolina. The Pirates scored a nice win over North Carolina State for some in-state bragging rights, and they could go 2-0 vs Power Five opponents this week with a road game at South Carolina. Do that and then they head to Blacksburg, Virginia for a game with the Hokies. East Carolina has a chance to make a move in this ranking before conference play opens.

On the Radar: Air Force, Cincinnati, Navy, South Florida, Western Kentucky, Toledo, Central Michigan, Temple, Georgia Southern

I was tempted to place Central Michigan in here, but I refuse to acknowledge the Chippewas actually did win as both the MAC and Big 12 confirmed the officials in the game blew the call. Under that set of circumstances, I believe the game should be vacated, so I cannot bring myself to acknowledge the win. I will, however, keep them on the radar because they took advantage of an opportunity presented to them, and in the end I cannot hold that against them too much.