Southern Miss Golden Eagles

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)
Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

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

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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.

Group of Five Power-Ranking: It’s Houston and everybody else

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 03:  Greg Ward Jr. #1 of the Houston Cougars takes the field for warmups with his teammates prior to the start 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)
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images
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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

Ex-Kentucky OC Shannon Dawson exacts revenge on his former team

LEXINGTON, KY - OCTOBER 15:  Mark Stoops the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats watches the action against the Auburn Tigers at Commonwealth Stadium on October 15, 2015 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops fired his offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson this offseason, nearly a year to the day after pulling him away from West Virginia. The firing seemed justified at the time. In his one season guiding the Wildcats’ attack, their numbers stayed relatively stagnant; UK finished the 2014 season tied for 76th nationally in yards per play, and in ’15 ranked tied for 78th. Kentucky collapsed down the stretch for the second consecutive season, so Stoops felt he needed to present a head to the screaming blue masses, lest they come for his own. So he eschewed Dawson to hire both Darin Hinshaw and Eddie Gran away from nearby Cincinnati.

And through one half on Saturday night, Stoops’s plan looked like a smart one.

Dawson’s new team Southern Miss just happened to open at Kentucky, and the Wildcats jumped out to a 35-10 second quarter lead.

But Dawson’s Eagles offense moved 84 yards in three plays just before the half to pull within 35-17. Then they marched 84 yards to open the second half, and now the score was 35-24. And then Southern Miss moved 66 yards in eight plays to pull within 35-31.

On its next possession, Southern Miss again found the end zone, marking four straight touchdowns to turn a 35-10 lead into a 38-35 advantage.

Kentucky finally slowed down the Flying Shannon Dawsons on their final two possessions — sort of. Both traveled more than 50 yards, and both ended in field goals.

Overall, Southern Miss moved 409 yards over 55 plays and six possessions, producing 34 points over that span.

“Coach Dawson and all that he’s gone through, I am happy for him,” Stoops told the Louisville Courier-Journal afterward. “Obviously, I want our team to play better, but he did a heck of a job and they kept us off balance.”

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s offense went completely in the tank.

The Wildcats’ second half touches moved 24 yards before losing a fumble, lost 11 yards in a three-and-out, threw an interception, moved five yards and punted and, in what proved to be their final snap of the night, gained 28 yards before losing another fumble.

Even former Kentucky head coach Hal Mumme tossed some shade at his former team through a praise for Dawson.

It was a loss Stoops could not afford to bear, not only for his ego but to avoid UK backers finding the $12 million necessary to buy him out after two straight late-season collapses and, now, one epic late game thud to open a season that was supposed to bring so much more.

After all, Stoops hired new offensive coordinators and everything.

Mark Stoops’ Kentucky coaching seats warms with loss to Southern Miss

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops, center, greets fans during the Cat Walk before an NCAA college football game against Southern Mississippi, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/David Stephenson)
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In one of our myriad previews ahead of the start of the 2016 season, I made the case for Mark Stoops to be included on this year’s Coaching Hot Seat.  Saturday night, Stoops’ Kentucky squad validated that argument.

At home in Lexington, Kentucky had no second-half answer for Southern Miss’ offense as the Golden Eagles came back and held on for a 44-35 win.  Adding embarrassing insult to the won/loss injury is the fact that USM’s offense is coordinated by Shannon Dawson, fired from the same position by Stoops in mid-December.

USM trailed UK 35-17 at halftime.  In the last two quarters, the Eagles outscored the Wildcats  27-0 to give Jay Hopson his first win as the football program’s head coach.

It was also the program’s first win over an SEC in 13 tries, with the last coming in 2000. The also loss put the finishing touches on what proved to be a craptastic Week 1 for the SEC.

While top-ranked Alabama laid waste to No. 20 USC, No 5 LSU was dropped by unranked Wisconsin; Mississippi State lost to South Alabama at home; and Missouri was a double-digit loser to West Virginia.  Additionally, Arkansas pulled out a one-point win over Louisiana Tech and Tennessee survived Appalachian State in overtime — both of those were home games for the SEC teams.

Watson, Mayfield headline Manning Award watch list

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 28:  Deshaun Watson #4 of the Clemson Tigers after scoring a touchdown during their game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Manning Award released its 30-member Watch List on Monday, in case you needed reminding which quarterbacks were the best in college football. The Manning separates itself from the Davey O’Brien and Unitas quarterback awards — and, more often than not, the Heisman and Maxwell, too — by taking bowl performances into account before handing out its trophy.

“We once again have a great group of quarterbacks returning to college football this fall,” said Archie Manning in a statement. “While this Watch List has many of the best returning players, we look forward to making midseason additions as teams settle on definite starters and as young players step up and make names for themselves. I’m really looking forward to getting the season rolling to see which guys will rise to the top and become Manning Award finalists.”

The Watch List includes:

  • Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska
  • J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
  • C.J. Beathard, Iowa
  • Jake Browning, Washington
  • Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
  • Dane Evans, Tulsa
  • Luke Falk, Washington State
  • Quinton Flowers, South Florida
  • Skyler Howard, West Virginia
  • Lamar Jackson, Louisville
  • Brad Kaaya, Miami
  • Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
  • Trevor Knight, Texas A&M
  • Taylor Lamb, Appalachian State
  • Wes Lunt, Illinois
  • Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
  • Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
  • Nick Mullens, Southern Miss
  • Kent Myers, Utah State
  • Josh Rosen, UCLA
  • Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
  • Cooper Rush, Central Michigan
  • Seth Russell, Baylor
  • Brett Rypien, Boise State
  • Brandon Silvers, Troy
  • Brent Stockstill, Middle Tennessee
  • Zach Terrell, Western Michigan
  • Phillip Walker, Temple
  • Deshaun Watson, Clemson

As far as snubs go, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and/or Malik Zaire feel like pretty big ones. If you’re the type to get upset about preseason watch lists, that is. (Which you shouldn’t be.)

The Manning Award will announce its midseason Watch List additions — which either Kizer or Zaire will be — on Oct. 12, its 10 finalists on Nov. 30, and its winner on Jan. 11.

Watson will attempt to become the first repeat winner in the 12-year history of the award. Previous winners (Matt LeinartTim TebowJohnny Manziel and Jameis Winston) are 0-for-4 in their attempts to repeat.