Tulsa Golden Hurricane

STATESBORO, GA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Running back Jarvion Franklin of the Western Michigan Broncos #31 tries to break through the defensive line of the Georgia Southern Eagles during the first quarter on September 12, 2015 at Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Georgia.  (Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages)
Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages

Group of Five Power Ranking: Is it time to take Western Michigan seriously?

Leave a comment

Western Michigan head coach PJ Fleck has his Broncos seriously thinking about rowing their boats right into a New Years Six bowl game. It may very well be time to start figuring out how they can get there, because they are forcing the conversation after yet another blowout victory. Western Michigan isn’t just winning games: they are kicking butt and chewing bubble gum, and they’re all out of gum.

Western Michigan obliterated Akron on Saturday, 41-0. It is the fourth straight game that has seen Western Michigan put at least 40 points on the scoreboard and the sixth straight double-digit victory. Western Michigan ahs won six straight games by an average of 31 points per game since edging Northwestern in the season opener in Evanston by one.

So what is holding Western Michigan back from being discussed in the New Years Six race? A lack of a true signature win? An overall weak strength of schedule? Not a shred of past success to provide a benefit of the doubt? It may be a combination of the three, through no fault of Western Michigan’s own.

The Broncos are still likely chasing teams like Boise State (a success of crashing the big bowl party), Houston (preseason favorite) and Navy (who beat Houston and carries much more history and tradition). That is unfortunate for Western Michigan, because this is a wildly fun team to watch and they are not winning games by such wide margin by accident. Western Michigan is the team to beat in the MAC, and it’s not even close. The biggest challenge likely ahead for the Broncos will be a regular season finale against Toledo, which could decide the MAC West championship. At this point, it should be expected Western Michigan will be 11-0 by the time that game comes around, but how will the selection committee evaluate Western Michigan at that time, considering some of the other options laying around?

Reminder: One spot in the New Years Six lineup is guaranteed to the highest-ranked conference champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or Sun Belt Conference. A team must have the conference championship in order to qualify. Army, BYU and UMass are not eligible for this consideration.

Here is how I would rank the Group of Five contenders through seven weeks of the college football season;

1. Boise State (6-0, 3-0 MWC)

The Broncos had to hold on for dear life late Saturday night against Colorado State, but managed to keep their perfect record going. Boise State’s biggest win of the night, however, may have come in Pullman, Washington. Boise State clipped Washington State earlier in the year with a 31-28 victory on the Smurf turf. At the time, the Cougars didn’t look so hot, but now Washington State is one of two unbeaten teams in Pac-12 play (along with Washington, coached by former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen). That is a win that begins to look stronger and stronger for Boise State each week. In fact, Boise State’s win over 4-2 Washington State may arguably be on par with Houston’s victory over 4-2 Oklahoma.

2. Navy (4-1, 3-0 AAC)

The Midshipmen were off this week after having a Thursday night game against East Carolina postponed to later in the season due to flooding in North Carolina. As a result, Navy gets a little extra time to prepare for a giant home game next week against Memphis (more on them in a moment). First place in the AAC West will be on the line, which gives Navy a decisive edge in the division should they send Memphis home with a loss. Navy still has to play at USF and host Tulsa in conference play, and neither game is going to be an easy win. For now, Navy is sitting on top of the AAC thanks to a big win over Houston.

3. Houston (6-1, 3-1 AAC)

Houston may still need some help just in order to qualify for the AAC Championship Game, but they remain very much in the thick of the hunt. Houston may still be the most talented team in the AAC, bu the past two weeks have shown they are not invincible. Navy took them out and Tulsa gave them a real good scare in Houston on Saturday. The good news for Houston is the rest of the conference schedule is a tad more manageable than what Navy has in front of them, although Houston must still play at Memphis and they also get Louisville at home. A loss to Louisville could hurt Houston’s New Years Six bid even if they do go on to win the AAC, but Houston still needs Navy (or Memphis?) to lose twice in order for that to be a possibility.

4. Western Michigan (7-0, 3-0 MAC)

See above. At some point I am going to have to strongly consider moving Western Michigan up in these rankings. Maybe next week?

5. USF (6-1, 3-0 AAC)

This last spot was up for grabs between a few candidates, but ultimately went to South Florida after pulling away for a decisive victory over UConn in Tampa this weekend. The Bulls have now won all three of their conference games by no fewer than 16 points, and this week Quinton Flowers and the Bulls have a chance to take firm control of the AAC East Division. USF heads to Philadelphia to play Temple. A win against the Owls (which they earned last year) would be huge with games against Navy and Memphis coming up after that. Going 2-1 in this stretch may be enough to put the Bulls on pace for the conference title game, especially if one of those wins comes against Temple.

On the Radar: Toledo, San Diego State, Memphis, Tulsa, Troy

No. 4 Ohio State weathers the storm, beats Tulsa 48-3

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 10:  Jeremy Brady #22 of the Tulsa Hurricane stops quarterback J.T. Barrett #16 of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the first quarter at Ohio Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

No. 4 Ohio state (2-0) got off to a rough start at home against visiting Tulsa (1-1), but some key defensive plays at the end of the first half and an extended delay at halftime due to severe weather rolling through Columbus allowed plenty of time to regroup and make some adjustments. As if Ohio State really needed any extra help in the first place. Ohio State outscored the Golden Hurricane 17-0 in the second half to pick up a second straight win to begin the season, winning 48-3.

Ohio State was locked with Tulsa in a battle of field goals and missed opportunities in the first half until a pair of pick-sixes by the Buckeyes defense provided much-needed energy to Ohio State right before the half. Malik Hooker returned one interception 26 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter and moments later Marshon Lattimore returned one from 40 yards to turn a 6-3 dogfight into a 20-3 halftime lead as Tulsa was imploding as the rain started to drop on Ohio Stadium.

J.T. Barrett rushed for 52 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 149 yards in the victory for Ohio State, and Mike Weber emerged as the Buckeyes’ top running back with 92 yards and a score. Ohio State’s defense caused six turnovers as well as held the Golden Hurricane to fewer than 200 yards of total offense (189 yards). There was room for improvement for Ohio State, but credit should be given for Tulsa coming out and playing as they did. Tulsa showed it could have what it takes to be competitive in the American Athletic Conference this season, until they started making mistakes that could not stop developing. It also showed Ohio State’s overall talent advantage is difficult for most schools to overcome.

It may not have gone quite according to script for Ohio State, but they will most certainly take it as the next challenge looms.

Ohio State’s next test is a big one. The Buckeyes travel to Oklahoma to take on the Sooners in Norman next week in a clash between preseason favorites in the Big Ten and Big 12. Oklahoma may have stumbled in Week 1 against Houston, coached by former Ohio State assistant Tom Herman, but they present Ohio State with their biggest test in non-conference play during the regular season since a home-and-home series with USC when Pete Carroll and Matt Barkley were falling shy of expectations on the west coast. Yes, Ohio State did lose two years ago to Virginia Tech, but this will be the biggest regular season non-conference game for Urban Meyer since his arrival in Columbus.

Tulsa gets a chance to bounce back next week when they host North Carolina A&T before making a trip to California to play Fresno State the following week. Reaching conference play with a winning record is within sight. Tulsa’s offense is not as bad as it looked today. The chances Dane Evans has a four-interception game again are probably not very good.

Pair of pick-six plays help ease tension for Ohio State vs. Tulsa

TULSA, OK - SEPTEMBER 6:  Dane Evans #9 of the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes throws a pass against the Oklahoma Sooners at H.A. Chapman Stadium on September 6, 2014 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

One might say Ohio State looks like a team not trying to show off too much on the game film with a trip to Oklahoma looming next week, but another team from Oklahoma is determined to make the Buckeyes try a little harder to get a win. Tulsa’s defense has been hanging with Ohio State’s offense from the jump, but a late pick-six by Ohio State’s Malik Hooker has given the Buckeyes a little breathing room at halftime. The defense would come up with a second pick-six in the final minute of the half, this time with Marshon Lattimore doing the honors. Ohio State leads Tulsa 20-3 at the break.

Ohio State picked off a pass from Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans on the very first play of the game, to set the Buckeyes at the Tulsa 16-yard line just seconds in, but Tulsa’s defense hung tough and forced a field goal try by Tyler Durbin. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett fumbled away the football on a first down run on their next offensive series, but Tulsa was unable to take advantage with a turnover on downs at the goal line. Starting deep in their own end, Ohio State was forced to a three-and-out, giving Tulsa good field position to eventually set up a short field goal, which tied the game at 3-3.

Ohio State’s best drive of the half covered 59 yards but once again had to settle for three points. The 11-play drive stalled at the Tulsa five-yard line. Ohio State would have a turnover on downs on their next possession, once again deep in Tulsa territory at the four-yard line. Ohio State’s defense would score the first touchdown of the game with Hooker’s pick-six shortly after.

Severe weather is working its way through Columbus right now as well, as the rain started coming down pretty good late in the half.

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

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

Report: Big 12 narrows expansion list to 6-8 schools

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 7: Greg Ward Jr. #1 of the Houston Cougars escapes the tackle of Alex Pace #99 of the Cincinnati Bearcats in the first quarter of a NCAA football game at TDECU Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Eric Christian Smith/Getty Images)
Getty Images

And then there were six. Or eight.

We know East Carolina is no longer in the running for the two or four new spots possibly coming to the Big 12, but the folks at The Media Guides believe they do. The site reported Wednesday the Big 12 has sent formal invitations to Cincinnati, Houston, Connecticut, South Florida, Central Florida, BYU and “two other AAC schools” to advance to the next round of the process, which is believed to be in-person interviews at the league’s suburban Dallas headquarters.

With ECU out, Navy showing no interest and five of the league’s 12 teams already reported in, that leaves a pool of five possible teams for the two additional spots: Memphis, SMU, Temple, Tulane and Tulsa.

Local reports have stated SMU, Temple and Tulane still involved in the process as recently as today and yesterday.

So, yeah, you do the math.

While the process publicly — and painfully — rambles on, Oct. 17 is the date to watch there. That’s the next scheduled gathering of the Big 12’s Board of Directors.