Western Michigan Broncos

MEMPHIS, TN - OCTOBER 17:  Student section of the Memphis Tigers celebrates after a touchdown during a game against the Ole Miss Rebels at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Memphis, Tennessee.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Group of Five Power-Ranking: Memphis rising, Boise State and Western Michigan remain undefeated

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As another weekend of college football came to a close, there was no reason to suggest anyone was ready to knock Houston out of the pole position in the season-long Group of Five power ranking this week. The Cougars blasted Texas State on the road and look poised to make a run through the American Athletic Conference this season. It may not have been a great weekend for the MAC, but Western Michigan continues to make things interesting in Kalamazoo that can not be ignored. And then there is another school sporting the nickname of the Broncos that continues to stay in the running.

One spot in the New Years Six lineup will be reserved for the highest-ranked conference champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or Sun Belt Conference. Houston received that invite last season and appears well on its way to taking it once again this season (unless they wiggle into the College Football Playoff by chance).

So, here is how I would rank the Group of Five contenders through four weeks of play.

1. Houston (4-0)

The Cougars are on a roll after a 64-3 victory over Texas State. Next up for Tom Herman‘s Cougars is a revenge game at home against UConn. The Huskies were the only team to defeat Houston last season, but Greg Ward Jr. is healthy this time around.

2. Western Michigan (4-0)

The Broncos took care of business at home against Georgia Southern, scoring 28 second quarter points to go on to win 49-31. Western Michigan has two wins against Big Ten opponents and looks to be the best team the MAC has to offer. 12-0 in play? Hmmm…

3. San Diego State (3-0)

The Aztecs were off this week, but that does not hurt them here. The highlight has been running back Donnell Pumphrey and they are the second of two Group of Five teams to be ranked  by the voters. It should be smooth sailing to the MWC Championship Game.

4. Boise State (3-0)

Boise State is not going away though, not after a second victory over a Pac-12 team (OK, so it was Oregon State and they already beat Washington State, but still). Boise State looks to have a more challenging schedule ahead of them than San Diego State, but keep an eye out for the Broncos.

5. Memphis (3-0)

If you thought losing a head coach to a bigger program and a starting quarterback to the NFL was going to slow down Memphis, think again. The Tigers put 77 on the board in a 77-3 blowout of Bowling Green. Memphis has outscored their FBS opponents 120-10 in the last two games. Next up? A road trip to Ole Miss.

On the Radar: Air Force, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Eastern Michigan, Georgia Southern, Middle Tennessee, Navy, Southern Miss, Troy, Tulsa, UCF, USF

The state of Michigan? Just one loss amongst five FBS teams

EVANSTON, IL- SEPTEMBER 03: P.J. Fleck head coach of the Western Michigan Broncos reacts after his teams win against the Northwestern Wildcats on September 3, 2016 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. the Western Michigan Broncos won 22-21. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
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If you’re an FBS program in the state of Michigan, you’re off to a pretty good start to the 2016 season. In fact, it’s damn-near perfect.

Eastern Michigan, amidst a peaceful protest, was able to hold off Wyoming Friday night to push its record to 3-1 on the young season. That marks the first time in more than two decades that the Eagles have started a season at 3-1.

Not only that, but it continues into Week 4 what’s been a rather remarkable first three weeks of the season for the FBS teams in the state.

Michigan and Michigan State of the Big Ten are 3-0 and 2-0, respectively, thus far. EMU’s directional counterparts, Central Michigan and Big Ten West leader Western Michigan, are each 3-0.

Add it all up, as Bruce Feldman did on his Twitter account, and the five FBS teams from the state of Michigan are a combined 14-1 heading into a Saturday that will see UM (Penn State, 2-1), MSU (Wisconsin, 3-0), CMU (Virginia, 0-3) and WMU (Georgia Southern, 3-0) look to push that mark to 18-1.

In the here and now, though, how does that .933 winning percentage compare to other states with three or more FBS teams at this juncture of the 2016 season? Let’s take a peek.

Colorado — .750 (6-2)
Tennessee — .727 (8-3)
Georgia — .692 (9-4)
Kentucky — .667 (6-3)
Utah — .667 (6-3)
Florida — .619 (13-8)
California — 12-8 (.600)
Indiana — .600 (6-4)
Texas — .595 (22-15)
Alabama — .583 (7-5)
Oklahoma — .555 (5-4)
Pennsylvania — .555 (5-4)
North Carolina — .542 (13-11)
Ohio — .542 (13-11)
New York — .500 (4-4)
Louisiana — .467 (7-8)
Mississippi — .444 (4-5)
Illinois — .222 (2-7)

One note before somebody starts whining despite the three-team stipulation: the state of Maryland is undefeated but has “just” two FBS programs, with both Maryland and Navy sitting at 3-0 each.

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.

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)
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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

Western Michigan upends Northwestern, marking MAC’s 11th straight year with B1G win

EVANSTON, IL- SEPTEMBER 03: P.J. Fleck head coach of the Western Michigan Broncos reacts after his teams win against the Northwestern Wildcats on September 3, 2016 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. the Western Michigan Broncos won 22-21. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
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A lot of people across the country love themselves some MACtion, but here’s to guessing a sizable number of Big Ten schools don’t fall into that category.

Included in that category is Northwestern, which was on the receiving end of a directional MACtion slap across the face as Western Michigan went into Evanston and came away with a 22-21 win.  Late in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats were driving for what could’ve proved to be the game-winning score when one of the most bizarre plays of the first full Saturday slate of games unfolded.

The Chicago Tribune explains:

[NU quarterback Clayton] Thorson was at his best on the Wildcats final possession, but he was stripped by Western Michigan linebacker Robert Spillane at the goal line with about three minutes remaining in the game, and [WMU safety] Davontae Ginwright recovered in a bizarre sequence that was ruled a touchback.

Ginwright threw the ball into the end zone as he was going out of bounds and Northwestern recovered, but the officials ruled that he was already in possession and out of bounds.

After  review, WMU got the ball on the turnover, and ran out the remaining 2:54 for the road upset.

The win marks the 11th consecutive season a team from the MAC has beaten one from the Big Ten, which is the longest such streak in the history of the conference

During that stretch, MAC teams have defeated 10 different Big Ten teams— Illinois (2); Indiana (5); Iowa (3); Maryland (1); Michigan (1); Michigan State (1); Minnesota (2); Northwestern (2); Penn State (1) and Purdue (5) — for a total of 22 wins during this span. Miami (13), Bowling Green (8), Toledo (6), Central Michigan (6) and Northern Illinois (5) have the most wins all-time vs. Big Ten opponents.