Air Force Falcons

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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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.

Air Force set an FBS record for time of possession on Saturday

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - NOVEMBER 28:  Place kicker Will Conant #30 of the Air Force Falcons celebrates with holder Brett Dunn #92 of the Air Force Falcons after successfully making a field goal during the second quarter against the Colorado State Rams at Falcon Stadium on November 28, 2014 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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It’s a good time to be a service academy football program.

Air Force, Army and Navy are concurrently 2-0 for the first time since 1996. And, though one never wants to count their chickens before they hatch, there’s a good shot all three start at 3-0. Army visits UTEP on Saturday while Navy visits Tulane. Air Force is off this week before visiting Utah State next week.

But the Falcons’ week off will give them more time to bask in the glow of their record-setting win over Georgia State last week. Air Force held on to the football for an FBS-record 45 minutes and 14 seconds.

In addition to holding a 3-to-1 time of possession edge, Air Force won first downs 30-6, went 13-of-19 on third downs to Georgia State’s 4-of-12, won total plays 92-41, gained a 531-169 total yardage edge and out-rushed the Panthers 464-27.

Air Force won the game, 48-14.

All three service academies 2-0 for first time in two decades

Old Glory
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On the eve of the anniversary of 9/11, it seems appropriate that we can highlight the football performances of some of the bravest and brightest in our nation’s military.

In Week 2, Air Force, Army and Navy got past Georgia State, Rice and UConn, respectively, in sweeping the weekend.  In Week 1, all three of the service academies won as well.

The threesome beginning a season 2-0 is actually a rather rare feat as this marks the first time in two decades that the academies have opened the year unbeaten in their first two games.

In the six decades that Air Force has been playing FBS football, the academies have never started a season a collective 9-0.  In 1958, however, the trio was undefeated as Army and Navy went 3-0 while Air Force went 2-0-1 to begin that season.

Air Force, Army and Navy will look to reach that historic triple trifecta against Utah State, UTEP and Tulane, respectively, in their next games (the latter two’s next game is Week 3, the former’s in Week 4).  This start also sets up, potentially, a very competitive chase for a highly sought after piece of hardware.

The Falcons will play host to the Midshipmen two weeks from today, then travel to the Black Knights the first weekend of November. Army and Navy, of course, will square off in their annual stand-alone game the final weekend of the 2016 regular season.

Navy has won 10 of the last 13 Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy, while Air Force has won nine the last 19. Army hasn’t claimed the trophy since 1996.

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

Mountain West to consider expansion with or without Big 12 poaching

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 05:  The Championship Trophy, with the Offensive and Defensive Player of the Game trophies, sit on a table fieldside prior to the Mountain West Championship game between the San Diego State Aztecs and  the Air Force Falcons at Qualcomm Stadium on December 5, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images)
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Regardless of what happens in one Power Five conference, one Group of Five league could be expanding.

Air Force and Colorado State of the Mountain West have reportedly made the cut as the Big 12 looks to expand by at least two teams and possibly four.  That conference could make their expansion decision as early as the next month.

In the meantime, the MWC won’t be sitting idly by waiting to be poached as commissioner Craig Thompson confirmed Saturday that his conference will look to expand independent of what the Big 12 does.  And, more to the point, Thompson doesn’t hide the fact that the league would like a presence in the state of Texas.

“I can say this — and I said it at our [football] media days. We have a lot of people saying, ‘If there’s an opportunity to be in your league, we’re interested.’ So there are numbers there,” Thompson said, without getting into any specifics. “I’ve challenged our membership to think about expansion — with or without losing [current] members. Do we look east? Do we look at the state of Texas, for example?

“So that’s probably going to be something we have to confront this year.”

The Salt Lake Tribune mentions current Conference USA members North Texas, Rice, UTEP and UT-San Antonio as possibilities from the state of Texas.  The Sun Belt’s Arkansas State is also considered a viable option.