Boise State 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

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.

Boise State sneaks past Washington State in wild shootout on the blue turf

BOISE, ID - SEPTEMBER 10: Offensive lineman Mason Hampton #59 of the Boise State Broncos and linebacker Peyton Pelluer #47 of the Washington State Cougars scramble for a loose ball during first half action on September 10, 2016 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)
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The combination of Boise State’s blue turf and Washington State’s quirky head coach Mike Leach was bound to produce a memorable game Saturday night that would serve as a flashback to WAC shootouts from yesteryear.

Mission accomplished.

Boise State scored an 85 yard pick-six on the first series of the game, had an 88-yard touchdown drive on their first offensive drive and then blocked a field goal in the first half but failed to put away Washington State in a wild 31-28 game that always seemed to have one of the two teams making a crazy play every few minutes down the stretch.

The Cougars managed to regroup coming out of halftime and make  a serious run at the win before ultimately falling just short. Wazzu scored two touchdowns in the 4th quarter to cut it to a one score game with four minutes to go but couldn’t quite force overtime or find a game-winner.

Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien, the nephew of ex-Washington State star Mark Rypien, threw for 299 yards and a touchdown but tossed two late interceptions in the 4th quarter that nearly put the victory in jeopardy. Luckily the sophomore was able to hand the ball off to tailback Jeremy McNichols for most of the night as he rumbled his way to 116 yards and two scores but the two turnovers were decidedly un-Boise like.

The Broncos’ normally reliable defense did not have a second half to remember either on their way to giving up 480 yards through the air to quarterback Luke Falk. Still, they came up big on the final play of the game to knock down his Hail Mary attempt and secure the program’s first win over their Pacific Northwest rival.

Boise State isn’t done with the Pac-12 after that one either, as they’ll travel to Oregon State next week looking for their second straight victory over a Power Five opponent. Washington State, meanwhile, will have to regroup after starting 2016 with an 0-2 record and an uphill battle to make a bowl game.

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

Get ready for the Week 2 hangover: Five games to watch this week

Battle At Bristol
AP Photo/The Bristol Herald-Courier, David Crigger
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After Florida State and Texas helped close out the greatest opening weekend in college football history the past two nights, all eyes have now shifted to what’s ahead for an encore in Week 2. Unfortunately for fans, the college football scheduling gods have not been as kind to us in the second week of the season, which is to be expected when we have been so spoiled out of the gate this fall.

The five most intriguing games of Week 2 to follow are listed below:

Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech: The Battle at Bristol will pit Tennessee against Virginia Tech on the infield of Bristol Motor Speedway. The Vols escaped an upset bid by Appalachian State on Thursday night, while the Justin Fuente Era in Blacksburg got off to decent start by pulling away from Liberty. The Vols must play a sharper game on offense, because the Hokies will be feeding off the film they got from Thursday night’s game.

TCU vs. Arkansas: Both the Horned Frogs and Razorbacks opened the season with a win this past weekend, but neither did so in a fashion that inspires a tremendous amount of confidence. Were they each saving a little something for this matchup between the Big 12 and SEC, or are there some concerns that need to be addressed by Gary Patterson and Bret Bielema. This matchup in Fort Worth should provide some energy.

Pittsburgh vs. Penn State: For the first time in 16 years, these in-state rivals are set to renew their rivalry. It is difficult to comprehend the idea that a generation of college football fans in Pennsylvania have yet to experience a game between the Panthers and Nittany Lions, but they finally get their first taste of it this Saturday in western PA. It is the first of a four-game scheduling arrangement over the next four seasons. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi has shut his team off from the media to avoid distractions this week.

Florida vs. Kentucky: The Gators were sluggish on offense in their opener before starting to pull away from UMass. Kentucky let one slip away at home last week against Southern Miss. The Gators have won 29 straight in this series dating back to 1987 and have lost just once to the Wildcats since 1980. Kentucky has not won in The Swamp since 1979. With this being the SEC opener for each, getting a jump on the division race is key, and Kentucky is already on thin ice for making postseason play after dropping last week’s game.

Utah vs. BYU: The Holy War always is worth watching because these two schools hate each other with a wild passion. Both teams enter with 1-0 records after Utah handled Southern Utah and BYU clipped Arizona in the opener. Can the Cougars go 2-0 against the Pac-12 out of the gates?

OTHER GAMES ON THE RADAR

Baylor vs. SMU: SMU still has a long way to go but could put up some offense against Baylor.

Texas vs. UTEP: After a thriller against the Irish, can Charlie Strong’s team avoid a letdown?

Boise State vs. Washington State: The Broncos were impressive last week while Mike Leach’s Cougars took a home loss against Eastern Washington.

South Florida vs. NIU: With NIU taking a loss on the road last week at Wyoming, the Huskies need a win to remain in the Group of Five hunt before it pulls away from them entirely.

Oregon vs. Virginia: The Cavaliers were trounced at home by Richmond in Bronco Mendenhall’s Virginia debut. Now they fly to Oregon? Uh-oh.

Arizona State vs. Texas Tech: Offense on offense on offense.

Illinois vs. UNC: Lovie Smith’s Illini played well in its opener and they host UNC coming off a loss.

THE TEAM YOU DON’T WANT TO BE THIS WEEK

Wofford: The FCS program travels to Ole Miss this week. You think the Rebels will be ready to unload some pent-up frustration after losing to Florida State Monday night?

FCS USET ALERT OF THE WEEK

Illinois State vs. Northwestern: Though one should logically assume Northwestern bounces back at home this week after dropping one to Western Michigan, Illinois State is coming in as one of the top FCS programs there is. Don’t be surprised if No. 9 Illinois State hangs around longer than Northwestern fans would be comfortable seeing.

Also, No. 5 Jacksonville State is visiting LSU, who lost last week in Green Bay. The Jaguars pushed Auburn to the limit last season and we know LSU’s passing game is a concern. You just never know!