New Mexico Lobos

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

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


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)
Getty Images

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.

Big 12 informs East Carolina it’s no longer an expansion candidate

GREENVILLE, NC - SEPTEMBER 05:  Head coach Skip Holtz of the East Carolina Pirates walks onto the field with his team before their game against the Appalachian State Mountaineers at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Greenville, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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We don’t know yet which schools the Big 12 will add in its latest round of expansion.  We do know, though, one who won’t be added.

In a press release, and in a move that will surprise almost no one outside of the university, East Carolina confirmed that the Big 12 has informed them that they are no longer being considered as a candidate for expansion.  It had previously been reported that ECU was one of 20 Group of Five schools that contacted the conference about becoming a member.

The Big 12’s decision on ECU comes a couple of weeks after the current American Athletic Conference member conducted a video conference with commissioner Bob Bowlsby to make its pitch for membership.

“I am proud of the support Pirate Nation provided to our efforts,” ECU president Dr. Cecil Stanton said in a statement. “While I am disappointed by the decision, I remain undaunted in my commitment to ECU athletics and the excellence displayed by our wonderful student-athletes, coaches and staff.”

“While it is obviously not the decision we were hoping for, I am confident ECU put forth its best effort during this process,” a statement from the school’s athletic director, Jeff Compher, began. “Through a determined approach we were able to tell our story to not only the Big 12, but the entire nation. Our student-athletes, coaches and staff will continue to proudly compete for championships in the American Athletic Conference and we will represent our alumni and community with great resolve. We remain Undaunted!”

Nine other AAC members (Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Temple, Tulane, UCF, UConn, USF) are up for consideration by the Big 12.  Schools from Conference USA (Rice), the MAC (Northern Illinois), Mountain West (Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV) and the Sun Belt (Arkansas State), as well as football independent BYU, are considered to be expansion candidates.

It’s believed that some combination of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, UCF and UConn will ultimately be part of any expansion.  A report from surfaced overnight that stated invitations have been sent to those six schools, as well as USF and two other unnamed AAC schools.  Those on the receiving end of the invitations are expected to take part in another round of presentations, after which the conference will settle on their new members.

While the conference is looking at expanding by both two and four teams, it appears the former is the more likely number.  A final decision on both the members and number of members is expected at some point in October.

Arkansas State, Air Force, Northern Illinois, San Diego State on Big 12’s expansion list, too

Big 12 Trophy
Big 12 conference

Friday it was reported that Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby will be conducting videoconferences with the 17 schools that have contacted the conference expressing interest in becoming a member of the league.  Of those 17, 14 schools were known.

Now we know the other three schools, as well as an 18th interested in membership.

As we had previously noted, San Diego State was believed to be one of the original 17 mentioned by‘s Brett McMurphy.  McMurphy confirmed SDSU is one of the now-18 that’ll state their case to the league, while also noting that the Sun Belt’s Arkansas State, Mountain West’s Air Force and MAC’s Northern Illinois will do so as well.

So, for those keeping score at home, below is a conference-by-conference breakdown of potential additions to the Big 12.

East Carolina


Northern Illinois

Air Force
Boise State
Colorado State
New Mexico
San Diego State

Arkansas State

While 18 schools will be afforded the opportunity to stump for their inclusion, it’s believed that some combination of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, UCF and UConn will ultimately be part of any expansion.  While it remains to be seen whether the Big 12 expands by two or four, McMurphy also reported that it’s “less and less likely” that current 10-team conference will expand by four.

It has previously been reported that the Big 12 would like to settle the expansion issue before the start of the upcoming season, although that appears, like adding four schools, less and less likely.  Instead, a decision might not be made until a board of directors meeting scheduled for October.

Report: Big 12 will talk to 17 schools, expanding by two more likely than four

WVU vs Marshall
Associated Press

While no announcement is imminent, it appears there’s some additional clarity on the Big 12 expansion front.

First and foremost,‘s Brett McMurphy is reporting, it’s becoming what sources described as “less and less likely” that the Big 12 will expand to 14 from its current 10-school membership.  Instead, the conference likely either stand pat or add just two teams.  The latter move would allow the conference to split into two six-team divisions.

As for potential expansion candidates, McMurphy reports that commissioner Bob Bowlsby will conduct videoconferences with the 17 schools that have contacted the conference expressing interest in becoming a member of the league.  Those 17 schools include oft-mentioned suspects such as Boise State, Cincinnati, BYU, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Houston, Memphis, Tulane, UCF, UConn and USF.  Additionally, East Carolina, New Mexico, SMU and Temple are part of the large group looking for inclusion.

Only 14 of the 17 schools that will be a part of the videoconferences were listed by McMurphy.  It’s believed San Diego State is another of the 17.  Air Force, Fresno State and Hawaii have also been previously mentioned as possibilities.

It’s believed that some combination of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, UCF and UConn will ultimately be part of any expansion.  The first one mentioned when it comes to presumptive front-runners will, however, have to overcome some negative attention some of its policies have received as of late.

It has previously been reported that the Big 12 would like to settle the expansion issue before the start of the upcoming season, although that appears, like adding four schools, less and less likely.  Instead, a decision might not be made until a board of directors meeting scheduled for October.