UNLV Rebels

BOISE, ID - SEPTEMBER 10: Running back Jamal Morrow #25 of the Washington State Cougars runs through the tackle of linebacker Tanner Vallejo #20 of the Boise State Broncos 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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Two Boise State LBs out for at least Air Force game

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A win Friday night kept Boise State in position to claim the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bid, but it wasn’t all positive in the postgame for the Broncos.

Following the 42-25 win over UNLV on the Smurf Turf, Bryan Harsin confirmed that  pair of linebackers, Tanner Vallejo (pictured) and Joe Martarano, will miss at least the regular-season finale against Air Force next Friday afternoon.  One of the injuries was sustained during the game, while the other has been lingering.

Late in the first quarter, Martarano went down with what was described as a serious leg injury.  While Harsin has ruled Martarano for the Week 13 game against the Falcons, the junior hasn’t been ruled out a bowl game quite yet, especially, if it’s later on in the postseason.

Earlier in the season, a knee injury had cost Martarano a pair of games.  He started the season opener against Louisiana.

Vallejo, meanwhile, has been playing with a broken wrist for well over a month.  However, the player and the football program decided earlier in the week that the senior would undergo surgery to repair the damage, which he did.

The medical procedure means Vallejo will be sidelined for the remainder of the season, including a bowl game.

“It was just time,” Harsin said according to the Idaho Press-Tribune. “He played with it, but you couldn’t do much with it. It was one of those decisions where it’s time for him. I think he did everything he could possibly do this season under those conditions.”

Vallejo is currently second on the team in tackles with 69, and had started the first nine games of the season prior to Friday night.

UNLV loses leading receiver to broken arm

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 12:  Wide receiver Devonte Boyd #83 of the UNLV Rebels runs for yardage before being tackled by cornerback Rico Gafford #5 of the Wyoming Cowboys during their game at Sam Boyd Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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UNLV needs to win its last two games to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2013.  As the Rebels embark on that postseason task, they’ll be forced to do so without their most productive threat in the passing game.

Monday, head coach Tony Sanchez announced that Devonte Boyd has a broken left forearm.  As a result, the wide receiver will miss the remainder of the 2016 season.

Boyd suffered the injury in the triple-overtime win over Wyoming this past Saturday.

Through the first 10 games of the season, Boyd had caught 45 passes for 746 yards and four touchdowns.  Those totals were easily tops on the team.

How easily?  The next four players have combined for 44 receptions for 620 yards and six touchdowns.

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

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.

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 TMGSports.com 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.