NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 17: Ito Smith #25 of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles celebrates a touchdown with Korey Robertson #18 during the first half of a game against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 17, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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Southern Miss aerial attack too much for UL-Lafayette in New Orleans Bowl

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Allenzae Staggers already set the school record for receiving yards in a game this year.

He did his best to try and break it again on Saturday night as Southern Miss’ aerial attack was too much for UL-Lafayatte in 28-21 victory in the New Orleans Bowl.

Staggers did most of his damage in the first half but finished with a remarkable 230 yards on 11 catches with one touchdown. His stellar play in slicing up the Ragin’ Cajuns’ secondary played a big role in the Golden Eagles’ offensive success and allowed senior quarterback Nick Mullens to close out his career with 346 yards, two scores and an interception that came off a deflection.

Tailback Ito Smith also had an impressive night to end the season, rushing for 138 yards and two touchdowns while adding another score through the air.

That was all too much for Louisiana to overcome. Quarterback Anthony Jennings did take advantage of a turnover to cut the lead to one score late in the fourth quarter but was otherwise mediocre with just 95 yards passing on eight completions (he did rush for two scores). Elijah McGuire chipped in with 96 yards on the ground as well.

The victory caps off an up-and-down 2016 for Southern Miss in which the team rallied to beat Kentucky in the opener but struggled down the stretch when Mullens missed time with injuries.

Those issues were forgotten about on Saturday however, as the night belonged to the ever productive Staggers and the impressive aerial attack of the Golden Eagles in a fun one from the Superdome.

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

The Fifth Quarter: Week 1 Rewind

Donavan Wilson
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As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WACK-12
The Pac-12 came into the 2015 season looking to challenge the SEC for conference football supremacy.  While that may end up still being the case, it was a rough Week 1 in myriad regards for the Left Coast league, particularly its northern division.

First and foremost, No. 21 Stanford went into Evanston as heavy favorites only to be upended and upset by Northwestern.  And it wasn’t just that one of the preseason favorites in the North was beaten, it was that they were roughed up by the Wildcats and seemed to play timid on both sides of the ball.  More embarrassingly, a couple of hours later Washington State lost to FCS Portland State, which came into the game a 30-point underdog.

The South contributed to the first-week malaise as No. 15 Arizona State, viewed by some as a darkhorse playoff candidate (sheepishly raises hand), capped off the night with a 20-point loss to unranked Texas A&M.  At least that, though, was a loss to a Power Five school, and one from the stacked SEC West no less, in what was essentially a home game for the Aggies.

Add in Washington’s loss to Boise State — no shame in that — and Colorado’s loss to Hawaii Thursday night — a whole hell of a lot of shame in that — and it turned into a horrific lost weekend for the conference.  That said, remember how many were writing the Big Ten off a year ago at this time?  Yeah, it wouldn’t be wise to repeat that history.

WEAK 1?
If you thought that the Week 1 schedule, especially Saturday, was especially lacking when it came to compelling on-paper matchups, you’re not alone.  In fact, the raw data is sitting right along side you.

Opening weekend, and including the two still remaining, there were/are 87 games involving FBS teams.  Of that, 11 pitted Power Five vs. Power Five (for this exercise, I’m considering BYU a P5); another 47 — more than half — featured FBS teams playing an FCS team.  There were 22 Power Five teams that opened their season against an FCS team, with the ACC far and away leading the cupcake way with seven.  The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 had four apiece, while the pastry alley that is the late-season SEC lagged behind with three.

There were also 23 games played between Power Five and Group of Five teams.  The SEC accounted for eight of those games, while the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 saw four each.  The FCS-heavy ACC had three such games.

It wasn’t just the Power Fives feeding on the FCS, though, as 25 Group of Five teams opened against the former Div. 1-AA.  The remaining six games saw Group of Five squads squaring off against each other.

While most of the FBS feasted on their FCS cupcakes, a handful choked on them.  Two that lost to FCS teams were Power Five members in the aforementioned Wazzu and Kansas (South Dakota State, more on that below) and two were Group of Five teams in Army (Fordham) and Wyoming (North Dakota).

BAD BLOOD CHEAP SHOT?
Vernon Adams transferred from Eastern Washington to Oregon earlier this offseason and ultimately earned the Ducks’ starting quarterback job.  As luck would have it, Adams’ current and former teams squared off in the season opener in Autzen Saturday night, and there was one interesting development in UO’s 61-42 win.

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No. 3 Alabama defeats Southern Miss 52-12 as warm up for Florida

Southern Miss v Alabama
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Southern Miss came to Tuscaloosa, Ala. to face the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide, and the Golden Eagles will leave with a nice paycheck for their troubles. The Crimson Tide dominated in all phases of the game and captured a 52-12 victory over the Golden Eagles.

The game was essentially a warm up for Alabama as Nick Saban‘s crew sets its sights on the team’s first game in SEC play against the Florida Gators.

Saban is a perfectionist, though. He’ll want to clean up some areas on special teams. And Alabama can be expected to open up its offense next week.

Alabama’s offense only attempted 24 passes compared to 49 rushing attempts. Five different Alabama running backs carried the ball and gained at least 39 yards. Sophomore Derrick Henry led the way with 11 carries for 73 yards. Although, junior Kenyan Drake was the game’s star with three rushing touchdowns. Despite questions around Alabama’s offensive line, the unit continue to open holes and create yardage against a hapless Golden Eagles’ defense.

Saban was also able to get backup quarterback Jacob Coker valuable playing time. If the quarterback competition is ongoing in Saban’s mind, starter Blake Sims didn’t make any mistakes. The senior was fairly accurate and threw a pair of touchdowns passes. Coker, meanwhile, was 5-of-7 passing, but he missed a streaking wide receiver that was wide open for a sure touchdown. Since Coker didn’t come into the game until late, it’s a good indication of which way Saban is leaning for the Florida game.

Alabama’s performance was exactly what everyone expects of an elite program playing an inferior opponent at home. Saban and his crew can now concentrate on the Gators.

Halftime: Amari Cooper passes ‘Wizard of Oz’ against Southern Miss

Amari Cooper
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The No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide may have played a sloppy first half against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, but Nick Saban‘s squad still leads 21-6. Junior wide receiver Amari Cooper is once again the most impressive player on the field. The 6-1, 210-pound target has five receptions for 72 yards.

At this point, Alabama quarterback Blake Sims only seems to look in Cooper’s direction. Sims completed seven passes in the first half. Cooper caught five, and the rest of Alabama’s receivers only added nine yards through two quarters of play.

With his first catch of the game, Cooper entered elite territory for an Alabama wide receiver.

Teams haven’t been able to stop Cooper during the first three games of the season. The wide receiver already has 30 receptions and 391 yards through two and a half games. There is no reason for Sims to spread the ball around if Cooper continues to produce.

But Cooper isn’t expected to produce too much in the second half. With a solid lead and Southern Miss unable to move the football, Alabama’s backups are expected to receive plenty of playing time in the third and fourth quarters.