Group of Five Update: Houston lost, but New Years Six still up for grabs for AAC contenders

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Houston may have been upset on the road by UConn on Saturday, but the Cougars remain in a solid position to reach the goal of any Group of Five program. The only thing Houston realistically lost Saturday was an undefeated season. Houston will get a chance to redeem themselves and play for a conference championship if it can score a win against a rising Navy this week. Better yet, the winner of the Houston-Navy game will get to host the first American Athletic Conference championship game, and the AAC is still in the bets possible position to send its champion to the New Years Six bowl line-up regardless if it is Navy, Houston or Temple.

South Florida remains in the AAC mix going into the final week of the season. If USF beats UCF and Temple loses to UConn, the Bulls will play for the AAC title against either Houston or Navy. If you are a Toledo fan, then you are buying a ticket to ride Coach T’s bus in Tampa. USF winning the AAC swings the door wide open for a MAC champion to fill the vacancy in the New Years Six reserved for the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion. The odds are probably stacked against the MAC champion, be it Toledo, Northern Illinois or Bowling Green, but USF could throw a wrench in the plans for the AAC.

With the final week of the regular season coming up for the majority of the Group of Five conferences, here is a rundown of the division scenarios at play in each. The final week of the season will see five division champions determined, with three being settled on the field between division contenders. Home field advantage is also up for grabs in a handful of contests.

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE DIVISON BREAKDOWN

AAC EAST

  • Temple wins with a win vs. UConn OR USF loss to UCF.
  • USF wins with win vs. UCF AND Temple loss to UConn.

AAC WEST

  • Winner of Houston vs. Navy wins division

AAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE

  • Navy hosts Temple/USF with win vs. Houston (best conference record)
  • Houston hosts Temple/USF with win vs. Navy (best overall regular-season record vs. Temple; best conference record vs. USF)
  • AAC East winner cannot host conference championship game according to AAC procedures.

MAC DIVISION BREAKDOWN

MAC EAST

  • Bowling Green has clinched the MAC East division and will play in the MAC Championship Game

MAC WEST

  • Northern Illinois wins with win vs. Ohio OR Toledo loss to Western Michigan
  • Toledo wins with win vs. Western Michigan AND Northern Illinois loss to Ohio

CONFERENCE USA BREAKDOWN

C-USA EAST

  • Western Kentucky vs. Marshall winner wins division

C-USA WEST

  • Louisiana Tech vs. Southern Miss winner wins division

CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE

MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN

MOUNTAIN DIVISION

  • Air Force clinched the division when New Mexico lost to Colorado State

WEST DIVISION

  • San Diego State clinched the West Division

MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE

Homefield advantage in the Mountain West Conference will be determined at the conclusion of the regular season. The highest-ranked division champion will receive the homefield advantage for the championship game.

SUN BELT CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN

  • Arkansas State wins with win vs. New Mexico State or Texas State.
  • Appalachian State wins with wins vs. UL-Lafayette and South Alabama AND Arkansas State losses to New Mexico State and Texas State
  • Georgia Southern wins with wins vs. South Alabama and Georgia State AND Appalachian State losses to UL-Lafayette or South Alabama AND Arkansas State losses to New Mexico State and Texas State

GROUP OF FIVE TOP FIVE (FINAL FOUR?)

If the College Football Playoff selection committee had to rank the top teams in the Group of Five, here is how I think the remaining contenders would be ranked (Memphis and Boise State, for example, are out of contendion).

  1. Navy: Clearly the team to beat as Keenan Reynolds makes Heisman case.
  2. Houston: Sure, they lost, but are still a top candidate for the big prize
  3. Temple: Owls scored big win against Memphis to put them one step closer to AAC championship game
  4. Toledo: Rockets need some help from Ohio, but if they sneak by Northern Illinois, they remain in the hunt
  5. N/A: The New Year Six spot will only go to one of the above four teams mentioned, so there is no longer a need to rank a fifth team in this spot. Sorry USF, Bowling Green, Northern Illinois and Conference USA. It’s nothing personal.

Sun Bowl returns to noon time slot on New Year’s Eve for 2018

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After four years in various time slots, the Sun Bowl is back where it’s used to being: on New Year’s Eve.

The Sun Bowl association announced on Wednesday that the game would be moved back to December 31st for the 85th edition of the annual postseason outing, with a 12 p.m. Mountain Time kickoff on CBS.

“We are happy to announce that we are returning to our traditional New Year’s Eve slot,” Executive Director Bernie Olivas said in a release. “Many of our local fans had expressed to us that the New Year’s Eve date had become a family tradition and we are excited to have the game back on that day.”

The El Paso, Texas institution will once again pit an ACC (or Notre Dame) team against a Pac-12 school in what has developed into a fun game the past few years. Last year, N.C. State beat Arizona State 52-31 in a high-scoring affair while the season prior saw Stanford squeak out a win over North Carolina 25-23 thanks to a goal line stand on a two-point conversion.

The Sun Bowl last took place on New Year’s Eve back in 2013 but was on a different day in the last week of December the past four years. The 31st is the traditional home for the game dating back to the early 1990’s. With the date, time and TV network now in place for the game, the entire 2018-19 bowl picture is set following the release of the bulk of the schedule last week.

West Virginia AD: We’re hiring more compliance staff as result of legalized sports betting decision

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Far and away the most discussed topic across all sports the past few weeks has been what the future landscape will look like following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. It is widely viewed as a landmark day for fans and states around the country by opening the door to legalized sports betting in places far beyond its typical home of Las Vegas.

One state that is among those at the forefront of the movement is West Virginia, which is especially notable for the various schools in the state having to deal with betting on their sports in their own backyard. The state legislature already passed a bill on the subject in early May and it won’t be long before you’ll be able to bet on Mountaineers football games later this year. That is naturally a bit of a new headache for somebody like WVU Athletic Director Shane Lyons, who told wvnews.com this week that the school is having to beef up compliance as a result of the changes.

“My job is first and foremost is to protect the integrity of the institution of the athletic department and the other part is to protect the integrity of the institution as a whole,” Lyons said. “With legalized gambling coming up I will have to hire additional compliance staff for monitoring and looking at it as well as the educational aspect of it. There is going to be cost associated with that and we’re going to have to step our game up.”

Not exactly surprising to hear and it will be interesting to see if fellow schools will also start beefing up their compliance staffs as other states get in on the action. While it might be fairly easy for a Power Five program from a conference like the Big 12 to add staff members, it is probably a little more difficult if you’re down the road at Marshall on a Conference USA budget.

Also notable? Lyons said “there is 100 percent” (more potential for scandal) as a result of gambling and NCAA athletics mixing much more than they have in the past. It seems that line of thinking is one reason why he’s beefing up the personnel involved and he may not be alone in doing so.

Alabama, USC will meet at AT&T Stadium for 2020 opener

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If at first you don’t succeed, try again, right?

That must be the thinking in Los Angeles as both USC and Alabama officially confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that the two college football powerhouses would open the 2020 season at AT&T Stadium in the AdvoCare Classic.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to open another season at the AdvoCare Classic in 2020,” Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said in a statement. “Our team and our fans have always enjoyed playing in North Texas and AT&T Stadium is a fantastic competitive environment. This event has always been first class with the intensity of a bowl game. We are also pleased to have the chance to once again face USC, and we look forward to a great game.”

The pair met in the same game to open the 2016 season in an affair best known for who didn’t start at quarterback for both teams in what wound up as a 52-6 shellacking of the Trojans by the Tide. Notably, Max Browne started for USC at quarterback while Sam Darnold watched on as the backup and Blake Barnett took the first snaps for Alabama before eventually giving way to Jalen Hurts. Both Barnett and Browne wound up transferring from the schools while Hurts and Darnold guided the teams to New Year’s Six bowl games.

This will be the ninth game between the two schools (should they not meet in a bowl the next two seasons), which was perhaps most famously played back in the 1970’s when Bear Bryant and John McKay famously ruled the sidelines for both sides. Alabama leads USC 6-2 in the wins department, with the most recent coming in that opener two years ago.

The move will be the centerpiece of the Tide’s non-conference slate in 2020, with Georgia State and Kent State also on the docket in Tuscaloosa. USC now has their 2020 non-conference schedule done with home games against New Mexico and their yearly contest with Notre Dame rounding things out.

LSU and Miami are slated to play in the AdvoCare Classic game later this year on Sept. 1st to open the season while Auburn and Oregon will meet in the game to start off the 2019 campaign.

NCAA releases latest APR data, which means bonus money for many coaches

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It’s APR — academic progress rate — day around the NCAA which means a bunch of schools are celebrating how well their teams did in the classroom. While many programs are doing a fist pump over hitting certain thresholds, there are a number of head coaches who are picking up a nice check as the result of players staying eligible.

Like, six-figures worth of cold hard cash thanks to their players showing up to class and taking tests.

USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz knows coaches contracts better than anybody and has been tweeting out some of the bonus money that various coaches are getting as a result of APR scores. While a few amounts are somewhat modest, a few others are collecting a very, very nice check.

Lunch is on Paul Johnson today!

Northwestern led all football programs with a multi-year APR rate of 997, followed closely in the FBS ranks by Air Force, Vanderbilt and Duke among others. The overall average score for football teams across Division I ticked up two points to 964 for the 2016-17 school year. Student-athletes receive points for both staying eligible and staying in school, with a formula then determining the program’s single-year and multi-year scores.

Teams can be ruled ineligible for postseason play if their score is too low but only one program suffered that fate (Morgan State of the MEAC). Grambling also was hit with a Level One penalty for their APR score, which includes a reduction in practice time for the upcoming season. The lowest multi-year APR score for a FBS program belonged to Florida State with a 941.