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

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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

Missouri AD hopes to hear on NCAA appeal before football season

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While there are always a ton of storylines surrounding the SEC on any given season, the big focus for Missouri is quite clear heading into the 2019 campaign and it has nothing to do with anything that is on the field. The Tigers were handed a surprising bowl ban by the NCAA back in January for a host of major violations and fans, players and other supporters of the school have been vocal in their displeasure ever since.

We might get some clarity on the exact status of Mizzou’s football program later this summer however, as athletic director Jim Sterk detailed to KTGR in a recent interview.

“We really think we have a strong case for overturning the majority of the decisions that they made,” Sterk told ‘The Big Show.‘ “The people that are a lot smarter than me that worked on this case really presented an appeal that’s strong and compelling. And we’ll be doing an in-person hearing, we’re expecting somewhere on the middle of July and then hear something hopefully by before football starts or shortly thereafter.”

Sterk went on to say that he had heard from a number of folks in other departments who criticized the NCAA’s original decision, which also came with restrictions to official visits and recruiting contacts in addition to the bowl ban. The timeline he indicated is notable however, as the school formally appealed in late March. While the appeals committee could rule sooner, a six-week or so time-frame seems about the norm on these kinds of things and would indeed put a response dropping just as the Tigers get ready to play Wyoming in their season opener on August 31.

We’ll see if Missouri’s case is any different — as Sterk tries to make out — but appeals are still typically an uphill battle for schools to win. A bowl ban isn’t the end of the world for the Tigers but they no doubt would like to play in one if they qualify given expectations around Columbia are a bit higher in 2019 after the addition of Clemson QB Kelly Bryant and a host of others.

Either way, it at least seems like a good bet for Mizzou to find out their fate early in the season so they know what they have to play for… or not.

Travian Robertson replaces Brad Lawing as Georgia State’s DL coach

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In February of this year, Georgia State announced that former Florida State assistant Brad Lawing had been hired as Shawn Elliott‘s next defensive line coach.  Nearly four months later, Lawing is out and a new position coach is in.

According to the Sun Belt Conference school, Travian Robertson has been hired as the Panthers’ next line coach on the defensive side of the ball.  The move marks a homecoming of sorts as Robertson served as a graduate assistant for Elliott during the 2017 campaign at GSU.

Robertson played his college football at South Carolina, with a portion of that career intersecting with Elliott’s time as an assistant on Steve Spurrier‘s Gamecocks coaching staff.

“It was a natural fit for Travian to come back to Georgia State after spending a year with us previously,” the head coach said in a statement. “Our relationship goes back to our days at South Carolina, and I have tremendous respect for him as a person and as a coach, and we’re thrilled to have him here.”

This past season, Robertson, who had a four-year career in the NFL after being selected in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, served as the line coach at Albany State.

Illinois offers update on DE who suffered severe spinal injury

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There’s yet another update regarding an Illinois player who suffered a significant injury earlier this month.

Illini true junior defensive end Bobby Roundtree sustained what was described as a severe spinal cord injury in a swimming accident May 18 and underwent surgery a day later. It was subsequently reported that Roundtree was progressing well following the surgery and, while he remained hospitalized, was speaking, eating and sitting up.

While Roundtree had remained hospitalized on into this month at a Tampa-area hospital, Illini athletic director Josh Whitman confirmed Tuesday that Roundtree has since been moved to a rehabilitation center in Chicago, which the AD described as “one of the finest facilities of its kind in the country.”

“He’s receiving top-level care,” Whitman added.

As for what is to come, Roundtree is expected to remain in the unnamed facility for a period of 3-6 months, at which point he would then transition back to Champaign to continue his rehab.

Roundtree has started 20 games the past two seasons since coming to Illinois as a three-star member of their 2017 recruiting class. This past season, the 6-5, 245-pound end led the Illini in tackles for loss with 12.5 and pass breakups, and was second in sacks with 7.5 and quarterback hits with four.

For that performance, the media named Roundtree honorable mention All-Big Ten for the 2018 season.

Lincoln Riley would owe Oklahoma $4.6 million if he leaves for another job after 2019 season — including NFL

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Thanks in large part to back-to-back Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, Lincoln Riley was a hot topic of speculation during the most recent spinning of the NFL coaching carousel, even as the head coach has stated in the past it’s “hard to see myself leaving Oklahoma” for the big-boy league of professional football.  In approving a contract extension for Riley earlier this year, the coach’s employer gave itself a (very small) bit of a financial buffer should Riley ever change his mind.

Based on an open records request, Tulsa World reported Tuesday that, should Riley leave OU for any other job, including the NFL, after the 2019 season, he would owe the university $4.6 million.  That number drops by $1 million every year thereafter until March 16, 2022, at which point a buyout would be waived.

Riley’s new deal runs through the 2023 season; if he’s the head coach on April 1, 2021, he would be due a $1 million bonus.  Additionally, the World writes, “Riley receives $700,000 as an annual stay benefit if he remains employed as OU’s head coach on June 1 of each contract year.” The newspaper further writes that, “[i]n addition to the annual stay benefit after two seasons, Riley gets an annual amount of $1 million deposited into a supplemental retirement income plan.”

“Riley is immediately fully vested in the plan,” the paper added.

The $6 million in total compensation Riley will receive for 2019 is the most OU has paid any head football coach in its history, topping the $5.55 million Bob Stoops made in what turned out to be his final season in Norman.

The 35-year-old Riley just completed his second season at OU.  In those two seasons, the Sooners have gone 24-4 and won a pair of Big 12 championships.  The Sooners have also appeared in the playoffs both of those seasons and OU quarterbacks have claimed back-to-back Heisman Trophy wins — Kyler Murray this season (HERE), Baker Mayfield last (HERE).