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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

Florida to host Florida Atlantic in 2021

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Florida will host Florida Atlantic in 2021, FAU announced Tuesday. The game will take place on Sept. 4 and serve as the season-opener for both schools.

The schools have met three times previously, all of them in Gainesville. Florida won 59-20 on Nov. 17, 2007, 41-3 on Sept. 3, 2011, and 20-14 on Nov. 21, 2015.

The game will round out both schools’ non-conference schedules.

Florida will visit USF on Sept. 11, host Florida State on Nov. 27 and has a TBD home game against Samford, most likely on Nov. 20.

Today’s news means Florida has a future game on the schedule with every FBS program in the Sunshine State except UCF and Florida International. Florida beat Miami in Orlando to open this season and will play a home-and-home with the ‘Canes in 2024-25.

Florida Atlantic will follow its Gainesville trip with an excursion to Colorado Springs to play Air Force. After that, the Owls will host Fordham and Georgia Southern to round out September.

 

With Husky mascot retiring in 2021, Northern Illinois to introduce successor on Tuesday

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Northern Illinois’ husky mascot, Mission, is retiring in 2021, and on Tuesday the school will introduce his successor.

Mission II, born on July 6 and weighing a tender 14.5 ounces, will replace Mission two years from now, and the puppy will begin his official duties as NIU’s next official mascot on Tuesday.

“We have long been searching for the heir apparent to Mission, and there is no question that we have found the right Huskie,” NIU Alumni Association Executive Director Reggie Bustinza said. “Mission has set very high expectations, but there is no doubt in my mind that Mission II cannot only meet those demands, but surpass them.

“We are happy that Mission will have plenty of years to enjoy his retirement.”

Mission will turn 10 years old in 2021, and by that time Mission II will be fully versed in all the expectations placed upon the Official Northern Illinois Husky.

Mission II, a Siberian husky born in southern Wisconsin, will accompany Mission “to all eligible events for experiential learning and proofing,” which begins at a tasting for an NIU-branded beer on Tuesday evening in DeKalb.

The school has not revealed when Mission II will make his debut at a Husky football game, and in the meantime he’ll continue training with Lisa Boland while also attending daily puppy classes.

“I’m most looking forward to seeing Mission and Mission II do the job together during the training period,” Boland said. “It will be wonderful to watch ‘Mini-Mish’ learn from Mission, and see them work as a team. Mission has set a very high bar in mascotting, and Mission II will be working very hard to follow in his footsteps. I am so proud of Mission and the work that he’s done as the official NIU mascot.

“I am thrilled to have the privilege of guiding his successor to best represent Huskie Nation.”

Troy loses RB B.J. Smith, SBC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, to season-ending injury

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This one will certainly leave a lasting mark.

Over the summer, Troy’s B.J. Smith was named as the Sun Belt Conference’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.  Two months later, the football program confirmed, the running back will be sidelined for the remainder of the 2019 season because of an injury sustained in the Week 3 loss to Southern Miss.

While the specific nature of the injury wasn’t divulged by the school, it’s believed Smith injured his knee midway through the second quarter of last Saturday’s game.

Last season, Smith led the Trojans with 1,186 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.  This season, the fourth-year senior had rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in two games.

Because of the timing of the injury, Smith can take a redshirt for the 2019 season and return to the Trojans next season.

Texas LB Caleb Johnson enters transfer portal

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Sitting at the quarter-pole of the 2019 regular season, and Texas is the latest FBS program to feel the pain of the portal.

Joe Cook of InsideTexas.com was the first to report that Caleb Johnson has placed his name into the NCAA transfer database.  247Sports.com subsequently confirmed the initial report, writing that the junior linebacker “feels he has not fit in well since he arrived at Texas.”

247Sports provided further details as to the events leading up to Johnson’s decision.

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Johnson met with the staff Monday morning to inform them of his intentions to enter the transfer portal. While the staff requested he think more about his decision, Johnson decided to enter his name into he NCAA Transfer Portal, and is listed in the portal as of Tuesday morning.

Johnson joined the Longhorns from the junior college level, enrolling early and taking part in spring practice this past offseason.  He was a three-star 2019 signee who was rated as the No. 3 JUCO outside linebacker in this past year’s class.

Through three games, Johnson hadn’t yet taken the field for the Big 12 program.