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Did any Group of Five conference make a statement in Week 1?

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OK, so the bragging rights between the power conferences after one full weekend of college football may draw more interest and debate, but what about the Group of Five? Non-conference matchups in the first few weeks of the season may actually have more riding on the outcomes for Group of Five conferences than they do the power conferences. With just one spot guaranteed to the highest-ranked champion of the Group of Five conferences — the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference, and the Sun Belt Conference — the race to win a seat at the New Years Six bowl lineup is already underway for the non-power conferences.

So, which conference is off to the best start as a whole? It just might be the conference that claims to be the nation’s sixth power conference.

The AAC went 5-4 this weekend to be the only G5 conference to go over .500 through Saturday’s games (East Carolina is playing today against North Carolina A&T). That 5-4 mark includes breaking even against power conference competition. The AAC was the only non-power conference to grab a win against a power conference opponent thanks to Cincinnati spoiling the debut of Chip Kelly at UCLA Saturday night. The conference had a rough opening weekend though with Navy, SMU, and Tulane all taking losses and Temple being upset at home by FCS Villanova. At least UCF and Memphis performed as expected, there were some demoralizing losses for the conference. We’ll see how that plays out down the line.

Conference USA went 6-8, but all six of the wins came against FCS opponents. Conference USA was 0-5 against power conferences, lacking a signature win for the conference as a result. Two of the conference’s losses came on the road against Wisconsin (Western Kentucky) and Oklahoma (FAU), which is understandable, but Old Dominion getting blown out on the road against Liberty in Liberty’s first FBS game in program history was not a great look. UTEP losing by 20 at home against FCS Northern Arizona also does not sit well for the conference. Conference USA is one of two Group of Five conferences yet to place a team in the New Years Six bowl lineup under the current format.

The other is the Sun Belt Conference, which nearly landed the win of the weekend for non-power conferences. Appalachian State gave it a serious run but could not escape Penn State with a road win against a top 10 team that could have shaken up the entire Group of Five race right out of the blocks.  Instead, the Sun Belt went 5-5 overall, with all five wins coming against FCS opponents and a mark of 0-3 against power conferences. A few of those wins against FCS squads were nailbiters as well (Georgia State, UL Monroe), and Troy ended up getting blown out at home by Boise State of the Mountain West Conference.

Like UCF (and Memphis or Houston), Boise State is perceived as the flag-waving program for the Mountain West in 2018. The Broncos got their season off to a great start with their road win against the Trojans, but the conference overall had a bit of an underwhelming result this weekend. The Mountain West was 6-6 in games, but just 2-5 against FBS opponents and 0-5 against power conferences. While Boise State and Hawaii looked solid, the conference as a whole will look to improve their results if the conference is going to have a solid chance to send its champion back to the New Years Six ahead of the AAC.

And then there is the MAC, two years removed from sending its champ to the Cotton Bowl. It was a rough weekend for the MAC, with a record of 0-6 against FBS opponents and loading up on five wins against FCS foes.

Boise State’s pummeling of New Mexico sets up MWC Mountain showdown with Utah State in Week 13

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Utah State came into Week 12 with a chance to clinch its division in the Mountain West.  Instead, the stage is set for a winner-take-all tilt in Week 13.

Boise State entered its game Friday night as a three-touchdown favorite over New Mexico.  Exiting Albuquerque, the Broncos had cruised to an easier-than-it-looked 45-14 win over the overmatched Lobos (3-8, 1-6).  Brett Rypien threw for three touchdowns in the win, with all three going to Sean Modster to set the receiver’s career high.  The first two came in the first quarter as the Broncos jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead, while the third early in the third quarter gave Boise a 31-7 lead and essentially put the game away.

Modster also finished with a career-high nine receptions for 129 yards.

No. 25 Boise State is now 6-1 in Mountain West play, a half-game behind West division leader and 23rd-ranked Utah State (6-0).  The two teams will square off next Saturday night on the Blue Turf of Boise, with the winner taking the division crown and a spot in the conference championship game.  USU faces Colorado State Saturday afternoon, although that game will have no effect on the divisional race as the third-place teams in the West, Wyoming, Air Force and CSU, are all at 2-4.

Fresno State can clinch the MWC West by beating San Diego State later today, although a loss would open the divisional door for both SDSU and Nevada.

Mike Riley came off Nebraska’s books with $6.2 million buyout in January

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It was thought that Nebraska had been paying three current/former head coaches throughout the 2018 season.  Instead, it was just two.

When Mike Riley was fired by the Cornhuskers in late November of last year, he was owed a buyout of just over $6.6 million that was to be paid in monthly installments of nearly $166,000 through February of 2021.  However, Nebraska officials confirmed this week, the university paid Riley a $6.2 million buyout in January of this year that wiped the former coach off NU’s books.

Riley took a job at Oregon State shortly after his dismissal by Nebraska, with his $50,000 salary very slightly mitigating his buyout number.

“We went ahead and absorbed it [earlier this] year to get it behind us, and we felt that we had a good enough year revenue-wise that we could handle that,” athletic director Bill Moos said by way of the Lincoln Journal Star. “Those things, for the most part, are behind us, and we’re moving forward at this point.”

Bo Pelini, fired by the Cornhuskers in November of 2014, is being paid nearly $130,000 every month through February of next year to pay off his $6.54 million buyout.  Riley’s replacement, Scott Frost, is in the first year of a seven-year, $35 million contract.

After Week 12 results, Houston-Memphis to decide AAC West

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It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job.

Coming out of a first half that was at times head-scratching… and odd… and downright weird with a 7-5 lead on SMU, Memphis put up a touchdown in the third quarter and another two in the fourth to pull away for a 28-18 road win.  Running back Patrick Taylor accounted for two of those second-half touchdowns on nine- and six-yard runs as he finished with a game-high 112 yards, his third 100-yard effort of the season.

The Tigers’ Darrell Henderson, who came into the game second in the nation averaging 8.74 yards per carry, was held to 4.7 yards on his 16 carries.  That was his second-worst yards per carry average of the season, behind only the 3.8 (4-15) put up against Missouri Oct. 20.

The Mustangs had even less success on the ground, rushing for just 25 yards on 26 carries.  Ben Hicks passed for 344 yards, his third 300-yard game in the past four games, in a losing effort.

With the win, Memphis improved to 4-3 in the conference, one game behind Houston, which moved to 5-2 with a win Thursday night, for first place in the AAC West.  Those two teams will square off next Friday, with the winner advancing to the conference championship game and playing either UCF, Cincinnati or Temple. The undefeated Knights hold the edge in the East heading into tonight’s huge matchup with the Bearcats, although a loss would leave all three, including the Owls, in play for the East crown.

Prior to last night’s loss, SMU (4-3) could’ve staked its claim to the West by winning its last two games.  SMU could still finish in a three- or four-way tie for the division, Tulane (4-3) included, although Memphis would win all tiebreakers regardless of how many teams are involved.

Major Applewhite, Ed Oliver issue statements addressing sideline flap

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We can all move on because apparently there’s nothing to see here.

Ed Oliver, who had missed the previous three games because of a knee injury, was sidelined for a fourth Thursday night as Houston squared off with Tulane in a key AAC West matchup.  Shortly before the half, Oliver, who was on the sidelines of the game supporting his teammates, was approached by head Major Applewhite about what was later learned to be the lineman’s choice of jacket, which according to the head coach is reserved for players who are active in the game.

Oliver took exception to Applewhite’s directive — and the fact that the coach put his hands on his jacket — leading to a heated confrontation heading into the halftime locker room in which the star defensive tackle had to be physically restrained from going after Applewhite by a UH football staffer.

After the game, Applewhite explained that “[t]here’s a rule for our team. Everybody follows the rule.”  Friday night, both of the involved parties issued statements through the school in which they stated they’re ready to “move forward together.”

MAJOR APPLEWHITE
“Ed is a passionate human being, and that is why he is the best player in the country. Last night was not indicative of his character and it was a passionate moment within our program. We can, and we will, both learn from this situation as we move forward together.”

ED OLIVER
“Last night is not who I am. I’m very passionate about the game of football and last night there was a misunderstanding. I was caught in an emotional moment. I have the utmost respect for Coach Applewhite and I appreciate the support of Coach Applewhite and my teammates during this time. I love my brothers, my team and my city and I’m looking forward to moving forward with them together. Go Coogs!”

It’s expected that, if healthy, the All-American defensive tackle will play in the regular-season finale next week.