Group of Five Power Ranking: Boise State returns to a familiar spot after Navy upsets Houston

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The Group of Five race was Houston’s to lose this season, and they have just lost it. After taking a road loss at Navy on Saturday, Houston’s grand dream of playing in the College Football Playoff has been dashed, and their chance to return to the New Years Six lineup at the end of the season has taken a critical blow, although it is not yet a fatal one.

The highest-ranked conference champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference and Sun Belt Conference will be granted one spot in the New Years Six bowl lineup by the College Football Playoff selection committee. Houston took that invite last season as the highest-ranked Group of Five champion following a victory in the AAC championship game. Houston looked primed to be the easy frontrunner for a return trip this season but a loss to Navy puts them behind the Midshipmen (and Memphis) for their own division championship. Without winning the division, Houston would be locked out of the New Years Six scenarios unless you believe they could be a worthy candidate with an 11-1 record as an at-large team. Honestly, an 11-1 Houston in the Cotton Bowl may not be all that far-fetched depending on what happens elsewhere around the country.

But with Houston taking a stumble, a familiar plucky underdog has risen to the top of the heap. Hello, Boise State. Welcome back to being college football’s top Rocky Balboa candidate.The Broncos are off to a perfect start this season with a pair of wins against Pac-12 programs and a good contest with BYU on the horizon. We are staring down the real possibility of Boise State going 12-0 and hosting the Mountain West Conference championship game (against San Diego State?), which puts the Broncos back in the

The Broncos are off to a perfect start this season with a pair of wins against Pac-12 programs and a good contest with BYU on the horizon. We are staring down the real possibility of Boise State going 12-0 and hosting the Mountain West Conference championship game (against San Diego State?), which puts the Broncos back in the familiar role of looking to crash the big bowl party. Can they do it once again? Absolutely, but the pressure to keep winning games will be on because one loss by the Broncos shifts the NY6 bowl spot back in the hands of whatever team ends up coming out of the AAC, in all likelihood (or perhaps Western Michigan).

So, if I had to rank the Group of Five contenders for the New Years Six spot today, here is how I would stack them up:

1. Boise State (5-0)

The Broncos are scoring roughly twice as many points as they are giving up and a win against Washington State starts to look better and better every week. Not having a loss helps keep the Broncos ahead of the pack for now. The next two weeks against Colorado State and BYU at home could ensure the Broncos stay ahead of the pack the rest of the way unless they trip themselves up. It’s happened before, but this Boise State team is on cruise control right now.

2. Navy (4-1)

The win against Houston is without a doubt the best win any Group of Five team has right now (you can argue Houston’s win over Oklahoma) more because of the situation it presents in the AAC. With a head-to-head win against Navy, the Midshipmen hold a critical tiebreaker against Houston that could lock the Cougars out of the AAC championship game, as long as Navy handles the rest fo their schedule. Navy has to lose twice in order for Houston to re-enter the conference title talk. The only thing holding Navy back from the top spot for now is a loss against Air Force, who will host Boise State at the end of the regular season.

3. Houston (5-1)

Truth be told, Houston may still be the better team than Navy, but results matter! Right now, Houston now is behind the curve and could be locked out of the New Years Six despite arguably being the best team the Group of Five has to offer. It would be unwise to count out Houston after one loss of course. For now, they remain very much in the hunt and could arguably still land the NY6 spot with a 12-1 record if it gets some help from Navy’s opponents.

4. Western Michigan (5-0)

I really want to place Western Michigan in my top three, but I still feel Houston is worthy of staying ahead of the other Broncos looking to make something happen. PJ Fleck has Western Michigan off to a 6-0 start with a very manageable schedule the rest of the way. The last significant hurdle appears to be the regular season finale against Toledo, at home, but expect plenty of rowing until that late November matchup that could decide the MAC West Division.

5. South Florida (5-1)

The only blemish on USF’s schedule is against Florida State, but Willie Taggart has shown USF’s hot streak to end the 2015 season has indeed carried over to 2016. The Bulls have already demolished Northern Illinois, Syracuse, Cincinnati and East Carolina and have the look of the team to beat in the AAC East Division, especially with Cincinnati off to a 0-3 start and Temple suffering a loss in conference play already. USF’s next three game swill be critical, with a road game at Temple and home date with Navy. Get through the next three weeks unscathed, or even with just one loss, and Taggart may be driving his bus to the conference championship game (and maybe a new job).

On The Radar: Memphis, Tulsa, Air Force, San Diego State

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.

CFP expansion talks head toward October after 7-hour meeting

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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ROSEMONT, Ill. — The conference commissioners who manage the College Football Playoff met for almost seven hours Tuesday to work on expanding the postseason system from four to 12 teams as soon as the 2024 season.

There is still much work to be done.

“We will not wrap up this week,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said.

The CFP management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, is scheduled to convene again at the Big Ten offices for a few hours Wednesday morning. They are set to meet again in person in Dallas on Oct. 20.

“That’ll be important,” Hancock said.

Expansion talks were revived by the university presidents and chancellors who oversee the College Football Playoff last month.

By adopting a 12-team plan that had been on the table since the spring of 2021, the presidents pushed the commissioners to try to implement a new format before the end of the CFP’s current contract with ESPN. That deal ends after the 2025 season.

Expanding from four to 12 in 2024 and ’25 will require rescheduling semifinals and championship games that already have dates and sites set, plus adding four new first-round games in mid-December to be played on campus sites.

Squeezing it all into about a month and working around the NFL for television will be challenging.

Hancock said the idea of moving up the start of the college football season to the week before Labor Day to create more room at the end for the playoff has been discussed, but more for beyond the 2025 season.

“I think most people view that as a future item. As long-term item and not an immediacy item,” Hancock said. “Remember, there’s so many details.”

Hancock said CFP officials have spoken to bowl partners and hosts cities that are set to hold semifinals and championship games after the 2024 and ’25 seasons, but they have not been presented definitive new dates.

Atlanta already has been chosen as the host city for the championship game to be played following the 2024 season, on Jan. 6, 2025. The game would have to be pushed back about two weeks if the playoff grows from four teams to 12.

“(Atlanta organizers) have some work to do because of other businesses in the community,” Hancock said. “Other meeting-type business, hotel business and Convention Center business there. They’ve been great to work with.”