Sep 10, 2021; Boise, Idaho, USA; Boise State Broncos wide receiver Stefan Cobbs (5) returns a punt for a touchdown during the first half against the UTEP Miners at Albertsons Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

AAC targeting Boise State, UAB, others for expansion

The American Athletic Conference has identified potential candidates, most from the Mountain West, to join the league after the announced exodus of three teams to the Big 12, CBS Sports reported Thursday.

At the top of the AAC’s wish list are Mountain West programs Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State and San Diego State, along with UAB of Conference USA.

The conference is losing Cincinnati, Houston and UCF to the Big 12. Texas and Oklahoma began the chain reaction of moves with their announcement that they will join the Southeastern Conference in 2025.

The CBS report said the AAC likely will be looking to add four teams to bring the number of members to 12, with Boise State the most coveted addition based on the strength of its football program. CBS reported last week that Boise State, as well as Memphis, also could be top targets for the Big 12 should it choose to expand to 14 teams.

The AAC also has a second tier of teams it could pursue if it is spurned by any of its preferred teams, per the report. It includes FAU and UTSA from Conference USA.

BYU, an independent in football and a Mountain West member in the other sports, is joining the Big 12 in 2023, with the AAC teams expected on board by July 1, 2024.

–Field Level Media

Sep 4, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores head coach Clark Lea takes the field before the game against the East Tennessee State Buccaneers at Vanderbilt Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Vandy, CSU hit reset after rocky start

For Vanderbilt and Colorado State, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Coming off decisive opening week home losses to FCS competition, the Commodores and Rams try to pick up the pieces against each other Saturday night in Fort Collins, Colo.

Vanderbilt’s first game under new coach Clark Lea quickly morphed from a festive occasion into one illustrating just how far behind the rest of the Southeastern Conference it truly is. It was thumped 23-3 by East Tennessee State on Saturday night in Nashville, giving the Buccaneers $415,000 in addition to a one-sided win.

While Lea might internally wonder just how long this year will be after that outcome, he remains outwardly optimistic.

“This has always been about the vision for the future at Vanderbilt,” he said. “It’s never been just about playing East Tennessee State on September 4. This is about how we build this program to sustain success over time. This can be a critical learning point for everyone involved as we move forward.”

Lea isn’t the only coach playing the long game after a shaky opener. Colorado State’s Steve Addazio is in the same position after watching his team take a 42-23 beatdown on Sept. 3 against South Dakota State.

“Big picture, I’m trying to build and develop a really strong foundational program that’s here to last,” he said. “I told our team we’ve got our backs up against the wall, and when I’ve got my back up against the wall, I’m coming out swinging.”

Of course, the Rams were also playing a team with FBS skills and size, if not pedigree. The Jackrabbits played for the FCS title in May and returned virtually every starter off that team. They are ranked No. 2 in FCS Top 25 poll.

Still, they have 23 fewer scholarships than Colorado State. But that was never a factor. The Rams trailed 35-10 after three quarters and were outrushed 240-124 in front of the fifth-largest crowd in Canvas Stadium history.

This week’s game should be perhaps the truest test of one of the oldest cliches in a coach’s manual, which says that teams always make their greatest improvements from their first to second game.

“We have to make the choice to win the response,” Lea said.

–Field Level Media

Dec 15, 2018; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Utah State Aggies interim coach Frank Maile is doused with water after the game against the North Texas Mean Green of the New Mexico Bowl at Dreamstyle Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Utah State opt-outs cause cancellation of Colorado State game

Utah State football players have opted not to play Saturday’s season-finale at Colorado State due to alleged comments by university president Noelle Cockett about the religious and cultural background of interim football coach Frank Maile.

Maile, a former Utah State player, is Polynesian and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was in the running to become the permanent coach before Utah State reportedly settled on Blake Anderson of Arkansas State on Thursday.

Anderson was reportedly en route to Logan, Utah on Friday but the school hasn’t yet announced his hiring.

Cockett held a Zoom call with players on the football team’s leadership council Tuesday to discuss Maile’s candidacy to become the full-time coach. According to the players on the council, she made the troubling remarks during the call.

“We are highlighting the ongoing problems of inequality and want to create a better future for the community of Logan and Utah State University,” the players said in a statement to Stadium. “The Utah State football players have decided to opt out of our game against Colorado State due to ongoing inequality and prejudicial issues between the players, coaches, and the USU administration.

“On Tuesday, December 8th, the Utah State University Football Leadership Council held a zoom meeting with Noelle Cockett, President of USU, and John Hartwell, the Athletic Director. The purpose of the meeting was to have a say in the search for our new head coach.

“During the meeting, we voiced our support for Interim Head Coach Frank Maile. In response to our comments, their primary concern was his religious and cultural background. Players, stating their diverse faiths and backgrounds, then jumped to Coach Frank Maile’s defense in treating everyone with love, equality, and fairness.”

Cockett defended herself while expressing disappointment in a statement she issued on Friday night.

“I am devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone’s religious background,” Cockett said. “Throughout my professional career and, especially, as president of USU, I have welcomed the opportunity to meet directly and often with students about their experiences. Regardless of how difficult the conversations might be in the coming days, I remain committed to giving our students a voice.”

After Tuesday’s call, the leadership council informed the rest of the players about Cockett’s comments and sought out their opinions.

That led to a players-only meeting on Friday where the vote was unanimous not to play the road contest at Colorado State.

The leadership council also indicated that Cockett’s comments further an ongoing problem at the Mountain West school.

“It is not the first time issues of repeated discrimination have happened,” the statement said. “In December 2019, our head equipment manager used a racial slur against one of our African-American teammates. After disregarding the incident, pressure resurfaced to investigate in the summer of 2020. After the investigation, the administration concluded he would continue to be employed.

“We want our message to be clear that this has nothing to do with the hiring of Coach Blake Anderson, the recently-named head coach of the program. We are sure he is an excellent coach; we look forward to meeting him and his staff.”

The Aggies are 1-5 this season and fired initial coach Gary Andersen after the team lost the first three games by a 114-29 margin.

Maile took over as interim coach and the squad has since gone 1-2. The win was a 41-27 decision over New Mexico on Nov. 26.

Maile is in his fifth season of his second stint on the Aggies’ coaching staff. He previously had a five-year stint from 2009-13 before taking a position at Vanderbilt for two seasons before returning to the program.

Maile served as interim coach when Utah State routed North Texas 52-13 in the 2018 New Mexico Bowl. He guided the team after Matt Wells left to take the Texas Tech gig.

Maile also played in 42 games (21 starts) for Utah State from 2004-07 and was a team captain as a senior. He had 71 tackles, including 19 for loss, during his career.

Anderson had a 51-37 record in seven seasons at Arkansas State. The Red Wolves made bowl games in his first six seasons before going 4-7 this year.

Arkansas State announced Thursday that Anderson had departed. He reportedly agreed to a five-year deal with Utah State that averages slightly more than $1 million annually.

–Field Level Media

Oct 5, 2019; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Boise State Broncos quarterback Hank Bachmeier (19) warms up before a game against the UNLV Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Boise State plays Colorado State despite 14 COVID-19 cases

Boise State was without 14 players due to COVID-19 protocols for Thursday night’s home game against Colorado State.

According to the school, nine players tested positive and five others are missing the game due to contact tracing.

Last Friday, the Broncos had four players sit out due to COVID-19 protocols for their 51-17 home loss against BYU.

Also, sophomore quarterback Hank Bachmeier started against Colorado State after missing the last two games due to unspecified reasons. Bachmeier started the season opener against Utah State and passed for 268 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-13 victory.

Junior Jack Sears started Boise State’s past two games but suffered a head injury against BYU. He didn’t suit up versus the Rams.

–Field Level Media

Nov 22, 2019; Laramie, WY, USA; A general view of the Colorado State Rams helmet against the Wyoming Cowboys at Jonah Field War Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado State-New Mexico game canceled over virus concerns

The Mountain West Conference canceled the scheduled game between New Mexico and Colorado State on Tuesday.

The game was set to be played Saturday night in Fort Collins, Colo., to open the eight-game season for both teams.

The game will not be rescheduled, the conference said.

The cancellation came because of restrictions related to COVID-19 in Bernalillo County, N.M., where the Albuquerque campus is located. A spike in cases in New Mexico led to the state limiting gatherings to no more than five people, including team practices. The Lobos have been practicing in small groups.

Eight players and one coach for the Lobos tested positive last week, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

New Mexico recently reported an average of 544 COVID-19 cases per day, up 133 percent from the average number two weeks earlier.

Colorado State next is scheduled to play on Oct. 29 at Fresno State. New Mexico is slated to host San Jose State on Oct. 31.

The conference indefinitely postponed its football season and all fall sports on Aug. 10 due to safety concerns involving the coronavirus pandemic. At that point, the Mountain West became the second league, following the Mid-American Conference, to announce the postponement of their seasons.

The conference agreed last month to reinstate the football season, and the announcement came with the stipulation that the schedule was “subject to approval from state, county and local officials.”

–Field Level Media