Group of Five Power Ranking: Can Navy overtake Western Michigan in next three weeks?

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Western Michigan got a well-deserved opportunity to shine in the national spotlight this weekend by hosting ESPN College GameDay. They lived up to the hype by going out and picking up a solid 38-0 victory at home against lowly Buffalo. Western Michigan is now 11-0 on the year with one final regular season test against Toledo coming this week. Western Michigan may be one of two undefeated teams in the country right now (Alabama being the other) but can the Broncos stay ahead of other candidates from the Mountain West Conference or the American Athletic Conference? It is beginning to feel as though it could, although the AAC has a strong case to be made for a two-loss champ to be in the running.

The Mountain West Conference may be just about out of the mix thanks to Wyoming’s thrilling victory over San Diego State Saturday night. The Cowboys held off San Diego State by defending a two-point conversion attempt on the final play following a fantastic effort on a Hail Mary on the final play of the game. Wyoming, with three losses, has now defeated San Diego State and Boise State. The Aztecs should fall farther behind the pack, while Boise State will continue to be blocked from playing for the MWC title if Wyoming wins its final game of the season, next week at New Mexico. The MWC title will likely come down to Wyoming and San Diego State, who has already clinched their division and may have to make a return trip to Wyoming for the conference championship game.

San Diego State’s loss and Boise State continuing to be blocked looks like great news for the American Athletic Conference. In a week that saw Houston take down its second top five opponent of the year on Thursday night, it turns out the sexiest two-loss Group of Five candidate was also shut out from contention. That is because Navy blew away East Carolina to clinch the AAC West Division title, thus eliminating Houston from the running. Navy will now likely get a chance to host the AAC championship game against either Temple or USF. The AAC East will be decided next week (Temple clinches with a win or a USF loss; USF clinches with a win and a Temple loss). Navy is 8-2, including a win over mighty Houston. If Navy goes on to take the AAC crown and finishes the season at 11-2, would the Midshipmen have a shot at taking over Western Michigan for the New Years Six bowl?

You better believe it, if the selection committee recognized the overall strength of the AAC is superior to the MAC this season. Plus, Navy is pretty darn good too.

We’ll let one more week go by before really seeing how the final candidates stack up, but the case for Navy will be a strong one to consider with a better strength of schedule, better wins overall and, honestly, a better brand to market. How can you go wrong with Navy? It’s time to throw the records aside and give Navy some strong consideration.

With just one final week left in the regular season in most of the Group of Five conferences, here are the top five contenders for the New Years Six bowl spot, keeping in mind a candidate must own a conference championship to qualify.

1. Navy (8-2)

It’s simple to me, really. If Navy and Western Michigan meet on a neutral field, I think the Midshipmen come away with the win. I also think it is time to recognize the AAC as the best Group of Five conference out there, which I have been saying for weeks. It is the best from top-to-bottom compared to the other conferences, and way ahead of the MAC.

 

2. Boise State (10-1)

Yes, the door appears to be closing, but there is still a crack that Boise State can wiggle through. Boise State needs to win their final game of the season at Air Force this week and then pull for Wyoming to lose to New Mexico. It’s not that far out of reach. If it happens, Boise State will play for the MWC championship and would host the title game on the blue turf. 12-1 Boise State will have a great chance and would likely stay ahead of any AAC champion and Western Michigan.

3. Western Michigan (11-0)

The Broncos may still have the advantage in the race to the New Years Six based on their undefeated record the committee will struggle to shy away from. If the Broncos stay ahead of the AAC candidates this week, as I suspect they might, then they should feel good about being in the NY6 driver’s seat the next two weeks. It will be their’s to lose, despite how I feel about Navy and the AAC.

4. Temple (8-3)

The Temple Owls have a very good chance to wrap up the division this week to reserve a spot to play Navy in the AAC Championship Game. All the Owls have to do is beat 3-8 East Carolina at home on Saturday night. It’s possible the division could already be clinched by then if UCF can score an upset over rival USF earlier in the day. Either way, the odds are in Temple’s favor here, but three losses sets them behind the pack a little, although it is worth mentioning all three of those losses have come against teams with winning records (Army, Penn State, Memphis) and two of those road losses were by seven points each.

5. USF (9-2)

The Bulls are on the run but a head-to-head loss to Temple puts them in a tricky spot entering the final week of the season. They are the only AAC team to hand Navy a loss this season, and would feel good about a potential rematch if things work out. USF at 11-2 would look strong against any of the G5 contenders.

RB Justin Crawford to skip West Virginia’s bowl game, begin preparing for NFL draft

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Sometimes the personnel gods giveth, and sometimes the personnel gods taketh away.

Thursday evening, West Virginia announced that quarterback Will Grier will return to Morgantown for the 2018 season.  Not long after, the same football program confirmed that Justin Crawford has decided to eschew playing in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Instead of preparing for Utah in the postseason, the senior running back will instead begin preparations for the 2018 NFL draft.

“Justin has logged a lot of miles and been a key contributor for us the past two seasons,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He made a decision to not play in the bowl game based on what is best for him and his family. He came to West Virginia to further his education and be a featured back in the Big 12 and he accomplished his goals. As he starts his preparation for the NFL Draft, we wish him nothing but the best.”

Crawford has led the Mountaineers in rushing each of the past two seasons.  He’s the first WVU player to post back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Noel Devine in 2008-09.

After finishing third in the Big 12 this season with 1,061 yards on the ground, he was named second-team all-conference for the second straight season.  Following the 2016 season, he earned the league’s Newcomer of the Year honor.

SMU graduate assistant GJ Kinne to call plays in Frisco Bowl

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New SMU head coach Sonny Dykes has been busy assembling his staff as he prepares to jump right in the saddle to coach the Mustangs in the Frisco Bowl next week, but he will have one holdover from the previous staff to help call the shots on offense. Graduate assistant GJ Kinne will call the offensive plays for the bowl game, according to Adam Grosbard of The Dallas Morning News.

This would seem to be the most logical choice for Dykes to make in this scenario. Kinne has been working in the SMU system all season long under former head coach Chad Morris, who has moved to Arkansas with a handful of assistants. Having the most experience with the current roster and a better comfort level makes sense to have Kinne take on this responsibility so close to the bowl game. This will be a major promotion for Kinne, the former Tulsa quarterback, even if just for one game.

I certainly trust G.J. It’s going to be fun to give him an opportunity to be highly involved and it’ll be one of those things he remembers for the rest of his life,” Dykes said of the decision to have Kinne calling the offense from above. “When you’re a GA and you get to call a bowl game, it’s a pretty awesome opportunity.”

Just how smoothly this all goes is anyone’s guess. Fortunately, if things go awry, Kinne and Dykes can always just resort to going back to a chuck-it-deep mentality and see what happens.

SMU faces Louisiana Tech in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 20.

Pitt loses second QB to transfer in as many days

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Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi may have been signed to a contract extension recently, but the Panthers are quickly getting shallow at the quarterback spot on the depth chart for 2018. For the second time in as many days, Pitt is losing a quarterback to a transfer.

Ben DiNucci is the most recent of the two to announce his decision to leave the program. Though DiNucci did not say where he is heading next, he did say in a brief message on Twitter he will be enrolling in January. He will have two years of eligibility to use, although he would have to sit out the 2018 season if he transfers to another FBS program. He would be eligible to play right away if he transfers to a lower division football program. A report from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggests the latter will be the case, with James Madison and Towson the two leading candidates to add DiNucci.

DiNucci was Pittsburgh’s leading passer this season with 1,091 yards and five touchdowns, although he was used mostly as a backup for Max Browne until Browne was injured after appearing in six games. DiNucci also added 126 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown, which came in Week 2 against Penn State.

DiNucci’s announcement comes just one day after Thomas MacVittie announced his own decision to leave the Panthers behind. The redshirt freshman did not appear in any games this season and was passed over on the depth chart by freshman Kenny Pickett. Pickett now becomes the top option in the passing game for the Panthers heading into the spring, unless Pitt happens to add a transfer to the mix.

Pitt will have another scholarship quarterback on the way in 2018 with the addition of incoming freshman Nick Patti out of New Jersey. Patti is not expected to be enrolling early, so he will not be around in the spring.

Royce Freeman will not play in Las Vegas Bowl

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Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman will not play in this weekend’s Las Vegas Bowl, thus bringing his collegiate career to a close before he moves on to the NFL next year. Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal announced Freeman’s lack of availability to reporters today ahead of the bowl game against Boise State.

Freeman played in all 12 games for the Ducks this season, rushing for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns. Freeman’s career at Oregon has been a highly productive one under two different coaches. As a freshman in 2014, Freeman rushed for 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns to quickly begin gaining some national attention as the Ducks advanced to the national championship game in the inaugural season of the College Football Playoff (but some guy named Marcus Mariota was doing some good things too at the time to grab the majority of the national attention).

Freeman rushed for 5,621 yards and 60 touchdowns for Oregon, and he was also responsible for four touchdown receptions.

Freeman will join a growing list following a growing trend of sitting out of a bowl game before moving to the NFL.