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.

Wisconsin receiver Aron Cruickshank transfers to Rutgers

Wisconsin receiver Aron Cruickshank is transferring to Rutgers.
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Former Wisconsin wide receiver Aron Cruickshank may be leaving the Badgers, but he will remain in the Big Ten. Cruickshank announced he is transferring to Rutgers.

Cruickshank confirmed his transfer to Rutgers with a post on his Instagram account on Saturday afternoon. According to NJ.com, Cruickshank was making an official visit to Rutgers this weekend. The visit must have gone well because he announced his transfer decision on the same day. Cruickshank announced his entry to the transfer portal earlier this month.

This is a nice addition for new (again) Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano. If the hiring of Schiano was supposed to entice more talent in and around The Garden State to want to stay close to home to play Big Ten football, then the transfer decision of Cruickshank is an encouraging start for the Scarlet Knights. Cruickshank is a Brooklyn, New York native, and Rutgers does love to attach itself to the New York metropolitan region.

Cruickshank appeared in all 14 games played by Wisconsin in the 2019 season, including all 12 regular-season games, the Big Ten championship game, and the Rose Bowl. Cruickshank was used mostly on special teams with 23 kickoff returns for 674 yards and two touchdowns. Cruickshank had one of his kickoff touchdowns in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon. He returned four kickoffs for 194 yards in the game. He also returned one kickoff to the house earlier in the season at Nebraska.

Cruickshank will have to sit out the 2020 season due to NCAA transfer rules. That will leave the former Badgers receiver with two years of eligibility beginning in 2021.

Texas brings Jay Boulware home from Oklahoma

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Jay Boulware is crossing sides in the Red River Rivalry… again. Boulware officially joined the Texas coaching staff on Saturday, the school announced. Boulware will be the special teams and tight ends coach for the Longhorns.

“Jay is a proven, accomplished coach and special teams coordinator who as a former Longhorn and Texas native, has deep roots in our state,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said in a released statement. “He also has extensive experience coaching in the Big 12, having spent a decade in our league, and has worked with teams that have competed at the highest level, including a National Championship team at Auburn in 2010.”

“I’ve been watching this program from afar since the day I left there in the spring of 1997, and I’ve always had it in my mind that I would like to come back someday and help Texas win a National Championship,” Boulware said in his released statement.

Boulware comes to Texas from rival Oklahoma. Boulware coached with the Sooners from 2013 through last season and was a part of multiple Big 12 championship teams and a program that participated in the College Football Playoff each of the past two seasons. Boulware was Oklahoma’s special teams and running backs during the last seven seasons. HE previously coached tight ends at Texas, NIU, Arizona, Utah, and Auburn.

Boulware started his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the Longhorns in 2014. He eventually was named tight ends coach and spent three seasons with his alma mater (Boulware played offensive tackle for Texas in 1991 and 1992). His coaching stops have included Northern Illinois, Arizona, Stanford, Utah and Iowa State, where he joined Gene Chizik and followed him to Auburn. In 2013, Boulware was hired by Wisconsin to be a part of a new staff being compiled by Gary Andersen, but he left the Badgers for Oklahoma just months later.

Clemson DT Xavier Kelly announces entry to transfer portal

Clemson redshirt junior Xavier Kelly will leave Clemson as a graduate transfer.
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Defensive tackle Xavier Kelly will no longer be a part of the Clemson football program. The redshirt junior announced he has entered the NCAA transfer portal and will look for another school to wrap up his collegiate career.

“I have never shied away from hard work or a challenge. My time at Clemson was a challenge that I happily accepted, [and I] worked hard to be the best defensive lineman, teammate and student I could be,” Kelly said in a statement shared on his Twitter account on Saturday afternoon.

“With this being said, I have decided to enter the transfer portal and continue my football career elsewhere. It is an honor to be able to say that I graduated from Clemson. Clemson will always have a special place in my heart.”

Kelly was listed third on the Clemson depth chart for one of the team’s two defensive tackle positions. Kelly appeared as a backup option behind freshman Tyler Davis and redshirt sophomore Jordan Williams. Kelly appeared in 10 games in the 2019 season and recorded a total of six tackles with credit for half of a sack. Kelly did not play in either of Clemson’s game sin the College Football Playoff.

In 2016, Kelly was involved in a moped accident that resulted in stitches. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said at the time Kelly was not wearing a helmet when somebody crashed into his moped.

By entering the transfer portal, Kelly is free to have contact with any other college football program interested in recruiting him. As a graduate transfer, Kelly will be able to use his final year of eligibility in 2020 and will not have to sit out the 2019 season.

Bob Shoop and Brian Jean-Mary join Michigan coaching staff, Jay Harbaugh promoted to special teams coordinator

Brian Jean-Mary and Bob Shoop are the newest members of Michigan's coaching staff.
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Michigan has officially introduced two new defensive assistants to the staff. Brian Jean-Mary and Bob Shoop were added to the defensive side of the coaching staff on Saturday as Michigan continues to retool its coaching staff this offseason.

According to the release from Michigan on Saturday, Shoop will take on the role of safeties coach for the Wolverines. Jean-Mary will serve as linebackers coach. In addition, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh promoted his son, Jay Harbaugh, to special teams coordinator. Harbaugh will continue to coach the running backs as well.

“I am excited about the addition of Brian and Bob to our defensive coaching staff,” said Harbaugh. “Brian and Bob are well-respected, experienced coaches who represent great fits for the University of Michigan. Both coaches have experience coordinating some of the best defenses in the country, and their development of all-conference and future NFL players throughout their careers will benefit our program and student-athletes. Michigan Football looks forward to having Brian, Bob and their families join the University family.”

Jean-Mary joins the Michigan program after three seasons with former USF head coach Charlie Strong at USF. Jean-Mary has been a longtime assistant under Strong, coaching with Strong at Louisville and Texas prior to USF.

Shoop previously was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. This will mark a return to the Big Ten for Shoop. Shoop previously coached at Penn State under James Franklin. Shoop went to Penn State with Franklin after three seasons at Vanderbilt. Shoop left Penn State for Tennessee after the 2015 season and coached the Vols defense for two seasons for former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones. Shoop and Penn State also carried on a bit of a legal squabble over Shoop’s contract and his exit from the Nittany Lions. Shoop took a job at Mississippi State when Joe Moorhead was hired (in the same coaching carousel that saw a coaching change at Tennessee and the hiring of Jeremy Pruitt, a former defensive coordinator himself).