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

6 Comments

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.

Oregon LB arrested for removing parking boot dismissed by Ducks

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In April, Fotu Leiato was arrested on a couple of charges related to the illegal removal of a parking boot from his vehicle.  A month later, we’ve learned Leiato was given the boot from his current football program for good measure.

247Sports.com was the first to report that Leiato has been dismissed by first-year Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal.  Further to the point, the linebacker’s dismissal came a day after his April arrest but the news didn’t surface until Thursday.

In the April incident, Leiato was arrested on charges of second-degree criminal mischief, second-degree theft and criminal trespassing.  That was actually his second arrest this year as he was charged with misdemeanor trespassing in January.

The combination of the two arrests led Cristobal to pull the trigger on a dismissal.

Coming to Eugene as a three-star safety, Leiato played in 37 of 38 games the past three seasons.  The Washington native earned the first start of his collegiate playing career during the 2017 season.

The senior had been in line to earn a starting job exiting spring and heading into the summer phase of the offseason.

LB Darrin Kirkland announces transfer from Tennessee

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Darren Kirkland‘s injury-plagued time on Rocky Top has come to an end.

On his personal Twitter account Thursday evening, Kirkland announced that he has decided to transfer out of first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt‘s Tennessee football program.  The linebacker gave no specific reason for his decision to move on from the Volunteers.

“Tennessee will always hold a special place in my heart,” Kirkland wrote. “These moments have been priceless and I’m a better player and man from this experience.”

As a graduate transfer, Kirkland would be eligible to play for another FBS program in 2018.  Not only that, but he will have two seasons of eligibility remaining counting this year.

A four-star 2015 signee, Kirkland started 10 games as a true freshman and then another six in a sophomore campaign marred by a high-ankle sprain that forced him to miss four games.  In summer camp last year, he suffered a knee injury severe enough to sideline him for the entire 2017 season.

The rehab from that injury kept Kirkland from being a full participant in Pruitt’s first spring practice this year.

North Texas dropping $625,000 to install new turf that naturally includes new design

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Seth Littrell has done a great job turning around the program at North Texas but fans getting a look at the 2018 edition of his team will notice something right away that’s different when they take the field for the home opener: new turf. The Denton Record Chronicle reports that UNT is ponying up $625,245 for the latest “FieldTurf CoolPlay” turf at Apogee Stadium.

“We are excited about the turf,” Littrell said recently, according to the paper. “It was much needed. That turf has been used a lot and has gotten worn down. The new field will improve safety and will be a great resource for our kids.”

The old turf had a good run at the stadium after being installed back in 2011 but obviously the summer heat and 300+ pound bodies playing football will cause a little wear and tear. The Record Chronicle says that “North Texas” and “Mean Green” will be the end zones text while the midfield school logo will include a “dark green outline of the state of Texas.”

Completion of the project is expected to be done well in time for the first game against SMU in September. The school has released some shots of Apogee Stadium without the old turf and it certainly looks kind of wild to see a stadium sans a playing field:

Kansas State AD open to scheduling Nebraska in the future

Getty Images
1 Comment

Conference realignment ended a bunch of big rivalries, from the major (Texas-Texas A&M) to the mundane. Former Big 8 and Big 12 rivals Kansas State and Nebraska were somewhere on the middle of that scale after playing each other in football for decades. While nobody is clamoring for the two to get together quite like they are the Longhorns and Aggies, there’s plenty who would still love to see them schedule a non-conference series given how close Lincoln and the Little Apple are to each other (135 miles across the border).

Wildcats athletic director Gene Taylor has been in the job just over a year and it seems like he’s very aware of the scheduling situation between the two schools and is open to getting something done eventually. He was asked about adding the Cornhuskers to the slate in a Q&A on the school’s website and had this to say:

“That is a school that makes a lot of sense,” said Taylor. “We are pretty well-scheduled out in football with our one Power Five opponent, but we do play them in baseball and have had conversations in men’s basketball. If the opportunity were to arise, they are someone we would certainly entertain if it made sense for us.”

KSU is fully booked on the scheduling front through 2022 but have been open to adding home-and-homes with former Big 12 opponents with Missouri on tap for 2022/23 and Colorado on 2027/28. They’ve got a Power Five opponent on the docket until 2031 so it seems like the team wouldn’t be able to get something done with Nebraska until after then. That is, to say the least, a long ways away.

Who knows, maybe they’ll be able to meet in a bowl game at some point over the next few years. The Cornhuskers and Wildcats last met in 2010 in a series that is heavily weighted to Big Red. At least Taylor is leaving the door open and leaving a chance of the two programs hooking back up on the gridiron.