The American, the G5, and New Year’s

There is Tuesday Night MACtion tonight with the potential to affect the Group of 5 New Year’s 6 bowl landscape. Otherwise, this post could await the College Football Playoff rankings refresh and could be a lot less speculative. The speculation: How far will Houston (#19 last week) fall? Will Temple replace Memphis as a third AAC team in the committee’s rankings? Will Toledo re-appear, as the Rockets did in the AP poll?

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G5 Access Bowl Roundup

The top-ranked champion of the “Group of Five” or G5 conferences earns a slot in one of the New Year Six bowls – this year the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl. For the second week in a row, the American Athletic Conference is the only G5 conference appearing in the College Football Playoff Committee top 25 rankings. With three AAC teams there, to all others’ zero, it is safe to say that the American has established itself as the cream of the G5s. While that gives the AAC champ the inside track, the other conferences have some contenders lurking, and worst-case AAC fratricide could leave the door open.
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Does AAC stand for “American Access-bowl Conference”?

That was a good Tuesday for Navy Football.

ICYMI, the College Football Playoff Committee released the first set of rankings, which included American Athletic Conference members Memphis at #13, Temple at #22 and Houston at #25. With the only other “Group of Five” team in the rankings being then-undefeated Toledo at #24, a very clear path is drawn up for the AAC champion to be the highest ranked G5 champion and get the resultant Peach / Fiesta Bowl bid.

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WATCHING THE AMERICAN

This time next year, we’ll be talking about the American Athletic Conference championship game.

This year, though, the American joins the Big 12 in adding to the slate of non-championship games this weekend. Memphis clinched a share of the championship last week, and UCF joined them at 9-3 (7-1) Thursday night with a Hail Mary win over East Carolina. Cincinnati can match those records, hosting Houston. The conference will declare co-champions, and allow the College Football Playoff Committee to choose one if there is a shot at the Cotton/Peach/Fiesta access bowl. Memphis is presently ranked ahead of the others, and in the only game between the three beat Cincinnati in October, so they probably look the best to the committee. However, that is an increasingly small chance: Boise State should clinch that bid with a win today, and Northern Illinois made its own strong case dominating the MAC conference championship game for the Huskies’ 11th win. Marshall could still look better than one of our tri-champions as well with a similarly strong performance in the CUSA championship.

Farther down the food chain in the American, Temple is trying to improve to 6-6 and get bowl eligible at Tulane. (Is this where I mention that SMU is looking for the Mustangs’ first win, visiting 2-9 UConn? Okay, done.)

The Owls would be the sixth bowl-eligible team in the conference. Without an access bowl bid, the American has five bowl tie-ins, and Temple might not be able to secure a bowl spot left open by another conference. The American’s bowl line up looks pretty good this year: BYU, two matchups with the ACC, one with the SEC, and supposedly a Big 12 backup to Army in the Armed Forces Bowl (depending on how Playoff and New Year’s Day slots go out, Big 12 may not meet all their primary tie-ins though, much less secondary ones.) Next year’s lineup for the expanded American expands to seven games, but only one each against the SEC and ACC, while covering the waterfront against the other Group of FIve teams.

BYE WEEK ACCESS BOWL TALK

I know not too many Navy fans are dialed in to the minutiae of our future conference yet. As long as we have a bye week, though, we might start guessing which Group of Five conference champion will go to the Fiesta, Peach, or Cotton Bowl. As we’ve discussed, the exposure and more importantly the money will be a springboard to staying with the haves in the next tectonic shift of the college football landscape.

At the moment, the highest ranked G5 member is our future conference-mate East Carolina. Why  have they climbed to #18 in the AP poll and #16 in the Coaches Poll? They went 2-1 against South Carolina, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina, and looked pretty good doing so.  The Pirates have the inside track, but still have the hardest part of their campaign in the American ahead: at Cincinnati, UCF, and even at 4-1 Temple will be tests.

Also creeping into the top 25 is Marshall, from Conference USA. Marshall? Yes, Marshall. They were Phil Steele’s pre-season pick  for the access bowl nod. Reason number one is their talented QB Rakeem Cato. Reason number two is their relatively soft schedule. ESPN’s Football Power Index calculates Marshall’s chance of winning out as 45% – that is ridiculous and the best mark of any of the 128 teams. The schedule doesn’t offer any big wins to increase the possibility that the Herd will thunder ahead of the Pirates, but if they remain undefeated they could also have a 13th win to point to in the MAC championship.

How will the College Football Playoff Committee rank these two? Great question. There has been a lot of coverage on how they’ll look at the playoff contenders, but I haven’t seen a specific rundown for identifying the highest ranked G5 team.  Speculating with Massey’s composite of 75 rankings doesn’t clarify things for me. Undefeated Marshall is actually comfortably ahead of East Carolina in the comparison, and ranks as high as #4 in two systems!

That composite also doesn’t give me much insight beyond the two front runners. Boise State was probably on a lot of minds when this format was identified. With two losses, they are lumped with one-loss Colorado State and two-loss Utah State at #44, #46 & #47. Those Mountain West contenders are still ahead of Marshall’s or East Carolina’s conference challengers. The MAC and Sun Belt are even farther back.

When the first College Football Playoff Committee rankings are released in two weeks, there will still be a lot of football to be played. But there may be as much or more insight into how the committee ranks the Group of Five champions as there is into the top four selection.

American Athletic Conference in 2014…and beyond…

Anyone else holding his breath when Brigham Young head football coach Bronco Mendenhall made a blatant pitch for Big 12 membership? Fortunately, we didn’t have to hold our breath long before Big12 athletic directors firmly stated that the Big12 was not interested in expansion. Navy football fans are spared another white-knuckle offseason of conference re-alignment. For the moment, the college football landscape will remain unchanged.

That’s not to say that the current conference alignment and College Football Playoff will last forever. I won’t predict the exact shape or the timeline, but the five College Football Playoff conferences will likely grow richer and increase their separation from the Group of Five. Until then, the American can work toward success in the current picture.
American commissioner Mike Aresco appears to be committed to fighting for the top of the heap in the Group of Five. The American claims the reigning mens’ and womens’ basketball champions, both at Connecticut, but football remains the straw that stirs the drink. “We’re going to talk a lot about the position of our conference as we move forward because I think we can position ourselves as a power conference,” Aresco said. “I see no reason why we can’t.”

The American closed out the BCS era in style, with UCF beating Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. In order to start the College Football Playoff era well, the 2014 American Athletic Conference champion needs to be ranked ahead of the other Group of Five champions to get the access bowl bid. The perception and money that comes with that can maintain momentum. A bid to the Fiesta/Chick-fil-A/Cotton Bowl for Cincinnati, UCF, Houston, or ECU will keep Navy and the American as well positioned as they can expect for the next upheaval in conference alignment.

Navy’s other bowl game

With 10 bowl appearances since 2003, it isn’t unusual for the Navy team to get a bit of national attention during the college football postseason. This year, though, the team wasn’t the only part of the Navy program to have its moment in the spotlight. While the Mids were in Texas preparing to take on Middle Tennessee State, the building they call home was playing host to Marshall and Maryland in the Military Bowl.

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