The American Is the Best Group of Five Conference

This is a two-part post. In Part I, I talk about how the American has established itself as the top Group of Five conference. In Part II, we’ll discuss what that means, and where we go from here.

The American Athletic Conference is only three years old, but they’ve done pretty well for themselves in those three years. 2015 was the American’s best season yet, with a New Year’s bowl winner, two teams in the final top 25, the consensus national defensive player of the year (Temple’s Tyler Matakevich), and a player who finished in the top five in Heisman voting (Keenan Reynolds). There were plenty of skeptics who doubted the viability of the Big East’s football remnants, but the conference has not only survived, but thrived.

Indeed, the case can easily be made that the American has emerged as the top Group of Five conference.

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Throwback Thursday, and Spread Option Appreciation


John Hopkins recovered a fumble, and Bob Craig followed it up with a touchdown run of 65 yards as the group that would become the “Team Named Desire” opened up their season at Thompson Stadium against William and Mary:

Runs like that helped Craig set a school record by averaging 5.7 yards per carry over the course of his career.

That record is a great way to demonstrate just how revolutionary today’s Navy offense is. Last year I wrote about the 1995 Navy-SMU game and how it was a shock to the system of a moribund football program. That was the first time the spread option took the field in the Navy blue and gold, and its impact was immediate. The Mids reached offensive milestones that day that hadn’t been achieved in years, or in some cases, ever.

What began in 1995 hasn’t let up. Navy’s record books are rewritten each year, and Craig’s mark is no exception. He played from 1952-1954, and his record stood for 50 years. Number two on that list was his teammate, Joe Gattuso (the elder), who averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Ned Oldham (1955-1957) was next at 5.2. After that, nobody really came close. Think of all the great Navy runners in the decades that followed: Bellino, Donnelly, Cooper, Meyers, McCallum. None of those stars were able to challenge Craig’s number.

Almost immediately upon the return of the spread option in 2002, that record became toast. Tony Lane wrapped up his career in 2003 after averaging a mind-boggling 8.9 yards per carry. That’s over three yards per carry more than a record that stood for five decades. Since 2003, Craig’s once-untouchable average has been topped by seven different Navy slotbacks: Lane, Eric Roberts, Reggie Campbell, Shun White, Gee Gee Greene, Geoffery Whiteside, and DeBrandon Sanders. A fullback, Noah Copeland, almost matched the record himself at 5.6 ypc.

The production hasn’t been limited to the ground, either. Jim Stewart owned a school record after averaging 19.3 yards per catch from 1960-1962. He is now fifth on the list, having been topped by Tyree Barnes, Greg Jones, Campbell, and Roberts over the last dozen years.

Remember this the next time you hear that Navy’s isn’t a big-play offense, or that it’s only built for three yards and a cloud of dust. The spread option puts players in a position to make big plays at a rate that is unprecedented in Navy history.

Remember What It Took to Get Here

Navy football accomplished a lot in 2015. The team won 11 games, beat Army, won the Military Bowl, and finished ranked in the top 20. Keenan Reynolds was named both the American Athletic Conference and ECAC Offensive Player of the Year, finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting, and was co-recipient of the AAU Sullivan Award given to the nation’s outstanding amateur athlete. Four other players earned All-Conference recognition, and eight Mids were named to the All-East team. Coach Niumatalolo was co-Coach of the Year in the American, and was a finalist for two national coaching awards.

Games were won and records were broken, but of all the accolades the team received, the one I value most is the Lambert Trophy, awarded to the best team in the East.

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