Highlights: CSJ FBS Group of Five Top Five Games and Recap of Week 15

Army defeats Navy 15-0 in the fog at Michie Stadium in West Point, N.Y. (Courtesy of Washington Post)

In what was to be the last regular season weekend, there was a lot on the line in all conference races to determine the participants in the five Group of Five conference title games. 

It was also a week in a normal, non-COVID-19 season that would have ended with the Army-Navy game.  While that game was still played on its originally scheduled date, it was very unique as Army hosted the game—the first time one of the two schools hosted the game and not played at a neutral site since World War II. 

Originally scheduled for Philadelphia, the game was moved to Michie Stadium due to Pennsylvania state restrictions on attendance. Instead, Army played host as the designated home team for the 121st meeting, putting the series in a non-neutral site for the first time since 1943 and the sixth time overall. 

The fog rolled into West Point, N.Y. as the game began and throughout the contest made things for even the cadets (around 4,500 for each service academy) in the stands difficult to see the action, just as those of us watching on television. 

That fog seemed be an omen for Navy as the Midshipmen could not get anything going most of the game offensively. It also had miscues at the one goal line drive where Army’s defense stood tall to stop a fourth-and-goal at its one-yard line.

The Army offense was able to muster up enough offense of its own and used that suffocating defense to win the game 15-0. 

The Black Knight win was the program’s fourth in five tries against Navy, highlighting the new dynamic in the series after the Midshipmen’s long run of dominance.

Army’s defense gave up just 117 yards, the program’s stingiest performance since holding FCS Fordham to 86 yards in 2011. The shutout was the Black Knights’ first against the Midshipmen since 1969.

Army ran for just 134 yards, the program’s fewest in a win since at least 2008, and posted just eight first downs, the fewest in a game regardless of result since losing to Duke in 2016. 

But still Army avenged the 31-7 loss it endured last year to tilt the rivalry back in its favor. 

While in most years, the Commander-in-Chief Trophy—given to the best of the three military academies would be known after the Army-Navy game, this year is different as Army is set to play its last regular season game again at Michie Stadium next week against Air Force with the winner getting the coveted trophy for this unusual 2020 season. 

Coastal Stays Perfect, but Narrowly

The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers finished up the regular season Saturday at Troy in a game rescheduled from mid-November. The Trojans come in with one of the Sun Belt Conference’s best passing attacks and nearly used that to pull-off the upset. 

Coastal Carolina got off to a hot start but found itself behind late. 

Backup Troy QB Jacob Free, who replaced an injured Gunnar Watson in the fourth quarter, hit WR Tray Eafford on a 6-yard touchdown with 1:20 left in the game. The play was set up with an interception by star MLB Carlton Martial, who also had 21 tackles on the game.  That touchdown gave the Trojans their first lead at 38-35. 

That though just set-up QB Grayson McCall and Coastal Carolina offensive to put together a final drive in the hopes to stay perfect on the season.  McCall and the Chants did just that. 

Chant WR Jaivon Heiligh caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from McCall with 45 seconds left and Coastal Carolina preserved its first ever unblemished regular season with a 42-38 win.

McCall needed just 45 seconds to move the Chanticleers without any timeouts, 75 yards for the winning score. He completed all four of his passes on the drive, three of them to Heiligh.

The Chants had already clinched a spot in the Sun Belt Championship game before this game and will look for its first ever SBC title with its rematch against Louisiana, who was off this week. Coastal defeated Louisiana 30-27 back in early October.

Mountain West Undefeated Teams

The last regular season weekend was full of drama as well.  The only overall undefeated team going into the weekend was San Jose State and the Spartans had to play its “home” game against Nevada in the Wolfpack’s home state but in Las Vegas due to the Santa Clara County COVID-19 regulations (where San Jose is located) barring any contact sport. 

The Spartans got off to a rocky start as Nevada as SJSU trailed 20-7 at halftime but the second half was all Spartans.

Freshman KR Shamar Garrett caught the opening kickoff of the second half and ran up the right hashmark to about the 25 and broke left before racing along the sideline to trim SJSU’s deficit to 20-14.

On its ensuing drive, the Wolf Pack moved to San Jose State’s 1 before, on second-and-goal, Jay Kavika forced a fumble by Wolfpack RB Toa Taua that was recovered by Jay Lenard.

Derrick Deese Jr.’s 5-yard touchdown catch capped a 12-play, 99-yard drive with 2:34 left in the third quarter and Nevens’ scoring run gave the Spartans a 27-20 lead just over two minutes later.

The Spartans added a field goal later and completed the second half shutout to win 30-20.

The win moved SJSU to the Mountain West championship game for the first time in its history and the 6-0 start to the season is the best in school history since 1939 when the team finished 13-0. 

While SJSU is new to the Mountain West championship discussion, a familiar school in Boise State will be their opponent.  This was already known before Boise State finished its regular season contest at Wyoming.  The Broncos though still had the fight for home field in the title contest in question, so a win was needed to keep the Broncos in contention to host the game. 

In a snowy Laramie, Wyoming, Boise State used its stingy defense to defeat the Cowboys, 17-9.  Wyoming was held to 146 yards of offense, the fourth-fewest Boise State has allowed in a true road game in the last 20 years.

Bronco QB Hank Bachmeier finished the game 19 of 28 for 181 yards, a touchdown pass and an interception. His lead receiver in WR Khalil Shakir nabbed nearly half of Bachmeier’s completed passes, going for 105 yards on eight receptions.

The Broncos’ win over the Cowboys is coach Bryan Harsin’s 19-straight regular-season conference win and the second season going undefeated in conference play.  The Broncos finished the regular season 5-1 overall. 

The location for the MWC title game is not yet known since the two teams did not have a head-to-head match-up and will be decided later today (Sunday) based on the computer rankings of both teams.

Conference USA Title Game Decided

With the COVID-19 cancelation of the Marshall-Charlotte game, Marshall was put into the title game as the East Division winner.

But in the West Division, UAB played Rice to decide if UAB would also get the title game spot.  If UAB would lose, UTSA would get the spot, who had already finished their regular season. 

Rice was the school that handed Marshall its only loss on the season last week but UAB would not let the Owls make it two weeks in a row.   UAB, who have not played a game in nearly a month due to COVID-19 reasons were still depleted in their match-up at Rice.  The Blazers had just 42 scholarship players suited up in this game. 

Coming into the game, UAB experienced a rash of contact tracing, following a few positive COVID-19 tests, and were without several starters including RBs Spencer Brown and DeWayne McBride, left tackle/guard Colby Ragland, Ss Dy’jonn Turner, Will Boler and Jalen Key, CB Mac McWilliams, LBs Alex Wright, Kelle Sanders and Michael Fairbanks II and DL Fish McWilliams.

Without Brown and McBride, the responsibility for leading the running game fell on Larry Wooden, Jermaine Brown Jr. and Lucious Stanley. All three combined for 27 rushing attempts for 96 yards and a 7-yard score from Stanley.

In the end, the Blazers won the game 21-16 despite starting slow to win its third straight C-USA West Division crown. The Blazers finished the season 5-3 overall and 3-1 in C-USA play.

Like the MWC, the C-USA title game location will be decided by the football computer rankings to determine the home site for the game.  This should also be known later today (Sunday). 

MAC Goes Wild to Finish

The MAC also came down to this last weekend to know who would be in the title game played in Detroit next Friday. 

Buffalo though already knew it would be in the game as the MAC East Division champions but still will be going into the title game with a bang as well as an unblemished record.  The Bulls used its running game to pickup an easy 56-7 win at Akron. 

Top RB Jaret Patterson ran for 105 yards and matched a major college football record by reaching 1,000 yards for the season in five games. He scored two touchdowns before halftime, bringing his season totals to 1,025 yards and 18 rushing scores for the Bulls (5-0). He is the 12th player in FBS history to surpass 1,000 yards in as many games.

But it was fellow RB Kevin Marks Jr. who led the Bulls with a career-high 182 yards and two touchdowns who had the game wrapped up by halftime with a 35-0 lead. 

The Bulls opponent in the MAC title game though was where the wildness part was found.  Ball State and Western Michigan were basically in a MAC West Division title game in Muncie, Indiana. 

The Cardinals took a 30-27 lead over the Broncos with 32 seconds to go. WMU was not close enough to the end zone for a game-tying field goal so the Broncos had to try a last-gasp play for a game-winning touchdown.

That last-gasp play included 15 laterals and the entire Ball State team rushing the field. And it almost worked.

Here’s how it unfolded as WMU wide receiver Skyy Moore scored what the Broncos hoped would be a game-winning score with Ball State’s players all over the field.

The forward lateral was called as an illegal forward pass on the field not long after it was thrown on the eighth lateral of the play. Western Michigan fumbled the ball a few laterals later and the entire Ball State bench apparently thought the fumble had been recovered and the play was over.

The fumble wasn’t recovered, however. Western Michigan kept playing, even as Ball State players were on the field. That’s how Moore ended up with the ball and a clear path to the end zone.

Ball State was flagged for having the bench come onto the field. But that penalty came after the forward pass. And since it was a dead ball foul, it didn’t offset with the forward pass penalty and Ball State won the game and the MAC West title with it.

American Goes Idle Leading to Championship

The American Athletic Conference title game teams were already known before this last regular season weekend, but the league was to have a preview game before the already decided Tulsa-Cincinnati game was to take place. Tulsa was to host Cincinnati this week but COVID-19 concerns with the Bearcats canceled this game.

The regular-season game will not be rescheduled. Cincinnati and Tulsa are now scheduled to play next Saturday for the AAC Championship Game.

Both teams will have 6-0 conference records at the conclusion of the regular season. In the absence of a regular-season head-to-head result to break the tie, the site of the championship game will be the home stadium of the team that is ranked higher in the Dec. 8 College Football Playoff rankings, per The American’s tiebreaking procedure, which was Cincinnati.

College Football Playoff Rankings

As mentioned with the AAC title game, the rankings last Tuesday had Cincinnati ranked as the top Group of Five team at #8. Below are the full rankings.

Cincinnati is likely to move up with Florida losing at home to LSU above them when the next announcement Tuesday. Coastal was second amongst the G5 teams at #13. BYU is at #18, Louisiana at #19, and Tulsa at #24 to give the G5 five teams in the Top 25 rankings.

COVID-19 Postponements and Cancelations

This week as the COVID-19 numbers continues to surge throughout the country, 11 games were changed this week in all of college football. This number includes three that involved G5 squads with some of these mentioned above.

Here is a list of all the games this week and if the game as canceled or just postponed:

Ole Miss at Texas A&MDec. 12TBD
Cincinnati at TulsaDec. 12Canceled
Michigan at Ohio StateDec. 12Canceled
Ohio at Kent StateDec. 12Canceled
Charlotte at MarshallDec. 11Canceled
Purdue at IndianaDec. 12Canceled
Miami (OH) at Bowling GreenDec. 12Canceled
Washington at OregonDec. 12Canceled
Oklahoma at West VirginiaDec. 12Canceled
Cal at Washington StateDec. 12Canceled
Texas at KansasDec. 12Canceled

Top 5 Games of the Week

Here are my top five games of the Group of Five games with highlights for this week. The Ball State win over Western Michigan had to be my top pick but added four other nail bitters to the list as well this week.

1. Ball State 30 Western Michigan 27 (Muncie, Ind.)

2. Coastal Carolina 42 Troy, 38 (Troy, Ala.)

3. UAB 21 Rice 16 (Houston, Tex.)

4. BYU 28 San Diego State 14 (Provo, Utah.)

5. Toledo 24 Central Michigan 23 (Toledo, Ohio)