While Navy was putting the finishing touches on its equation-changing win over Houston on Saturday afternoon, another service academy stood on the opposite side of the Group of Five divide.
Air Force — which had disposed of Navy with relative ease a week earlier — was picked off by the Wyoming Cowboys in Laramie.
Houston’s loss changes a number of dynamics in The American. It also elevates Boise State and Western Michigan to a level on par with the Cougars in the Group of Five. Navy and South Florida are more prominent in the Group of Five championship chase as a result of Houston’s lapse in Annapolis. All those points are clear.
The Air Force loss to Wyoming? On the surface, it relegates Air Force to the periphery of the race. One layer below the surface, however, it doesn’t change too much about the hunt for the Group of Five title and a New Year’s Six bowl bid.
Oregon State and Washington State — both Boise State victims — registered significant wins on Saturday against the Pac-12’s Bay Area schools, California and Stanford. Those wins — especially the Washington State conquest of Stanford — help Boise State a lot. When one realizes that Western Michigan and Boise State are the two foremost challengers to Houston in the G-5 derby, Boise State took a few steps forward in Week 6. Western Michigan — which owns a win over Illinois — watched the Illini lose at home to Purdue. That hurts the Broncos’ profile, as does the below-average season Northwestern (another Big Ten WMU victim) is enduring.
Any resume comparison between Western Michigan and Boise State will go to the Broncos — of the Mountain West, not the MAC. To that extent, Air Force losing doesn’t affect the WMU-Boise battle.
What matters in all of this?
A) Should Boise State lose at Air Force in its 12th game on Thanksgiving Friday, BSU’s resume would take a slightly bigger hit. Boise State would have wanted Air Force to be unbeaten entering that game, meaning it could then derive maximum benefit from a takedown of the Falcons.
B) If Air Force loses another Mountain West game before playing Boise State and eliminates itself from the Mountain West Mountain Division race, the Falcons’ game against BSU will be their season. Winning the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy versus Army is Air Force’s top priority in the coming weeks, but once that goal is achieved, winning the Mountain Division is the next major goal for the Falcons. If that aspiration is removed from the picture, Air Force will be more desperate to salvage its MWC season against Boise, a team the Falcons defeated on Smurf Turf last year. (The alternate line of interpretation: Not being able to win the division will leave Air Force deflated and less confident entering the Boise game.)
C) The team that defeated Air Force — Wyoming — beat Northern Illinois and lost to Eastern Michigan of the MAC, in which Western Michigan rules the roost. This means that Western Michigan can’t make an overly convincing claim about any “transitive property” or “common opponents” or “opponents of opponents” results that might unfold for the rest of the season.
In the end, Western Michigan — more than any other team — has to hope that this Air Force loss emboldens and focuses the Falcons when they play Boise State. If that happens — to the extent that the Academy can beat Boise State — Western Michigan could rise in the Group of Five pecking order. A Louisville win over Houston later this season, plus another South Florida loss at any point in the season, would usher an unbeaten Western Michigan into a New Year’s Six bowl.
What if Western Michigan loses?
That’s another conversation for another day. One step at a time, folks, as the Group of Five whirlwind continues to stir up college football in 2016.