Start Time: 12:00 p.m. EST, Friday Nov. 27
Location: TDECU Stadium, Houston, Texas
Television: ABC (Dave Flemming, Mack Brown, Allison Williams)
Radio: Navy: Navy Radio Network (Pete Medhurst, Omar Nelson, Joe Miller) WBAL 1090 AM Baltimore; WNAV 1430 AM, 99.9 FM Annapolis
Houston: KPRC 950 AM (Kevin Eschenfelder, Ted Pardee, Jeremy Branham)
Records: Houston 10-1 (6-1), Navy 9-1 (7-0)
Weather: 77 degrees at kickoff, 14 mph winds, cloudy skies
Betting Line: Navy -4, Over/Under of 61
If you are a G5 fan, you will want to get your Black Friday shopping done early tomorrow so you can be in front of your TV for a noon kickoff between Houston and Navy. This game has serious NY6 and conference implications as it is a winner-take-all for the AAC West Division crown. The winner will host the inaugural AAC Championship next weekend where there will be a really good chance of being the Group of 5 representative in a New Year's Six Bowl Game if they win the conference.
Not only are there major conference and bowl game implications at stake, but this could very well prove to be one of the best games in the American this season. Emerging Heisman Trophy candidate Keenan Reynolds will lead the #15 Navy Midshipmen into Houston to take on dual-threat QB Greg Ward Jr. and the rest of the Cougars. There will be star power, more records to be broken, the top scoring offense in the conference versus the top scoring defense, and two teams that show great balance on both sides of the ball. Statistically, these two teams may be as close as they come to the cream of the crop in the Group of 5, and I anticipate a game that will live up to the billing in front of a sellout crowd at TDECU stadium and a national audience on ABC.
When Navy has the ball:
Navy enters this game coming off of a 44-21 drubbing of Tulsa on the road last week. As has been the case almost all season, the offense moved the ball at will against a porous Golden Hurricane defense, racking up over 500 yards of total offense and spreading the scoring love to six different players.
This is a Navy team that now sits at 16th in the country in scoring offense, 2nd in rushing offense, and 1st in rushing touchdowns in FBS. They also enter the game second in the country in turnover margin at +15 and first overall in the country in turnovers lost with only 6 on the entire season.
Keenan Reynolds continues to rack up career records, moving past Napoleon McCallum last week to become the all-time leading rusher in Navy history with 4,195 yards in his career. He now sits only one behind Montee Ball for the all-time touchdowns scored record as well as most points scored for non-kickers in a career. Both of those records could very well fall tomorrow against Houston. He leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards, yards per game, and is second for all players behind only Derrick Henry of Alabama with 18 rushing touchdowns on the season. All of this has propelled him square into the middle of the Heisman conversation and tomorrow's game against Houston could provide the marquee victory and performance to really help him make some noise for the underdogs.
The problem is Navy will go up against a top 25 scoring defense in Houston that is very stingy against the run. Houston is 12th in the country allowing only 114 yards per game on the ground. They also are number two in the country in forcing turnovers with 27 on the season.
It will be good against good on this side of the ball as Navy looks to continue to execute its gameplan to perfection, maintaining their spot as the most methodical offense in the country and using long drives to limit Houston's possessions. Houston has been working on the triple option since the spring, but I anticipate the usual learning curve as they try to match the speed and execution that Navy has perfected.
When Houston has the ball:
Just like when Navy has the ball, this will be a matchup of good against good as the number one scoring offense in the conference in Houston goes up against the number one scoring defense in the conference in Navy.
Navy is one of only three schools in the country to have a top 20 scoring offense and defense (Clemson and Appalachian State), but Houston brings the number nine scoring offense in the country to this game and will provide multiple challenges for a Navy defense that has consistently held opponents below their averages all season.
Last week, Will Anthony was playing at another level, picking up eight tackles, three sacks, and four tackles for a loss against Tulsa. Navy will need Anthony, Sarra, and Mason to disrupt plays in the backfield and the linebacking corps will have to do a good job of containment and tackling in space if Navy hopes to be successful.
Greg Ward Jr. sat out the majority of last week's contest as he nursed a sore ankle, but if he is healthy this week and able to play at full strength, he will provide a dual-threat dynamic that is difficult to contain. Ward has over 3,000 yards of total offense and 29 TDs on the season and it is his dual-threat nature that makes Houston such a balanced and dangerous offense. Houston averages almost an even split at roughly 250 yards passing and rushing a game.
I know what this Houston team is capable of doing to any opposing defense, but I have watched the consistency with which Navy has played all season and I fully expect them to keep Houston below their scoring average in this one. With that being said, I believe Houston will still have its share of success as well and the battle on this side of the ball could very well be the deciding factor in this one.
On paper, this is a game between two very balanced teams with star quarterbacks who make their offenses go and two defenses who have continued to play above expectations all season. With everything that is at stake in this one, I expect a good ole-fashioned slugfest, but based on how Navy has played in recent weeks on both sides of the ball I have to give the advantage to the Mids.
Navy 35-Houston 28