Can Liberty reach the NY6? What should Boise State and San Diego State do? G5 Mailbag

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We’re two weeks from conference championships, and the New Year’s Six spot still feels wide open. We also got our first Group of 5 coaching changes this week. And James Madison has petitioned the NCAA for a waiver that could change it all. Let’s get into your questions.

(Submitted questions have been lightly edited for clarity and length.)

What’s it going to take for Liberty to get the NY6 bid? What scenarios keep a 13-0 conference champion Liberty team out? I’m particularly interested in what could happen if Tulane does not win the AAC or wins it with two losses. — Zachary G.

It’s time to start talking about Liberty and that NY6 spot, because of what is happening elsewhere. Tulane has won four consecutive games by one score against teams with losing records. I know the Green Wave are very banged up, but they’re not playing their best, and they have red-hot UTSA to close the regular season. If Tulane wins out, it will get the spot, but it has more chances of dropping a game than Liberty.

Elsewhere, SMU and Memphis are 8-2 and play each other this week in what is basically an AAC playoff game (with Tulane/UTSA next week, each winner probably going to the title game). My colleagues Stewart Mandel and Scott Dochterman predict SMU to the New Year’s Six spot, implying wins over Memphis and Tulane/UTSA. SMU currently lacks notable wins, like Liberty, but those two wins would be more than the Flames can probably counter with.

And don’t forget Toledo is sitting there at 10-1 with 10 consecutive wins and only an opening loss to Illinois on a last-second field goal after a wild fourth-down catch. Air Force, UNLV and Fresno State all sit at 8-2 as well in the Mountain West.

Would the committee really put a two-loss team ahead of an undefeated Liberty? I really don’t know. Because Liberty isn’t in the CFP Top 25, we don’t know how far behind Tulane the Flames are.

And, of course, there is James Madison’s waiver for full bowl eligibility, which could put the Dukes above everyone anyway. A resolution on that could come as soon as this week.

If James Madison was mathematically guaranteed a bowl appearance due to not enough bowl-eligible teams after the final regular-season weekend, would the NCAA be willing to grant them a waiver then so they’d be eligible for the Sun Belt Championship (and possible NY6 bowl)? — Joseph M.

I suspect we’re going to get a ruling before then. The CFP has already said that not having enough 6-6 teams does not make JMU eligible for the New Year’s Six Bowl. It goes with the NCAA determination of JMU’s status. The Sun Belt allows only fully eligible teams to compete for the conference championship, and teams need to win their conference championship to be eligible for the G5 NY6 spot. So the order in which things would have to happen is:

1. NCAA grants JMU a waiver as a fully eligible team
2. Sun Belt allows JMU to play in the conference championship game
3. JMU wins Sun Belt championship

It all remains TBD, but I can tell you that the other Group of 5 conferences don’t believe JMU should get the waiver (and potentially take the NY6 spot from them).

With Andy Avalos out at Boise, what type of coach should the Broncos be looking to hire? Should Boise fans expect the same level of success they’ve enjoyed the past 25 years in the new landscape of college football? Who, if anyone, would you rate as a better football program (in a better position going forward) in the Mountain West? — Benny C.

To piggyback on Benny’s excellent question, What about San Diego State now that Brady Hoke has been fired? — Allen D.

Both of these jobs are two of the best in the Group of 5. Both expect to contend for the 12-team CFP. Neither was heading in that direction, so changes were made. While there may be a lot of overlap in the candidates for these jobs, what they need is a bit different.

Boise State needs someone who knows how to build on a lot of fan support and what entails being a head coach. The Broncos still sell out almost every game and have expectations of winning 10-plus games every year, as you said. There were rumors and reports of Avalos losing the locker room, so Boise State needs someone who connects with the players.

San Diego State needs someone who will fix the dreadful offense. It’s a job with a much better proximity to talent and a brand new stadium it needs to fill. It has high expectations but not the same as Boise State. It also has the best weather in America.

Names I could see fitting for both jobs include Washington offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, Missouri offensive coordinator Kirby Moore, Oregon State offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren, Montana State head coach Brent Vigen, former Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin and former Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

Both schools were left behind in the latest conference realignment, especially painful for SDSU after expecting to land in the Pac-12. Now both have to aim for being the big fish in a small pond (and figure out what happens with the Pac-2). All the potential is there at both of these jobs, but the top teams of the AAC and Sun Belt won’t give away the top of the G5 so easily.

What is it going to take for SMU to crack the Top 25? All it can do is beat who is on the schedule. It admittedly had a poor effort at TCU before the offense clicked but played Oklahoma tough. The Mustangs have pummeled the AAC opponents that Tulane continues to struggle with. Does it not register with voters that they are top 10 in offense and defense? That is elite company. — Mj M.

I do agree that most people have not noticed how well SMU is playing since the loss to TCU. My colleague Sam Khan noted that SMU is outscoring its conference opponents 270-88, second-best among all FBS teams in conference play and behind only Michigan. The Mustangs are truly plastering AAC teams.

But they just haven’t played anyone of note to draw more attention. They don’t have a win over a team with a winning record. That will change this weekend if SMU beats Memphis.

Is Old Dominion going to rise to Liberty and JMU’s heights, or will it always be behind its instate rivals? — Nicholas P.

Old Dominion has had its ups and downs, and there is potential there, but Liberty and JMU just have such a head start with history and investment in the program. Liberty hasn’t had a losing season since 2005. For James Madison, it goes back to 2002. The Monarchs brought their program back in 2009. So they’re simply working from behind against programs that already have so much in place.

That’s not to say ODU can’t get there. But it’s really more about getting the program to consistently win again, rather than comparing it with rivals who are more resourced.

Two questions: 1) What is Miami (OH)’s ceiling over the long term and short term this year? 2) Is Miami coach Chuck Martin one of the more underrated coaches in the G5? He seems to churn out six-plus win seasons. — Bryan P.

Martin has put together a perfectly average program for the past decade there, which is an improvement from what was there before. He had the surprise 8-6 MAC championship in 2019 and has reached three bowl games in the past four years, but 2019 was the only season with more than seven wins — until this season. This program is often limited by its difficult nonconference schedule every year. In fact, the 2021 bowl win over North Texas was Miami’s first nonconference win in more than a decade, dating back 31 games to a 2011 win against Army.

This year, the RedHawks lost to Miami (Fla.) but beat UMass, Delaware State and rival Cincinnati, and they’re 5-1 in MAC play. Martin hasn’t had a losing season in MAC play since his second season in 2015, but he’s reached only one MAC title game. All in all, it’s perfectly fine. Not bad enough to get fired, not good enough to get hired to other jobs.

But he didn’t have a breakthrough season. This season appears to finally be that. Miami is 8-2 overall and 5-1 in conference play and will likely win the MAC East (beating Buffalo on Wednesday night would clinch it). There’s a chance at 10 or 11 wins, which has been done only once there since Ben Roethlisberger led a 13-1 season and top-10 finish in 2003. Miami and Toledo are MAC programs with some of the best history and resources in a conference full of equal programs. It’s been harder for MAC teams to break out when they all have the same budgets and same pool of players. Martin’s done a really good job this year, and Miami may be poised to finally get back near the top of the conference, where it feels it belongs.

Group of 5 Top 10

1. James Madison (10-0)
2. Tulane (9-1)
3. Liberty (10-0)
4. Toledo (10-1)
5. Troy (8-2)
6. SMU (8-2)
7. Fresno State (8-2)
8. UNLV (8-2)
9. Memphis (8-2)
10. UTSA (7-3)

Just missed: Miami (Ohio), Air Force, Coastal Carolina, Ohio, Jacksonville State, New Mexico State

Games of the Week

American: SMU (-8.5) at Memphis
Noon ET Saturday, ESPN2
Pick: SMU to win, Memphis to cover

CUSA: UMass at Liberty (-27.5)
1 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN+
Pick: Liberty to win, UMass to cover

MAC: Buffalo at Miami (-8.5)
7 p.m. ET Wednesday, ESPN2
Pick: Miami to win, Buffalo to cover

Mountain West: UNLV at Air Force (-3)
3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, CBSSN
Pick: UNLV

Sun Belt: Appalachian State at James Madison (-9)
2 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN+
Pick: JMU

(Photo of Boise State running back Jambres Dubar: Brian Losness / USA Today)

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