Bloguin Top 50: No. 47 — Navy

Navy Midshipmen

2014 Record: 8-5 (won bowl game)

1 Burning Question: How high is this team’s ceiling if it secures the ball?

A year after former Navy coach Paul Johnson saw the triple option re-emerge in all its glory at Georgia Tech, powering the Yellow Jackets to a New Year’s Six bowl blowout of an SEC West opponent, one can’t help but wonder what could happen if Navy’s triple option can max out under Johnson’s successor in Annapolis, Ken Niumatalolo. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds has struggled with injuries in his Navy career, and last year, he was dogged by fumbles — 12 total, 9 lost. What would happen if Navy managed to be extremely airtight with the rock? Can the Midshipmen allow this question to be answered after 12 regular-season games?

2 Key Stats to Pay Attention to

24 — The number of fumbles by Navy last season, 17 of which were lost.

30 — This is the lowest point total surrendered by Navy’s defense in a loss last season. Whenever Navy lost, its defense struggled. The point within the point: Those defensive struggles were sometimes the product of untimely turnovers and the offense’s general inability to keep the defense fresh through the first three quarters, leading to fatigue in the fourth. Ball security and the defense’s ability to withstand a formidable opposing offensive line are not entirely separate issues for coach Ken Niumatalolo, who passed George Welsh last season as the winningest head coach in Navy history (57 wins, surpassing Welsh’s total of 55).

Ken Niumatalolo

Ken Niumatalolo

3 Key Games That Will Make or Break the Season

Full 2015 Schedule
9/5 — Colgate
9/19 — East Carolina
9/26 — at Connecticut
10/3 — Air Force
10/10 — at Notre Dame
10/24 — Tulane
10/31 — South Florida
11/7 — at Memphis
11/14 — SMU
11/21 — at Tulsa
11/27 — at Houston
12/12 — Army (neutral site)

Saturday, October 10, Air Force
Record in the Last 5 Meetings: 2-3
Last Year’s Result: L, 30-21

Why it matters: If Navy is going to win back the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy — one of its central priorities and most realistically attainable goals each season — it has to beat the Falcons.

Saturday, November 7, at Memphis
Record in Last 5 Meetings: The teams have never met

Why it matters: Navy is at Notre Dame this season, but that’s a non-conference game. The Midshipmen are playing in the American Athletic Conference (otherwise known as The American) this season, so they’re more centrally in the mix for a Group Of Five New Year’s Six bowl berth. In order to get that slot, Navy could afford to lose to Notre Dame. It cannot afford to lose to Memphis, a team placed with Navy in the AAC West Division.

Friday, November 27, at Houston
Record in Last 5 Meetings: 0-1 (1980 Garden State Bowl)

Why it matters: Let’s acknowledge something up front: Army will always be the most important game on Navy’s schedule. That is an annual fact of life in Annapolis. In this 2015 season, winning The American becomes a fresh new goal for the program. In late November, this game against Houston and first-year head coach Tom Herman could prove decisive in the AAC.

4 Key Players

Keenan Reynolds, QB – Navy gets another season out of Reynolds, a man who has scored 64 touchdowns, making him one of college football’s most prolific scorers. Reynolds is a dazzling talent, but as mentioned above, he contracted “fumble-itis” last season. He also dropped a pass on a trick play that would have scored a touchdown against Notre Dame. If Reynolds can wrap up the ball, Navy can reach newer heights.

Kwazel Bertrand, Rover – Navy loses Parrish Gaines, a man who started 44 straight games for this team but has now graduated. Bertrand is the nerve center of a secondary which did not get much of any help from an overwhelmed defensive line in 2014.

Trenton Noller, NG/DT – The Midshipmen recruited Noller as an offensive lineman. However, seeing the obvious need for the defensive line to hold up physically, the coaching staff has switched him to defense. If this move hits the spot, Navy might win an extra game as a result.

Maurice Morris, C – With projected starting center Blaze Ryder likely out for the first few weeks of the season, Morris will almost certainly have to fill in at center on an offensive line that’s in transition. If Morris answers the call and provides stability to the offensive front, Reynolds will be able to settle into the season.

5 Bold Predictions

5. Navy will win the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy. 

It’s not an earth-shattering prediction, but first things first: Navy wants to take back the CIC Trophy from Colorado Springs. A year ago, Air Force was not being tabbed as the 10-win team it became. The Falcons surprised a lot of people in the process of regaining their place as the No. 1 service academy team. Now, it’s up to Navy to fight back. Victory is no guarantee in any CIC game, especially after last season.

4. The Memphis game will eclipse 80 total points.

If you saw Memphis run up and down the field against BYU in the Miami Beach Bowl, it’s very easy to envision the Tigers engaging Navy in a deliciously fun shootout when they play. A high-stakes conference clash with over 80 points? Why the heck not?

3. Navy will go unbeaten at home.

When you look more closely at the 2015 schedule, you’ll notice that in its first year of play in The American, Navy avoids both Cincinnati and UCF. With road dates at Memphis and Houston being the two toughest conference games on the docket, the home slate is barren.

2. The offense will average over 35 points in FBS games this season.

In 2014, Navy’s offense averaged just over 30 points in 12 FBS games. The offense, with Reynolds back in the saddle, is definitely good enough to push that average five points north on the compass. The fact that opposing AAC schools will be seeing Navy for the first time in quite a long while should give the Midshipmen’s offense a clear edge.

1. Navy will win 10 games… but in 13, not 12.

The offense will be better, but will it max out? Bad habits are hard to fully expunge, so the feeling here is that Navy will lose one (but only one) game it shouldn’t because of mistakes. However, the schedule is favorable enough that Navy should get through it with a 9-3 record. Win No. 10 will come in a bowl game.

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.