What should we make of Navy’s 2018 season? The Midshipmen had their lowest win total in six seasons. Is it possible that moving from the Independent ranks to a conference is starting to take its toll? The Middies had their worst points per game output since 2012 and lowest yards per play output since 2013. A conference affiliation makes a lot of sense for Navy so they don’t have to seek out opponents, but those opponents aren’t caught off-guard by the option, as they see it every season. Navy still had over 30 points per game, but the drop across the board has to sound alarm bells.
Ken Niumatololo considered leaving. The Arizona Wildcats were interested, but players took to Twitter to protest the triple-option and Niumatololo may not have been fully sold on leaving Navy and it would have been tough to take offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper with him to Tucson, given the health of Jasper’s son. Ultimately, Niumatololo stayed and the Middies will be basically status quo for the 2018 season. What we have to answer is whether or not status quo is enough for another winning season.
Both BetOnline and 5Dimes list Navy at +1200 to win the American Athletic Conference. 5Dimes lists Navy’s season win total at 7 and the over at -140. BetOnline has 7.5 with the under at -140. Keep in mind that these win total odds do not include conference championship games or bowl games.
|Date||Opponent||BangTheBook Line||Expected Wins|
|10/6||@ Air Force||-6.5||.68|
|10/27||Notre Dame (San Diego)||+11.5||.19|
Expected Wins: 8.13
Malcolm Perry has been a jack-of-all-trades offensively for the Midshipmen in his two seasons. Now, his chief trade will be the quarterback. Perry ran for 1,182 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. He only threw two passes with one five-yard completion for a touchdown. Navy’s passing game was virtually non-existent last season, which makes up a big chunk of the yards per play gap from the previous season. That being said, Navy did run for 0.3 yards per carry fewer last year. Abey was the leader rusher with 1,413 yards, but Perry was the more explosive runner. Abey will move to wide receiver, so expect some more gadget plays from the Midshipmen offense this year.
The leading non-quarterback rusher to return is senior Anthony Gargiulo, who had 423 yards on 76 carries. It will be a steady diet of Perry and probably Abey as Navy tries to get back to six yards per carry for the first time since 2014. The two offensive tackles return, which is very important in a triple-option offense, but the interior of the line needs to be replaced. In conference play, Navy only had more than five yards per carry in three of the eight conference matchups.
Evaluating Navy’s defense takes a lot of context. The move to the AAC meant that Navy was facing a lot of different offenses and some really high-octane units. Navy can suppress opposition offense by controlling the clock and did a solid job of that last season, as they ran 924 plays to their opponents’ 780 plays. The defense gave up over six yards per play for the second straight season. Navy will rarely give up gaudy yardage numbers and point totals because they own the time of possession with their style of play. On a yards per play basis, this was Navy’s second-worst season in the four years of the Dale Pehrson era.
Five starters return from that defense, as Navy loses its top tackler and four of the top five. As a service academy, a lot of guys get a chance to play and Navy is always remarkably disciplined as one of the least-penalized teams in FBS. That goes a long way. The defense does get a little bit of a break this season in that SMU and UCF have new coaches and that Memphis has a new starting quarterback, but things aren’t easy for defenders in the AAC.
Can we talk about this schedule? The Midshipmen open in Hawaii and then have to make the long trip home for a huge conference clash against Memphis. The Middies do have byes before each leg of the Commander-in-Chief series, but play three straight road games, including a trek out to San Diego to face Notre Dame, from October 27 to November 10. The third straight road game is against UCF. Notre Dame is also off of a bye for that October 27 matchup. The “Expected Wins” metric is done purely by looking at power ratings. Scheduling spots are not factored in with the summer power ratings.
Pick: Under 7.5 (-140, BetOnline)
Navy is over 60 percent in eight of its 13 games by our numbers, so the lean here should be the over, but this is not a win total line I’d have any interest in playing. This schedule isn’t exactly a gauntlet because of opponents, but the travel portion of the schedule is miserable. Navy faces two long trips away from Annapolis to Honolulu and San Diego plus trips to New Orleans, Orlando, Dallas, and Colorado Springs. Navy only has five home games on the 13-game schedule, with two neutral-site games and six true road games. Stay away from this one entirely.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
The difference between the AAC West and the AAC East is extremely noticeable this season. Consider, for example, that the Navy Midshipmen, who won nine games last season and haven’t won fewer than eight games in a season since 2011, are projected to finish fourth. Not in the AAC, but just in the West Division. It’s a service academy, so we know discipline is already built in, but it’s very tough to find a head coach that gets more out of his personnel than Ken Niumatalolo. He’ll have to get a lot out of them this season because the Middies only have four returning starters on offense and an extremely challenging schedule.
The triple-option gives Navy an inherent advantage because it is such a tough scheme to prepare for. It’s so different than anything that teams normally see. Furthermore, it is a difficult scheme to play against with all of the cut blocking and the toll that it takes on the defense to be on the field for long periods of time. It has an after effect in future games as well. Navy is good at it and has taken advantage of it to go 14-3 against AAC competition over the last two years.
With the schedule being what it is and the program still trying to find the right quarterback to replace Keenan Reynolds, expectations are a bit lower than normal for Navy. 5Dimes Sportsbook has the win total line at 7, with -115 on the over. Keep in mind that the win total odds are only for the regular season and do not include conference championships or the postseason.
|Date||Opponent||Projected Line||Expected Wins|
|9/1 (F)||@ Florida Atlantic||-9.5||0.75|
|11/2 (T)||@ Temple||-1.5||0.52|
|11/18||@ Notre Dame||+12||0.18|
|11/24 (F)||@ Houston||+3||0.43|
|12/9||Army (N – Philadelphia)||-8||0.74|
Total Expected Wins: 7.79
Everybody knows what Navy is going to do and still can’t stop it. The Midshipmen rush for over five yards per carry basically every year and nearly hit six yards per carry last season for the second time in three years. They chew up tons of clock and don’t take a whole lot of penalties. Keenan Reynolds rewrote the record books at Navy prior to leaving after the 2015 season. It looked like Tago Smith was going to be a good fit, but he tore his ACL in the season opener and that pushed Will Worth into action. Worth also got hurt for the season in the conference finale against Temple, so Zach Abey got his feet wet. The junior started the final two games and looked inexperienced at times, but had a solid bowl game. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper should get a head coaching job at a Group of Five school soon, if one is willing to take the plunge into the triple-option.
Abey doesn’t have a lot of experience and the two most important players in a triple-option offense are the quarterback and the center, who is also a new full-time starter. Chris High is back after leading the backs in rushing yards with 546, but Worth did most of the damage. Top wide receiver Jamir Tillman, who caught 40 of the team’s 93 completions, is gone. Two starting offensive linemen return. This offense will still run the ball effectively, but probably won’t be as strong as last year’s team.
There have to be serious concerns about the Navy defense. As mentioned, Navy chews up a ton of clock with its ball control offense, but the Middies still gave up 31 points per game last season. It was a complete failure from all facets of the defense, with 6.3 yards per play against. Opposing quarterbacks completed 64.6 percent of their throws and that was actually the best completion percentage against in the last seven seasons. Defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson better figure some things out quickly.
On the bright side, Navy does return a lot of defensive production. The top four tacklers are all back in the mix and one of them, Alohi Gilman, was a freshman last season. Top cover corner Tyris Wooten is back for his senior season. Micah Thomas had 107 tackles last season. The Middies don’t generate a ton of negative plays, with just 20 sacks last year, 22 the year prior, and just eight sacks in 2014, so they have to play a flawless base defense. That wasn’t the case last season, but they are a lot more experienced, especially in the back seven.
Is there a better college football tradition than the standalone Army/Navy game, which takes place on December 9 this year? The Midshipmen will be clear favorites over both Air Force and Army in their quest for the Commander-in-Chief Trophy. Outside of the non-conference schedule, the AAC slate is brutal. Navy goes on the road to Tulsa, Memphis, Temple, and Houston. The only silver lining is that Navy avoids South Florida.
Win Total Pick: Over 7
I seem to be a bit higher on Navy than some of the other segments of the betting market. The Midshipmen always find a way and have won eight games every season under Niumatalolo except for 2011. That obviously includes bowl berths, but the fact remains that Navy has been extremely consistent. The floor is so high for this team because of the style of play and the character of the program. The schedule is certainly difficult, but Navy should be 4-1 after five games given the projected lines and the opponents. With 7-5 sitting there as a push, it’s worthwhile to look at the over, since a 6-6 record seems very unlikely.