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After 120+ years, Navy football joins a conference (and a conference title race)

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The 128-team countdown profiles a program that's leaving independence and jumping right into the AAC championship race.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. A literal and symbolic turnaround

Oh, how much difference a quarterback can make. In early-October 2012, Navy was 1-3. Since Ricky Dobbs' 2010 season, the Midshipmen were 3-10 against FBS teams not named Army. They had scored just 17 points in their first three FBS contests of 2012, and they trailed Air Force, 21-13, in the fourth quarter. And starting quarterback Trey Miller had just left the game with an ankle injury.

His options limited, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo put freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds into the game. Reynolds had gotten a little playing time in Navy's losses but was as green as a Navy quarterback can be. He engineered a game-tying score, and Navy won in overtime.

Since he took over, Navy is 24-11. The Midshipmen won seven of nine to finish 2012, went 9-4 in 2013, and in 2014 fielded their best post-Dobbs team. They posted their best Off. S&P+ ranking (26th) of the Niumatalolo era, and the defense ranked in the Def. S&P+ top 75 for the first time since 2009.

And had they been in the American Athletic Conference last season, they would have graded out as the second best overall team.

It would be foolish to say that a single player could turn around an entire program. But symbolism doesn't care about causation, and from a symbolism standpoint, it's hard to top Reynolds' insertion. Dobbs graduated, and Navy regressed; Reynolds went in, and Navy improved.

Be it because of Reynolds, recruiting, changes behind the scenes, etc., Navy has indeed improved. And heading into their first season in the AAC, the Midshipmen have a lot going for them: a top-30 offense, one more year with a star quarterback, an improving defense, experience in quite a few key areas, and even a playing style that might cater to winning close games. And they even get to play in the division of their choice -- the AAC West, with Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, Tulsa, and more opportunities to impress recruits in Texas -- even though there is nothing West about Annapolis.

Though Air Force also turned things around, there's almost no question that of the service academies, Navy is the best-positioned. The conference affiliation is nice -- it should result in recruiting exposure in Texas, and trips to the AAC title game would result in extra exposure, period -- and provides further infrastructure for a program that has done so many things right in the last 13 years. This is the Navy we're used to, not the one that went to one bowl and had three winning records between 1982 and 2002. The hire of Paul Johnson ushered in a style of play that works for the type of recruits the school is most likely to land, and despite losing Johnson to Georgia Tech in 2008, the Midshipmen have missed a bowl only once in the last 12 seasons.

In 2015, Navy avoids Cincinnati and has an outstanding chance of going undefeated at home. The road slate, which features trips to Notre Dame, Memphis (the only AAC team better than Navy last year), and Houston, could be tough, but Navy could have a chance in every game. The Midshipmen won't win ALL of them, but they will win a lot, and that's pretty much what we've come to expect.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 8-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 44
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug vs. Ohio State 1 17-34 L 36% -8.5 1%
6-Sep at Temple 67 31-24 W 82% 21.8 93%
13-Sep at Texas State 95 35-21 W 86% 24.9 97%
20-Sep Rutgers 81 24-31 L 26% -15.2 15%
27-Sep Western Kentucky 50 27-36 L 51% 0.5 42%
4-Oct at Air Force 48 21-30 L 30% -12.6 6%
11-Oct VMI NR 51-14 W 79% 19.1 100%
25-Oct San Jose State 116 41-31 W 66% 9.7 92%
1-Nov vs. Notre Dame 34 39-49 L 19% -20.7 1%
15-Nov Georgia Southern 57 52-19 W 99% 51.8 100%
28-Nov at South Alabama 89 42-40 W 48% -1.3 51%
13-Dec vs. Army 121 17-10 W 84% 23.3 100%
23-Dec vs. San Diego State 76 17-16 W 54% 2.4 39%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 35.5 26 29.8 74
Points Per Game 31.8 46 27.3 71

2. According to form for once?

Every team has on and off days, but Navy's have rarely been predictable. In 2011, the Middies lost by three points to 11-2 South Carolina and by 42 points to 8-5 Notre Dame. In 2012, after the change to Reynolds, they lost to 5-7 Troy but trounced 8-5 ECU and 7-6 CMU. In 2013, they scored 34 points on Notre Dame and seven on Western Kentucky.

In comparison, their 2014 almost made sense.

  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. F/+ top 50): 34% (record: 0-4)
  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. No. 51-100): 66% (record: 5-1)
  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. No. 101+): 76% (record: 3-0)

The worst teams on the schedule (Texas State, VMI, San Jose State, Army) were rarely able to stay close (though Army mucked up the game enough to stick around), the top-50 teams all won by at least nine points, and the teams in the middle usually succumbed.

A team that plays a unique style of ball -- option offense, extreme bend-don't-break defense -- can often defy rankings by playing good teams well and letting bad teams stick around. These results take on the look of a decent team that wins when it has an athletic advantage and doesn't when it doesn't. What have you done with Navy, Navy?

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.87 51 IsoPPP+ 117.0 33
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 48.9% 10 Succ. Rt. + 117.5 19
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.7 83 Def. FP+ 100.0 65
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.1 13 Redzone S&P+ 123.2 13
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 16.6 ACTUAL 22 +5.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 53 27 21 33
RUSHING 3 18 13 22
PASSING 127 74 123 47
Standard Downs 21 15 26
Passing Downs 69 92 68
Q1 Rk 24 1st Down Rk 32
Q2 Rk 36 2nd Down Rk 50
Q3 Rk 21 3rd Down Rk 26
Q4 Rk 29

3. Wait for it ... wait for it...

It's all about delayed gratification.

When you know exactly what kind of an offense a team is going to run, and when things boil down to a small, almost Leachian number of plays, it gets pretty redundant to describe it year after year. You probably know the flexbone pretty well by this point, with its fullback, two slotbacks, and two wide receivers, yes?

Navy's percentages are pretty interesting, though. The Navy flex has improved dramatically, just as its explosive slotbacks have seen their touches decrease.

Pct. of Navy rushes by position
Unit 2012 2013 2014
Quarterback 23% 41% 39%
Fullback 32% 34% 37%
Slotback 45% 25% 24%
Pct. of Navy pass targets by position
Unit 2012 2013 2014
Wide Receiver 54% 49% 59%
Slotback 36% 45% 34%
Fullback 10% 6% 5%

In my 2013, Navy preview, I shared a theory about slotbacks: they are the most explosive, replaceable players in college football.

The flexbone is set up to pound away with the fullback and quarterback, three to five yards at a time. They want to suck you into defending the middle, and they are just good enough at moving the chains to pull it off. And when you get wrong-footed, the quarterback pitches wide to the slotback, who races to the corner for an easy seven yards. Death by a thousand cuts, followed by a huge slice.

There is a play action component to Navy's use of the slots, and 2014 was the perfect illustration. Navy's slotbacks were as effective as ever -- each of the six SBs with 11 or more carries averaged at least 7.0 yards per carry, and slotbacks averaged 9.8 yards per passing target -- but they were used even less frequently than normal because the inside game was the best it's been in years.

With a good line, Reynolds running the show, and two effective fullbacks (Noah Copeland and Chris Swain), Navy was able to force defenses to mind the middle, gashing out five yards at a time, then pitching to a slot for a big gain. You need the interior game to work well enough that you don't have to go to the slotback too often, and everything was in perfect balance. We'll see if that remains with the loss of three linemen and Copeland. Reynolds, Swain, and some experienced interior linemen should allow Navy to continue gashing on the inside, but last year set the bar high.

My theory about the slots' replaceability will again be tested: last year's top two, Geoffrey Whiteside and Ryan Williams-Jenkins (combined: 687 yards, 7.6 per carry) are gone. DeBrandon Sanders, Demond Brown, Dishan Romine, Toneo Gulley, and Calvin Cass Jr. (combined: 594 yards, 7.6 per carry) are all back.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Keenan Reynolds 5'11, 195 Sr. NR NR 52 111 843 6 3 46.8% 19 14.6% 5.6
Tago Smith 5'10, 201 Jr. NR NR 10 14 215 3 1 71.4% 2 12.5% 12.8
Will Worth 6'1, 205 Jr. NR NR
Kenneth Mouton 6'2, 219 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7842

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Keenan Reynolds QB 5'11, 195 Sr. NR NR 231 1311 23 5.7 6.3 41.6% 12 9
Noah Copeland FB
129 952 5 7.4 9.7 38.0% 1 1
Chris Swain FB 6'1, 245 Sr. NR NR 104 693 4 6.7 4.3 51.9% 2 1
Geoffrey Whiteside SB
48 365 3 7.6 5.3 60.4% 1 1
Ryan Williams-Jenkins SB
42 322 0 7.7 6.0 59.5% 3 2
Tago Smith QB 5'10, 201 Jr. NR NR 36 129 3 3.6 4.8 30.6% 1 1
DeBrandon Sanders SB 5'7, 160 Sr. NR NR 29 231 3 8.0 4.8 69.0% 3 2
Demond Brown SB 5'9, 201 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 15 113 1 7.5 3.4 73.3% 1 0
Dishan Romine SB 5'11, 178 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7811 13 123 0 9.5 7.5 61.5% 0 0
Quinton Singleton FB
12 53 1 4.4 4.2 25.0% 0 0
Toneo Gulley SB 5'8, 196 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8100 11 77 1 7.0 5.1 54.5% 0 0
Calvin Cass Jr. SB 5'10, 206 Jr. NR NR 10 50 0 5.0 3.3 60.0% 0 0
Quentin Ezell FB 6'1, 253 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 6 29 0 4.8 1.3 50.0% 0 0
Shawn White FB 6'1, 255 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR

4. Hold onto the ball, Keenan

An option quarterback is going to fumble. There is little way to avoid that, especially when he's also looking for a few play action bombs per game (and taking sacks because of it). There will always be tricky maneuvering in this offense.

Still, 12 is more than you would prefer, especially when combined with eight more from the slotbacks (a lot of which came on option pitches). Reynolds and the top two returning slots are seniors, so maybe Navy can expect a little bit of experience-based improvement. But turnovers were just about the only thing holding this machine back.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Jamir Tillman WR-Z 6'4, 206 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8078 39 20 386 51.3% 32.8% 64.1% 9.9 133 9.4 59.5
Brendan Dudeck WR-X
18 12 112 66.7% 15.1% 38.9% 6.2 -32 6.8 17.2
Geoffrey Whiteside SB
15 7 88 46.7% 12.6% 46.7% 5.9 -3 5.7 13.6
Ryan Williams-Jenkins SB
8 5 96 62.5% 6.7% 50.0% 12.0 35 12.6 14.8
DeBrandon Sanders SB 5'7, 160 Sr. NR NR 7 2 67 28.6% 5.9% 57.1% 9.6 37 9.6 10.3
Demond Brown SB 5'9, 201 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 6 4 104 66.7% 5.0% 33.3% 17.3 56 21.4 16.0
Brandon Colon WR-Z 6'4, 218 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7889 6 3 39 50.0% 5.0% 16.7% 6.5 1 9.7 6.0
Noah Copeland FB
5 3 65 60.0% 4.2% 40.0% 13.0 28 17.2 10.0
Thomas Wilson WR-X 6'1, 201 Sr. NR NR 4 2 48 50.0% 3.4% 75.0% 12.0 23 15.3 7.4
Calvin Cass Jr. SB 5'10, 206 Jr. NR NR 3 2 36 66.7% 2.5% 33.3% 12.0 12 14.5 5.5
Chris Swain FB 6'1, 245 Sr. NR NR 2 1 12 50.0% 1.7% 100.0% 6.0 -1 NR 1.8
Marc Meier WR-X 5'11, 188 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7100 2 0 0 0.0% 1.7% 0.0% 0.0 -3 NR 0.0
Quinton Singleton FB
1 1 5 100.0% 0.8% 0.0% 5.0 -6 NR 0.8
Dishan Romine SB 5'11, 178 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7811 1 0 0 0.0% 0.8% 100.0% 0.0 -1 NR 0.0
Chad Lewellyn WR-Z 6'4, 195 So. 2 stars (5.3) NR 1 0 0 0.0% 0.8% 100.0% 0.0 -1 NR 0.0
Julian Turner WR-Z 6'2, 190 Jr. NR NR
Craig Scott WR-X 6'2, 184 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 111.9 3.51 3.95 47.1% 79.4% 13.5% 45.3 12.3% 14.9%
Rank 29 8 11 9 4 5 127 127 127
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Jake Zuzek RG 39
Tanner Fleming C
34
Bradyn Heap LT
28
E.K. Binns LG 6'3, 295 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 22
Joey Gaston RT 6'5, 281 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 16
Brandon Greene C 6'3, 252 Sr. NR NR 7
Blaze Ryder C 5'11, 277 Sr. NR NR 2
Blake Copeland LT 6'4, 258 Jr. NR NR 1
Ben Tamburello LG 6'2, 275 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8321 1
Patrick Hoffman LT 6'4, 265 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7300 0
Adam West LG 6'3, 297 Jr. NR NR 0
Alex Brown LG 6'3, 266 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7700 0
Maurice Morris C 6'2, 315 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7794 0
Evan Martin RG 6'3, 294 So. 2 stars (5.3) NR 0
Parker Wade C 6'2, 265 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7987 0
Robert Lindsey RT 6'4, 267 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7700 0

5. Building in the trenches

The loss of Noah Copeland is a costly one; he had a uniquely explosive season for a fullback. Still, the return of Reynolds and the ultra-efficient Swain should give Navy a pair built for extreme efficiency ... if the line holds up.

Navy almost always produces strong line stats; that's a product of the system and solid coaching. Still, any time there's turnover, you end up with burden of proof. Losing Jake Zuzek, Tanner Fleming, and Bradyn Heap, who had combined for 101 career starts (nearly eight combined seasons at 13 games per year), could portend a drop.

While experience is dropping, two other things seem to be rising: size and recruiting profiles. In terms of recruiting rankings, Navy has done almost as well in the trenches as in any other unit, and of the 13 players listed above, nine are listed at 6'3 or taller, while seven are listed at 275 or heavier. Two-year starter E.K. Binns goes 295, while junior Maurice Morris is 315. Service-related fitness requirements tend to put a low ceiling on the weights of linemen, but Navy is figuring out ways to build bulk regardless. Combine that with the unique cut scoop blocking techniques, and you've got a line that can not only keep defensive linemen off-balance but sometimes knock them over.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.74 8 IsoPPP+ 107.5 49
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.7% 117 Succ. Rt. + 90.0 109
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.3 87 Off. FP+ 97.0 99
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.1 40 Redzone S&P+ 87.6 116
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 15.2 ACTUAL 18.0 +2.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 72 63 92 49
RUSHING 96 77 89 56
PASSING 32 67 98 53
Standard Downs 63 95 40
Passing Downs 67 67 66
Q1 Rk 72 1st Down Rk 88
Q2 Rk 59 2nd Down Rk 46
Q3 Rk 44 3rd Down Rk 70
Q4 Rk 127

6. Forcing patience

The Navy defense doesn't have to dominate for the Midshipmen to thrive in the AAC; it just has to avoid being a complete liability. They did what they always try to do on defense -- bend, bend, bend, and pounce on any mistake -- but they did it better than usual. The big-play prevention was top-notch; Navy allowed just 39 gains of 20-plus yards, fifth in the country. And while a thin defensive front began to get gashed late in games, the defense was good enough through three quarters to keep games winnable.

It's hard to get a read on whether Navy will keep up the same level. The line returns two of three starters and three of four backups, and recruiting has produced intriguing candidates up front, but most of these players were on the roster last year, and defensive coordinator Buddy Green didn't trust more than three of them to play.

At linebacker, three of the top four are gone, but quite a few backups did get solid playing time. Meanwhile, the safety play that was so important gets a boost from the return of rover Kwazel Bertrand but takes a hit from the loss of free safety Parrish Gaines.

Treading water would be a decent result, and improvement is conceivable if Green finds a few more linemen. But as long as there isn't much regression, the offense should again put Navy in position to win.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 90.7 3.29 3.91 43.3% 65.5% 15.2% 35.4 1.5% 2.4%
Rank 102 114 120 116 53 116 127 128 127
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Will Anthony DE 6'1, 254 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 13 49.5 6.6% 11.0 2.5 0 0 0 1
Paul Quessenberry DE
13 29.0 3.9% 8.5 1.5 0 1 1 0
Bernard Sarra NG 6'1, 297 Sr. 2 stars (5.1) NR 13 26.5 3.5% 1.5 0.5 0 1 0 0
Patrick Forrestal NG 6'4, 296 Jr. NR NR 7 7.5 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Aaron Davis DE
13 5.5 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
A.K. Akpunku DE 6'3, 242 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 6 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Amos Mason DE 6'1, 250 Jr. NR NR 5 2.0 0.3% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Nnamdi Uzoma DE 6'3, 245 Jr. NR NR
Michael Raiford DE 6'6, 294 So. 2 stars (5.4) NR
Dylan Fischer NG 6'2, 290 So. 2 stars (5.2) NR
Sean Reaver DE 6'4, 255 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR
Trenton Noller NG 6'4, 325 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8176
Rahn Bailey DE 6'2, 226 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8151
Nicholas Czar DE 6'4, 265 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8048








7. Attempting to build in the trenches

The Navy line is at a systemic advantage thanks to its system. Granted, Navy runs a not-completely-ordinary 3-4, but the line was still susceptible to getting pushed around. Will Anthony provided some disruption, with 8.5 non-sack tackles for loss. But with the loss of Paul Quessenberry, he's the only known disruptor.

The coaches are trying to find an answer. As with the offensive line, Navy has had some success in finding recruits of the three-star or high-two-star variety, and there is an increasing number of big boys available: junior tackle Patrick Forrestal, sophomore end Michael Raiford, and sophomore tackles Dylan Fischer and Trenton Noller average 6'4, 301. There is more beef than usual; we'll see if that results in stronger depth, fewer run lanes, and fewer late-game breakdowns.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jordan Drake ILB
13 86.0 11.4% 2.5 1.0 0 2 2 0
Daniel Gonzales ILB 6'2, 229 Jr. NR NR 13 66.5 8.8% 1.0 0.0 3 0 0 0
Chris Johnson OLB
12 58.5 7.8% 5.0 1.0 0 4 2 0
Obi Uzoma OLB
13 41.0 5.5% 2.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
William Tuider OLB 6'2, 231 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 11 25.5 3.4% 2.0 0.0 0 1 2 0
Myer Krah OLB 5'10, 206 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 13 20.0 2.7% 0.5 0.0 1 0 0 0
James Britton ILB
5 19.0 2.5% 1.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Ryan Harris ILB 5'11, 213 Jr. NR NR 13 11.0 1.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tyler Goble ILB 6'2, 222 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8235 11 8.5 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Don Pearson (2013) ILB 6'3, 223 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7700 11 7.5 1.0% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
D.J. Palmore OLB 6'3, 227 So. NR 0.7600 5 6.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Josiah Powell OLB 6'3, 215 Jr. NR NR 4 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Lewis LB
2 2.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ted Colburn OLB 6'3, 223 Jr. NR NR 6 2.5 0.3% 1.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Micah Thomas ILB 6'1, 249 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893
Winn Howard ILB 6'2, 216 So. NR NR
Kevin McCoy OLB 6'4, 205 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7694








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Quincy Adams CB 5'11, 200 Sr. NR NR 13 61.0 8.1% 1 0 1 9 0 0
Brendon Clements CB 5'11, 188 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 13 53.5 7.1% 2 0 0 4 0 0
Kwazel Bertrand ROV 6'0, 192 Sr. NR NR 10 47.5 6.3% 1 0 1 2 0 0
Parrish Gaines FS
13 34.0 4.5% 2.5 0 3 4 0 0
George Jamison ROV
13 21.5 2.9% 0 0 3 2 0 0
Brandon Jones ROV 6'4, 205 So. NR NR 11 7.0 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Shelley White CB 5'10, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 12 5.5 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Lorentez Barbour FS 6'1, 194 Sr. NR NR 13 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Elijah Merchant CB 5'10, 196 So. NR NR 1 2.5 0.3% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Cameron Bryant CB 5'10, 186 Jr. NR NR
Daiquan Thomasson ROV 6'0, 195 Jr. NR NR
Kyle Battle CB 6'1, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) NR
Randy Beggs FS 6'0, 185 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7967
Justin Norton FS 6'2, 185 So. NR NR
Elijah Jones S 5'11, 186 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8344








8. A little bit of havoc in the back

Ends Anthony and Quessenberry combined for 19.5 tackles for loss. Still, the pass rush was nonexistent, and Navy had the third-worst Havoc Rate (TFLs, forced fumbles, and passes defensed divided by total plays) in the country, ahead of Georgia State and New Mexico State.

With turnover in the front, it's hard to imagine the disruption level improving, but at the least, Navy can count on an active secondary. Corners Quincy Adams and Brendon Clements combined for 14 passes defensed and three TFLs last year, and while safeties Parrish Gaines and George Jamison (combined: 2.5 TFLs, six INTs, six break-ups) are both gone, they were proof that Navy will use its athletes aggressively if it trusts them, and there is athletic upside in potential replacements like Brandon Jones and Lorentez Barbour.

Losing two of your top three safeties on a defense that relies heavily on big-play prevention isn't optimal, but the secondary is still the least of Navy's concerns.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Pablo Beltran 38 44.2 5 10 17 71.1%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Austin Grebe 6'0, 192 Sr. 71 62.5 20 1 28.2%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Austin Grebe 6'0, 192 Sr. 33-33 4-4 100.0% 2-2 100.0%
Nick Sloan 6'0, 190 Sr. 20-20 3-6 50.0% 0-2 0.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Demond Brown KR 5'9, 201 Sr. 17 19.8 0
Ryan Williams-Jenkins KR 11 24.3 0
DeBrandon Sanders PR 5'7, 160 Sr. 7 4.3 0
Parrish Gaines PR 3 1.3 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 113
Field Goal Efficiency 104
Punt Return Efficiency 121
Kick Return Efficiency 33
Punt Efficiency 94
Kickoff Efficiency 69
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 51

9. Find a return man

Navy's special teams just lost the program's first draftee since 1998, long snapper Joe Cardona to the Patriots. That loss is hard to quantify, but it can't be a great thing.

Despite an absurdly efficient offense, Navy was still subpar in field position. Inefficient defense and special teams doomed the Midshipmen to a field position margin of minus-1.4 yards per drive, 88th in the country. Austin Grebe's kickoffs (and the coverage that followed them) were decent enough, and Demond Brown and Ryan Williams-Jenkins were effective kick returners.

But punting was hit-or-miss, and punt returns were non-existent. Navy had the third-worst return average in the country, meaning that even if opponents didn't score, they were likely to not only get a couple of first downs before punting, but also maximize punting yardage.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 F/+ Rk
5-Sep Colgate NR
19-Sep East Carolina 61
26-Sep at Connecticut 119
3-Oct Air Force 48
10-Oct at Notre Dame 34
24-Oct Tulane 93
31-Oct South Florida 123
7-Nov at Memphis 41
14-Nov SMU 127
21-Nov at Tulsa 117
27-Nov at Houston 73
12-Dec vs. Army 121
Five-Year F/+ Rk 0.5% (55)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 78 / 97
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -4 / -1.4
2014 TO Luck/Game -1.0
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 11 (5, 6)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 7.4 (0.6)

10. Easing in

Last year, Navy faced the eventual national champion and three other teams that finished in the F/+ top 50. Meanwhile, the Middies faced just four teams that ranked 90th or worse. This time, there are only three teams from last year's top 50 and seven that were worse than 90th.

Joining a conference often results in an upgrade in competition; out of the gates, that's not the case for Navy.

Still, one can see how this could work out. There is limited flexibility in non-conference scheduling -- they're basically playing Notre Dame, Air Force, Army, and TBD each year -- but annual games against teams like Houston, SMU, and Memphis will give them not only exposure in key recruiting areas and aesthetically pleasing styles-make-fights contests, but opportunities to punch their weight.

Navy has proved that sustained top-40 capability is possible; it has ranked 56th or better in F/+ for five of the last seven years. Niumatalolo will soon have to find a replacement for Reynolds, but that's a worry for the future.

He's got Reynolds for one more year, and if the defense can avoid losing too much ground, Navy might be a favorite to play in its new conference's first title game. Memphis will have something to say about that, and Houston isn't far away, but Navy might be the most proven entity in the West.