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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
|30-Aug||vs. Ohio State||1||17-34||L||36%||-8.5||1%|
|13-Sep||at Texas State||95||35-21||W||86%||24.9||97%|
|4-Oct||at Air Force||48||21-30||L||30%||-12.6||6%|
|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%|
|28-Nov||at South Alabama||89||42-40||W||48%||-1.3||51%|
|23-Dec||vs. San Diego State||76||17-16||W||54%||2.4||39%|
|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?
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||24||1st Down Rk||32|
|Q2 Rk||36||2nd Down Rk||50|
|Q3 Rk||21||3rd Down Rk||26|
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|
|Pct. of Navy pass targets by position|
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.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|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|
|Keenan Reynolds||QB||5'11, 195||Sr.||NR||NR||231||1311||23||5.7||6.3||41.6%||12||9|
|Chris Swain||FB||6'1, 245||Sr.||NR||NR||104||693||4||6.7||4.3||51.9%||2||1|
|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|
|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.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|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.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||72||1st Down Rk||88|
|Q2 Rk||59||2nd Down Rk||46|
|Q3 Rk||44||3rd Down Rk||70|
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.
|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|
|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|
|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.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Daniel Gonzales||ILB||6'2, 229||Jr.||NR||NR||13||66.5||8.8%||1.0||0.0||3||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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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.
|Austin Grebe||6'0, 192||Sr.||71||62.5||20||1||28.2%|
|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%|
|Demond Brown||KR||5'9, 201||Sr.||17||19.8||0|
|DeBrandon Sanders||PR||5'7, 160||Sr.||7||4.3||0|
|Special Teams F/+||113|
|Field Goal Efficiency||104|
|Punt Return Efficiency||121|
|Kick Return Efficiency||33|
|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
|Date||Opponent||2014 F/+ Rk|
|10-Oct||at Notre Dame||34|
|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.