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Navy football is killing the 2 dumb narratives about finally joining a conference

What to expect after the Midshipmen's best season in decades?

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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. Taking on narratives, one at a time

People talk about us coming into the conference, and we have great respect for the programs and the head coaches, but we didn't come from NAIA football.

-- Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, 2015

In some of my dealings with the media I kept being asked what it’s like to come into a conference. I felt like saying, ‘Have you not been watching who we’ve been playing.’ I just wanted people to know that we’ve been in Division I. It was just something brewing inside me and just spilled out.

-- Niumatalolo, 2015

"You might get some ideas on us, but we're always going to get ideas for how to attack you."

The common idea on Navy is that, once you face that offense once or twice, you figure out what to do. You can find analysts saying Navy joining a conference (the AAC) for the first time is bad for this reason.

While exposure can make you more familiar, it makes Niumatalolo and OC Ivin Jasper more familiar with you.

"Ivin and I have learned from the best, and we've seen everything. There's nothing you can throw at us that we haven't seen."

-- 7 coaches explain what goes into game week

There were two main narratives regarding Navy's move to the AAC, and both were pretty patronizing. The first was that it meant a scheduling upgrade that the Midshipmen might not be able to handle. The second was that Navy would struggle once opponents adapted to the offense.

Both were transparent nonsense.

The former ignored Navy's scheduling as an independent -- in 2014, for instance, the Midshipmen played national champion Ohio State, Notre Dame, and a total of eight teams that went bowling (plus 6-6 Temple, which had an outstanding defense). In 2012, they opened with Notre Dame, Penn State, and an 11-win San Jose State.

And you get exposed to them, but they also get exposed to you. Georgia Tech's success (2015 aside) under Paul Johnson would seem to negate the argument. Tech had two top-40 offenses (per Off. S&P+) in his first two seasons, then four more in years 4-7. In 2014, his seventh in the ACC, Tech's offense ranked third in the country.

Navy's 11-2 season and top-20 S&P+ rating did its part in killing the first of the two. Against a schedule that was, if anything, a downgrade (two top-40 opponents, four opponents ranked 106th or worse), the Midshipmen rolled. They wrapped up quarterback Keenan Reynolds' wonderful career by scoring at least 44 points six times; they held opponents to 21 or fewer 10 times as well. They won only one game by single digits.

The latter narrative, however, takes a few years to officially destroy. And doing so in 2016 could be difficult. This will be a reset year.

As in 2012, when Navy had to replace a strong quarterback (the underrated Kriss Proctor, who succeeded Ricky Dobbs for one year) and Reynolds was just a freshman, there will be a drop-off in quality. Gone are Reynolds, the top two fullbacks, two of the top three slotbacks, all five starting offensive linemen, three of four defensive linemen, and three of five defensive backs.

At a service academy, where redshirts aren't a thing, you're always reliant on upperclassmen. That means you get used to replacing a lot of starters. But Navy's facing more retooling than normal, and Reynolds was special. You don't simply replace him.

Long-term, Navy will be fine. The program kept Niumatalolo despite interest from BYU, and recruiting and depth of talent probably haven't been this strong in a long while. If there is a step backward, it won't be permanent. But it might take a while before he can squash the final narrative.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 11-2 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 21 | Final S&P+ Rk: 20
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Colgate N/A 48-10 W 86% 100% +20.9
19-Sep East Carolina 73 45-21 W 82% 98% +15.7 +20.0
26-Sep at Connecticut 80 28-18 W 83% 99% -0.9 +3.0
3-Oct Air Force 63 33-11 W 87% 98% +15.8 +16.5
10-Oct at Notre Dame 7 24-41 L 27% 6% -10.0 -2.5
24-Oct Tulane 119 31-14 W 48% 77% -14.4 -6.5
31-Oct South Florida 44 29-17 W 75% 84% 0.0 +4.5
7-Nov at Memphis 41 45-20 W 93% 100% +28.5 +32.5
14-Nov SMU 106 55-14 W 86% 100% +12.4 +19.5
21-Nov at Tulsa 95 44-21 W 87% 100% +8.3 +11.0
27-Nov at Houston 26 31-52 L 51% 37% -27.6 -20.0
12-Dec vs. Army 108 21-17 W 72% 97% -35.0 -12.0
28-Dec vs. Pittsburgh 46 44-28 W 72% 88% +9.3 +12.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 38.3 20 25.3 49
Points Per Game 36.8 22 21.8 26

2. The defense gave out twice

The formula was simple: frustrate opponents with death-by-a-million-cuts efficiency on offense and perfect red zone execution, eat minutes of clock, and prevent big plays on defense. Use your bend-don't-break D to punish offenses who make mistakes after spending so much desperate time on the sideline. It worked brilliantly 11 of 13 times.

Really, only three teams were able to throw Navy off-script: the two best teams on the schedule (Notre Dame, Houston) and the rival that runs a variation of the same offense (Army). Navy survived the rivalry game, but against the Irish and Cougars, the defense couldn't get off the field.

Navy's 2 losses Navy's 11 wins
Plays per game Opp 75.5, Navy 55.5 (-20.0) Navy 69.0, Opp 62.5 (+6.5)
Yards per play Navy 7.2, Opp 6.7 (+0.5) Navy 6.2, Opp 5.4 (+0.8)
Points per game Opp 47, Navy 28 (-19) Navy 38, Opp 17 (+21)
Turnover margin Navy -1.5/game Navy +2/game

Navy benefited from turnovers luck over the course of the season, though with only one win by one possession, that didn't affect the Midshipmen's record much. In their two losses, though, they couldn't find the mistake that got them off the field. Notre Dame scored on seven of 10 possessions and moved the ball well on an eighth. Houston out-Navy'd Navy, using turnovers and nearly perfect red zone execution to score on eight of nine possessions and eat up at least three minutes of clock six times.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.28 55 IsoPPP+ 108.1 44
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 48.1% 14 Succ. Rt. + 115.5 15
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 27.4 20 Def. FP+ 28.5 46
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.5 2 Redzone S&P+ 118.4 12
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 11.3 ACTUAL 8 -3.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 48 34 15 44
RUSHING 2 10 6 14
PASSING 126 48 113 26
Standard Downs 31 10 46
Passing Downs 56 105 40
Q1 Rk 31 1st Down Rk 46
Q2 Rk 12 2nd Down Rk 50
Q3 Rk 71 3rd Down Rk 60
Q4 Rk 60

3. Why, oh why, doesn't Ivin Jasper have a head coaching job yet?

It's a mystery we've discussed a few times on Podcast Ain't Played Nobody: Why aren't more option guys getting head coaching jobs? You might not be able to win a national title with the option (at least, not without a ton of help), but there aren't a lot of national title-caliber programs in the world anyway.

With the option, you can gain yards and score points. Indeed, Georgia Tech has ranked in the Off. S&P+ top 40 six times in eight years and in the top 16 three times despite barely recruiting at a top-50 level. Air Force's offense (which, under Troy Calhoun, has been a combination of option and more pro-style blocking) has ranked in the top 70 nine times in 11 seasons. Navy has ranked in the top 40 seven times in 11 years and hasn't ranked worse than 66th in that span.

Like any other offense, it takes the right players and proper practice and execution. But it's a great way to overachieve compared to your recruiting rankings. And a lot of teams could stand to do that.

I got excited when Jasper was rumored to interview for the Hawaii job this past offseason. The Rainbow Warriors ended up hiring Nick Rolovich, and it was unclear if Jasper was ever a serious candidate (or if Hawaii was a candidate for him). And when Niumatalolo didn't take the BYU job -- Jasper is the assumed successor in Annapolis, if there's ever actually an opportunity for succession -- that meant the Niu-Jasper tag team survived for another year. That's good news for Navy, bad news for the proliferation of the option.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Keenan Reynolds 61 115 1203 8 1 53.0% 14 10.9% 8.5
Tago Smith 5'10, 201 Sr. NR NR 2 3 30 1 1 66.7% 0 0.0% 10.0
Will Worth 6'1, 205 Sr. NR NR
Garret Lewis 6'1, 200 So. NR 0.7000
Cole Euverard 6'0, 195 So. NR 0.7700
Zach Abey 6'2, 218 So. NR 0.7600
Brandon Coleman 5'10, 175 So. NR 0.7533
Jacob Harrison 6'1, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8106
Ramar Williams 6'0, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8000

4. All about the QB

You need more than just a quarterback to run any offense, obviously. We over-simplify sometimes (and I'm about to), but it should go without saying that everybody has to play their role. If the offensive line stinks, the QB doesn't matter much. If the fullback or slotbacks stink, the QB keeps the ball more and takes more punishment. If there's not a deep threat to punish distracted defenses with in play-action, your offense won't be fully weaponized.

That said, quarterback is still the most important position on the field, and Navy is now tasked with replacing its best QB since Roger Staubach. That's scary.

There is no shortage of candidates, however. Longtime backup Tago Smith is the most likely successor -- Reynolds actually told him, "The offense is now yours" at the football banquet in February -- but he will be pushed. Senior Will Worth has been around a while, too, and between four sophomores and, potentially, two incoming three-star freshmen, there will be upside lower down on the depth chart. But if Smith indeed pulls a Kriss Proctor and does well for a year, that buys time to find a long-term successor among these freshman and sophomores.

Smith has rushed for 294 yards and five touchdowns in spot duty over three years. He's also completed a healthy 12 of 17 passes for 245 yards, four touchdowns, and two picks. Granted, that's a pretty high INT rate, but when given the opportunity, he's shown he can run he offense. Now he has to do it over 12-14 games. If he succeeds, Navy might not fall too much overall.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Keenan Reynolds QB 251 1480 24 5.9 6.5 40.2% 4 1
Chris Swain FB 211 1023 10 4.8 3.6 35.5% 3 3
Quentin Ezell FB 62 317 6 5.1 4.6 35.5% 0 0
DeBrandon Sanders SB 42 313 0 7.5 5.1 59.5% 1 0
Dishan Romine SB 5'11, 178 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7811 36 378 0 10.5 9.0 61.1% 1 1
Demond Brown SB 32 231 5 7.2 5.1 59.4% 0 0
Tago Smith QB 5'10, 201 Sr. NR NR 27 126 1 4.7 3.7 37.0% 1 0
Shawn White FB 6'1, 255 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 19 84 1 4.4 2.2 52.6% 1 0
Calvin Cass Jr. SB 5'10, 206 Sr. NR NR 16 140 1 8.8 5.5 68.8% 1 1
Toneo Gulley SB 5'8, 196 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8100 12 189 3 15.8 15.4 66.7% 1 0
Chris High FB 6'0, 231 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 5 31 0 6.2 2.1 80.0% 0 0
Kendrick Mouton SB 6'0, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7842
Myles Swain FB 5'11, 223 Sr. NR NR
Josh Brown SB 5'9, 189 Jr. NR 0.8342
Joshua Walker SB 5'11, 210 Jr. NR NR
Darryl Bonner SB 5'7, 171 Jr. NR NR
Bryan Hammond FB 5'10, 190 So. NR 0.7300
Anthony Gargiulo FB 6'2, 230 So. 2 stars (5.2) NR
Jonathan Lee SB 5'11, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8409
Justin Smith SB 5'11, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8154
Gregori McCrae SB 5'10, 173 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8135

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Jamir Tillman WR-Z 6'4, 206 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8078 45 29 597 64.4% 39.1% 13.3 53.3% 46.7% 2.73
DeBrandon Sanders SB 17 9 250 52.9% 14.8% 14.7 58.8% 52.9% 2.71
Thomas Wilson WR-X 9 5 88 55.6% 7.8% 9.8 44.4% 44.4% 2.18
Demond Brown SB 7 3 41 42.9% 6.1% 5.9 57.1% 28.6% 1.57
Tyler Carmona WR-X 6'4, 205 Jr. NR NR 6 3 64 50.0% 5.2% 10.7 66.7% 50.0% 1.93
Dishan Romine SB 5'11, 178 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7811 6 2 42 33.3% 5.2% 7.0 50.0% 33.3% 2.22
Craig Scott WR-X 6'2, 184 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685 6 2 38 33.3% 5.2% 6.3 66.7% 16.7% 3.10
Calvin Cass Jr. SB 5'10, 206 Sr. NR NR 6 3 34 50.0% 5.2% 5.7 16.7% 33.3% 1.82
Chris Swain FB 4 1 12 25.0% 3.5% 3.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.00
Chad Lewellyn WR-Z 6'4, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 3 1 16 33.3% 2.6% 5.3 66.7% 33.3% 1.32
Toneo Gulley SB 5'8, 196 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8100 2 2 30 100.0% 1.7% 15.0 0.0% 50.0% 2.74
Shawn White FB 6'1, 255 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 2 2 16 100.0% 1.7% 8.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.00
Keenan Reynolds QB 1 1 47 100.0% 0.9% 47.0 0.0% 100.0% 4.04
Brandon Colon WR-Z 6'4, 218 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7889 1 1 5 100.0% 0.9% 5.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.00
Julian Turner WR 6'2, 190 Sr. NR NR
Eli Dawson WR-X 6'5, 235 Jr. NR NR
Taylor Jackson WR 6'3, 205 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7200
Kerrick Jones WR 6'1, 160 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8015

5. The big plays are covered

Efficiency is the name of the option game, and with a new quarterback, two new fullbacks, and a brand new line -- three players with starting experience do return, and again, Navy is always loaded with juniors and seniors, but replacing five guys who accounted for 58 of last year's 65 starts is still scary -- it's likely that Navy's efficiency will suffer, at least compared to last year's dominant averages.

Navy could offset some efficiency problems, however, with big plays. Indeed Smith has averaged more than 20 yards per completion in his small sample, and of the three returning wideouts with more than one catch in 2015*, each averaged at least 19 yards a catch. Jamir Tillman was one of the most effective receivers in the country last year and could thrive again with Smith. He averaged 20.6 yards per catch while nabbing nearly two-thirds of his targets. Yes, he benefited from distracted defenses, but that doesn't make him less of a threat.

Plus, there are the requisite burners at slotback. Losing DeBrandon Sanders and Demond Brown hurts, but the trio of seniors Dishan Romine, Calvin Cass Jr., and Toneo Gulley combined for 64 carries, 707 yards, and four touchdowns last year. Those averages will slide with more carries, but slotback is the least of Navy's worries this year.

* That was pretty impressive spin on my part. Tillman caught 29 passes, and the only other two guys who qualify had three catches (Tyler Carmona) and two (Craig Scott).

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 127.4 3.54 3.7 43.3% 89.3% 12.4% 78.3 6.7% 10.2%
Rank 1 3 24 20 1 1 99 99 108
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
E.K. Binns LG 12 34 2015 1st All-AAC
Joey Gaston LT 13 29
Brandon Greene RT 8 15
Ben Tamburello RG 13 14
Blaze Ryder C 12 14
Robert Lindsey RT 6'4, 267 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7700 4 4
Blake Copeland RT 6'4, 258 Sr. NR NR 2 3
Adam West LG 6'3, 297 Sr. NR NR 1 1
Jeremiah Robbins RG 6'2, 295 Sr. NR NR 0 0
Maurice Morris C 6'2, 315 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7794 0 0
Parker Wade C 6'2, 265 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7987 0 0
Evan Martin RG 6'3, 294 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 0 0
Seth White LT 6'3, 274 Jr. NR NR 0 0
Andrew Wood LT 6'4, 300 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8569 0 0
Chris Gesell LG 6'4, 295 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7478 0 0
Jake Hawk RT 6'6, 312 So. 2 stars (5.2) NR 0 0

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.19 32 IsoPPP+ 106.5 43
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.1% 71 Succ. Rt. + 97.7 71
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 32.9 14 Off. FP+ 31.9 26
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.0 31 Redzone S&P+ 97.2 80
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.3 ACTUAL 27.0 +4.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 40 56 71 43
RUSHING 32 31 55 22
PASSING 62 60 98 43
Standard Downs 38 68 23
Passing Downs 91 85 94
Q1 Rk 55 1st Down Rk 63
Q2 Rk 73 2nd Down Rk 45
Q3 Rk 92 3rd Down Rk 73
Q4 Rk 58

6. The Navy-brand bend-don't-break

In writing these previews for going on six years now, I've kind of run out of things to say about the Navy defense. It is exactly what it is: a patented bend-don't-break that limits big plays, attempts to stiffen in the redzone and looks to pounce on whatever mistake you make, be it a missed assignment or wayward pass.

Last year's version was partciularly effective, at least against everybody not named Notre Dame or Houston. And the Midshipmen's Def. S&P+ rating has actually improved for four straight years, from 104th in 2011, to 101st in 2012, to 97th in 2013, to 74th in 2014, to 49th in 2015.

Navy is still not awash in play-makers, but recruiting does seem to be improving the overall athleticism, and in the secondary especially, Niumatalolo seems to be signing some disruptive guys. And when defensive coordinator Buddy Green went on sabbatical last August (he ended up retiring after the season), line coach Dale Pehrson stepped in and thrived. He's now the full-time DC.

This year's linebacking corps should be one of Niu's best, but turnover at the front and back is an obvious concern.

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 96.7 2.94 3.23 38.4% 66.0% 16.5% 75.9 5.3% 5.1%
Rank 79 77 66 68 65 103 103 58 104
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Will Anthony DE 13 49.0 7.0% 11.5 7.5 0 2 3 0
Amos Mason DE 6'1, 250 Sr. NR NR 13 35.5 5.1% 5.0 2.0 0 4 1 0
Bernard Sarra NG 13 28.0 4.0% 3.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
David Gordeuk DE 13 8.0 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Patrick Forrestal NG 6'4, 296 Sr. NR NR 13 7.0 1.0% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jarvis Polu DE 6'3, 270 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8414 13 5.0 0.7% 1.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Sean Reaver DE 10 5.0 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Michael Raiford DE 6'6, 294 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 11 2.5 0.4% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Nnamdi Uzoma DE 6'3, 245 Sr. NR NR 5 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Rob Dusz NG 6'0, 287 Sr. NR NR
Trenton Noller NG 6'4, 325 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8176
Tyler Sayles DE 6'2, 240 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7433
Dylan Fischer NG 6'2, 290 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR
Anthony Villalobos DE 6'2, 260 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8040
Joe Goff NG 6'5, 265 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8563
Mack Nash NG 6'5, 255 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8379
Tobe Okafor DE 6'4, 270 Fr. 2 stars 0.8079








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Micah Thomas ILB 6'1, 249 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893 13 56.5 8.1% 4.5 2.5 0 2 0 0
Daniel Gonzales ILB 6'2, 240 Sr. NR NR 11 52.5 7.5% 4.0 0.0 1 1 1 0
D.J. Palmore OLB 6'3, 227 Jr. NR 0.7600 13 28.5 4.1% 5.0 2.0 0 1 0 0
Josiah Powell OLB 6'3, 215 Sr. NR NR 13 23.5 3.4% 4.0 1.0 0 3 0 0
Ted Colburn OLB 6'3, 223 Sr. NR NR 12 20.5 2.9% 2.0 1.0 0 2 1 0
Tyler Goble ILB 12 19.5 2.8% 0.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Mike Kelly ILB 6'1, 220 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 13 18.0 2.6% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kevin McCoy OLB 6'4, 205 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7694 13 13.5 1.9% 3.5 2.5 0 0 3 1
Ryan Harris LB 5'11, 213 Sr. NR NR 13 13.0 1.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Jones OLB 6'4, 205 Jr. NR NR 11 13.0 1.9% 2.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Myer Krah OLB 12 8.0 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Myles Davenport OLB 6'2, 233 Jr. NR NR 13 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Winn Howard ILB 6'2, 216 Jr. NR NR
Trey Olsen OLB 6'4, 226 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) NR
Hudson Sullivan ILB 6'2, 240 So. NR NR
Jake Schwarzer OLB 6'2, 205 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8106
Delonte Berry OLB 6'2, 212 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8083
Tanner Matthews OLB 6'3, 222 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8039

7. Anthony was a unique weapon

Navy's havoc ratings aren't particularly special in any given year, but the Midshipmen were strong in short-yardage situations, and in Will Anthony they had a uniquely solid pass rusher. He had 7.5 sacks, five more than anybody else on the team, and he added four non-sack TFLs, batted two passes down, and forced three fumbles. Without him, Navy's havoc rate would have been even worse.

The loss of nose guard Bernard Sarra also hurts considering Navy basically played three linemen all year, and he was the man in the middle in those short-yardage scenarios. Niumatalolo and Pehrson will be forced to expand the depth chart a bit, especially if the offense isn't generating as many time-consuming drives because of efficiency issues. While depth is not even slightly a concern at linebacker -- 10 guys recorded at least 13 tackles in 2015, and nine return -- we'll find out how well Niumatalolo has recruited up front this year. Former star recruits like sophomore ends Jarvis Polu and Anthony Villalobos and junior tackle Trenton Noller might be asked to play larger roles. Will they succeed?

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Lorentez Barbour FS 13 63.0 9.0% 0.5 0 3 3 2 0
Quincy Adams CB 12 59.0 8.5% 3.5 0 0 7 1 0
Brendon Clements CB 5'11, 188 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 13 47.5 6.8% 5 0 4 6 1 0
Daiquan Thomasson FS 6'0, 195 Sr. NR NR 12 37.0 5.3% 0 0 2 4 1 0
Kwazel Bertrand S 4 15.0 2.1% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Elijah Merchant CB 5'10, 196 Jr. NR NR 12 12.0 1.7% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Sean Williams SS 6'1, 190 So. 2 stars (5.3) NR 11 11.0 1.6% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Justin Norton FS 6'2, 185 Jr. NR NR 7 6.0 0.9% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Kyle Battle CB 6'1, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 13 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Randy Beggs FS 6'0, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7967 13 2.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tyris Wooten CB 6'1, 180 Jr. NR NR
Jerry Thompson SS 6'0, 191 Jr. NR NR
Jarid Ryan CB 5'11, 203 So. NR NR
Elijah Jones CB 5'11, 186 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8344
Michael Onuoha S 6'3, 200 Fr. NR 0.8032








8. Clements needs help

Cornerback Brandon Clements was suspended for spring practice for violation of team rules and was only recently reinstated. Assuming he now remains in good standing, he is an outstanding, active play-maker in the back. His five tackles for loss tied for second on the team, and his 10 passes defensed were first.

[Update: Clements was dismissed from the team for good in June.]

He'll need support, though. Gone are safety Lorentez Barbour and corner Quincy Adams, the two leading tacklers (and solid havoc guys) in the secondary. Clements and safety Daiquan Thomasson will be looking for help and occasional play-making from players like corners Elijah Merchant and Tyris Wooten and safeties Sean Williams, Justin Norton, and Jerry Thompson.

Size isn't much of an issue for this defense at any level, but there is definitely less experience this year than last year.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Alex Barta 6'3, 213 Sr. 40 41.6 7 7 10 42.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Austin Grebe 79 61.1 20 1 25.3%
Gavin Jernigan 8 58.6 0 1 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Austin Grebe 58-61 10-11 90.9% 2-3 66.7%
Nick Sloan 1-1 1-1 100.0% 0-0
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Dishan Romine KR 5'11, 178 Sr. 24 27.3 0
Toneo Gulley KR 5'8, 196 Sr. 4 21.0 0
DeBrandon Sanders PR 6 7.3 0
Calvin Cass Jr. PR 5'10, 206 Sr. 5 4.6 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 53
Field Goal Efficiency 28
Punt Return Success Rate 3
Kick Return Success Rate 43
Punt Success Rate 112
Kickoff Success Rate 102

9. Need more from the legs

In Dishan Romine, Navy has one of the best kick returners in the AAC, but legs were a bit of an issue. Alex Barta's punts were decent but returnable (opponents averaged 15.8 yards per punt return, the third-highest average in the country), and whoever takes over in kickoffs needs to improve on Austin Grebe's touchback rate of 25 percent. If the offense is less efficient, Navy will need more from special teams to prevent a field position disadvantage.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Fordham NR 25.6 93%
10-Sep Connecticut 81 8.0 68%
17-Sep at Tulane 122 13.5 78%
1-Oct at Air Force 80 -0.4 49%
8-Oct Houston 53 1.5 54%
13-Oct at East Carolina 78 -1.0 48%
22-Oct Memphis 77 5.9 63%
28-Oct at South Florida 41 -8.3 32%
5-Nov vs. Notre Dame 11 -14.3 20%
12-Nov Tulsa 93 10.9 74%
26-Nov at SMU 98 5.6 63%
10-Dec vs. Army 124 17.9 85%
Projected wins: 7.3
Five-Year F/+ Rk 4.2% (52)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 110 / 96
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 19 / 11.0
2015 TO Luck/Game +3.1
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 45% (34%, 56%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 10.8 (0.2)

10. A mulligan year

Niumatalolo has now won 68 games in eight seasons and at least eight in all but one year. Navy finished 2015 in the AP top 20 for the first time since 1963. Best of all, Niu stayed. Because of his religion, the BYU opening had a unique draw, but he chose to remain in Annapolis. And now it's hard to imagine him ever leaving.

Life is good, and eventually the Midshipmen will prove that being in a conference will not render their offense ineffective. It should be inconsistent in 2016, however. Combined with what will likely be at least a small drop on defense, I find it difficult to imagine Navy remaining in the S&P+ top 50. (S&P+ projections have the Middies 66th.)

That said, Niu has earned a mulligan year. I have to figure he's got Navy back in the AAC race within a year or two, and honestly, if they're good at home (Houston and Memphis both visit Maryland), the Midshipmen could still play a role in the AAC West race this year. But that's "could," not "should."