Head Coach: Ken Niumatalolo
2015 Record: 11-2
2015 Bowl: 44-28 Win over Pittsburgh in Military Bowl
2016 Returning Starters: 1 Offense, 7 Defense
Odds to win 2017 Championship Game: +750000
Odds to win 2016 AAC Championship: +1900
Regular Season over/under: 6.5
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Navy put together an outstanding 2015 season when it finished 11-2 on the strength of Keenan Reynolds’ final NCAA season. The four-year starter set NCAA records and propelled Navy to elite status in the AAC, but now the Midshipmen will have to rebuild without its do-it-all QB.
Tago Smith will take over the reigns of the triple-threat offense, and a lot of people think Smith can pick up where Reynolds left off. That is a pretty tall order.
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Smith was Reynolds’ backup the last two seasons and he started two games his sophomore year while Reynolds was injured. He fared well in that pair of contests, and he does have some options at WR this season. Jamir Tillman is a 6’4” 212 pound WR who had 47 catches for 956 yards over the past two seasons, and he has the tools to be a No. 1 option for Smith this season.
Dishan Romine also had a nice 2015 and finished third on the team with 378 rushing yards and 10.5 yards per carry. Shawn White will be the FB, the key position in the triple-threat. He is a quick 255 pound back capable of being the featured runner in what should still be a potent Midshipmen attack. Navy will not be the offensive machine it was with Reynolds, but it will still be a team capable of getting down the field in a hurry.
The defense returns seven starters, among which are ILBs Daniel Gonzales and Micah Thompson. Navy’s defense last season was significantly better than usual, and Dale Pehrson can take a good chunk of that credit from his first season as DC. He installed a more aggressive scheme that resulted in 15 fumble recoveries and 57 tackles for loss (Navy’s highest mark in seven seasons).
Thomas finished No. 2 on the team in tackles with 73 and Gonzales was No. 4 with 65. All four starting LBs return, and Josiah Powell and D.J. Palmore will be in the outside spots. Navy lost Bernie Sarra at nose guard and LE Will Anthony, but Patrick Forrestal can potentially be better than both. At 6’4” 305, he is big enough to handle the middle and only needs to improve his run coverage to take the next step as a player.
RE Amos Mason is a good playmaker who had five tackles for loss last season, four pass breakups and three QB-hurries last season. CB Brandon Clements was reinstated to the team in late April, and he is the best in the secondary. He has had seven INTs in his career and started 35 games over the past three seasons.
Alex Barta averaged 41.6 yards per punt last season. D.J. Grant-Johnson will be the place kicker after claiming the job in spring. Dishan Romine will return kicks and he averaged 27.3 yards on 24 attempts. Romine also had a 90 yard return last season against Tulsa.
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Navy opens the season Sept. 3 against Fordham and faces UConn in Week 2. The big matchup for Navy this season is on Nov. 5 when it faces Independent Notre Dame. The Midshipmen will take on South Florida on the road the week before that on Oct. 28.
Navy had a sensational 2015, and it is unlikely they reproduce that level of success with Reynolds’ career finished. Teams are anticipating the strength of Navy this season, so there will be no surprising opponents, even if the talent level has decreased some.
Smith is a good QB that was playing behind a legend, so it is plausible that he is far better than non-Navy fans may guess. Even so, the Midshipmen will be trending back towards average this season in all likelihood.
Prediction: 8 wins
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