No. 32 Navy
Navy won three total games between 2000-02. They've won 28 the last three years, the highest three-year total in program history.
One of the most stable programs in college football continued winning last year and they'll do so again in 2017. While the talent is there for another run at 10 wins and the American title, a brutal schedule will be challenging.
2016 Record: 9-5 (7-1, AAC)
Three of Navy's five losses — including their lone regular-season conference defeat — came by seven or fewer points. Their triple-option attack ranked fourth nationally in rushing average (310 yards per game), 20th in scoring (37.9 points per game) and had eight games with at least 40 points.
The Midshipmen did, however, end the season on a three-game losing streak, including a 24-point loss to Temple in the AAC Championship and four-point loss to Army, their first loss in the series since 2001.
Head Coach: Ken Niumatalolo (11th year, 77-42 overall)
In nine years at Navy, head coach Ken Niumatalolo has won at least eight games nine times and nine games five times.
He is the most underrated coach in the country and has proven his program can not only remain competitive in a conference — they joined the AAC in 2015 after playing as an independent since the program started in 1891 — but they can thrive, going 7-1 in the conference each of the last two seasons.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Zach Abey, FB Chris High, RB Darryl Bonner, WR Tyler Carmona, OT Andrew Martin, G Evan Martin
Quarterback Will Worth was missed badly in their final three games after going down in the conference championship with an injury. They had 27 total points, 290 total rushing yards and six turnovers in losses to Temple and Army,
While it stung at the time, Zach Abey gained much-needed experience — he entered the Temple game with zero career pass attempts. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound junior threw two interceptions in the two losses, though he did play better in the Armed Forces Bowl, going 7-for-12 for 159 yards and one touchdown and rushing 25 times for 114 yards.
"I think trial by fire is an understatement considering all that was riding on that game. For Zach to be thrown into that game of all games, that's really tough," offensive coordinator Irvin Jasper said after the Temple game. "He grew up really, really fast. From here on out, any other game should be like nothing as far as pressure."
Both fullback Chris High and running back Darryl Bonner return after averaging better than six yards per carry (Bonner averaged 7.8) and combined for nine touchdowns on only 114 carries. Bonner, a diminutive burner, is also a capable receiver, averaging nearly 28 yards on 10 catches.
One of the better receivers of the Niumatalolo era, Jamir Tillman, is gone, leaving senior Tyler Carmona to pick up the slack. He has just nine career catches but at 6-foot-4, 222 pounds is a huge target for Abey.
Guard Evan Martin is one of four returning linemen with starting experience.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Jackson Pittman, DE Jarvis Polu, LB Micah Thomas, LB D.J. Palmore, CB Tyris Wooten, S Sean Williams
Six defensive starters and seven of their top eight tacklers return, led by an elite linebacker duo in Micah Thomas and D.J. Palmore, two of the most disruptive players in the AAC. Both players and coordinator Dale Pehrson have preached a need for more aggressiveness, something they did well in 2015 but struggled with last year when they ranked 84th nationally in scoring average (31 points per game).
"I just want to get our mentality back to being more aggressive — coaches and players. I think I got passive with the calls. We probably weren't as aggressive as we needed to be," Pehrson said in March. "So it's just a matter of changing that mindset to how we were two years ago. We need to move our guys more and blitz a lot more."
Pehrson has two stud blitzers and run defenders in the secondary in safeties Alohi Gilman and Sean Williams (below). Because both are so effective at the line of scrimmage, Navy is hoping improved cornerback play will allow the pair to spend more time in the box.
Sophomore defensive tackle Jackson Pittman also has earned the offseason praise from staff after producing 11 tackles and two forced fumbles as a freshman.
"I think if Pittman will keep working, he can be as good a nose guard as we've had. I'm excited about where he's at," Pehrson said. "He's young and still has a long way to go, a lot of growing and maturing to do. Physically, he has a lot of tools that some of the other ones didn't have.
Notable Player Losses
QB Will Worth, RB Dishan Romine, WR Jamir Tillman, OT Blake Copeland, G Adam West, C Maurice Morris, DE Amos Mason, S Alohi Gilman
In addition to Will Worth and Jamir Tillman, running back Dishan Romine is also gone. He was dynamic the last two season seasons, racking up more than 800 yards on just 84 carries thanks to three all-conference linemen: Blake Copeland, Adam West and Maurice Morris. West entered 2016 with one career start but earned All-AAC First-Team honors.
Defensively, end Amos Mason will be missed. He had 13.5 tackles for loss and four sacks the last two years.
Notable Player Additions
OT Kendel Wright, G Laurent Njiki, DT Joshua Van Dunk,
Kendel Wright and Lauren Njiki are competing for time on the offensive line, while Joshua Van Dunk, a 6-foot-3, 285-pounder could see snaps behind Jackson Pittman in the interior defensive line.
Their schedule — the most difficult of any Group of Five team — also features Tulsa, Memphis, Temple, Notre Dame and Houston on the road and Air Force, UCF and SMU at home. They close the season against Army on Dec. 9.
|Friday, Sept. 1||at Florida Atlantic|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. Tulane|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||vs. Cincinnati|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||at Tulsa|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||vs. Air Force|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||at Memphis|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||vs. UCF|
|Thursday, Nov. 2||at Temple|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||vs. SMU|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||at Notre Dame|
|Friday, Nov. 24||at Houston|
|Saturday, Dec. 9||vs. Army|