T. Kyle King of Dawg Sports served up a look last week of the non-BCS teams that have the best shot at obtaining a BCS berth and "busting" the system. You may remember that Utah was the first (and only) non-BCS team to accomplish this in 2004, when Urban Meyer's 12-0 squad destroyed Pittsburgh 35-7 in the Fiesta Bowl. It's no surprise then that the Utah Football blog Block U, a Pitch Right favorite, has also chimed in on T. Kyle's question.
Before we get into the major analysis of Navy's chances, I'd like to qualify my position regarding this question as far as the other teams that have been mentioned. Like many, I believe that Utah and TCU have the best chance at finishing in the Top 16 and having the opportunity. If what Utah did to Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl last year (38-10 win) is any indication of what this team is capable of, I give them a decent shot at pulling a big upset at UCLA (week 1). From there the only test the Utes will face will likely come from TCU. The Horned Frogs get Texas Tech at home, but have to face Utah and in-state rival Baylor on the road. If not for the debacle at SMU last year, TCU would have been playing in the BCS. These teams played a close one last year (TCU over Utah 23-20 in OT), and I fully expect the Oct. 5th matchup in Utah to have BCS ramifications. I admit I was surprised to see UTEP on T. Kyle King's list of possible "B.C.S Busters." UTEP is certainly one of the best none-BCS teams in the country, but I personally think it may be a little overrated (as is Boise State and to an extend Navy, which I will get to later). Jordan Palmer gets a lot of hype (and rightfully so), but still makes too many mistakes (19 ints last year). They stumbled into the end of the season (a trend), losing against a mediocre UAB and SMU team. They have to face off against Texas Tech early in the season, and aren’t likely to win two back-to-back road games against CUSA heavyweights Houston and Tulsa. Tulsa has the most favorable schedule of the group, but will have to get by at Navy and at BYU to have any chance. Yet I wouldn’t discount the Golden Hurricane. Paul Smith is one of the most underrated QBs in the game, and the team adds on Oklahoma transfer Courtney Tennial at RB. Combine that with what looks to be one of the best Non-BCS caliber defenses, and I expect Tulsa to make some national noise.
Now, for the Navy side of all this...
I thought that Block U did a fantastic job of outlining the process for a non-BCS team to "bust" the system and play in the early January games. The Utah oriented site set up 4 distinctive "needs" for a program such as Utah, Navy, Boise St. etc... to crack the BCS system. Those four "needs" were Preseason Hype, A Big Upset, Dominance during the regular season, and a Brilliant Coach who can steel national attention. These categories were based off the 2004 Utah system, and I will do my best to outline how Navy meets or does not meet the criteria.
Preseason Hype: It's completely relative if you ask me. For Navy fans, the hype has never been bigger. Phil Steele put us at 30th in the country, while Athlon placed our preseason ranking at 42nd. Now, this isn't the rank you'd see for Utah (Steele has the Utes at 23rd), but it is ahead of Fresno St, Tulsa, and UTEP (at 37, 41, and 42, according to Steele). With 18 returning starters back from a team that went 8-4, it would seem as though expectations are very high, especially considering how young last year's team was. To add to that notion, the only game many people (ie. not Navy fans) saw last year was the 51-30 shellacking of Colorado State in the Poinsettia Bowl (P-Bowl for the Navy crowd). The names Adam Ballard and Reggie Campbell and Rob Caldwell now have a certain meaning to them. Ballard, at 6'1 and 240 lbs, is a bruising back who is almost impossible to tackle man to man. Campbell, at only 5-6, is a speedster who defenders simply can't find or catch. And Caldwell, with his USMC emblem and 140 tackles, is just a friggin’ ball hawk. All of this lends to hype, both from a national and local (talking 'bout the Navy fans here) perspective. Now, is this hype warranted? Some argue it is, some argue it isn't. I personally feel that this team could just as easily go 6-6 as 11-1, and the feeling by some Navy fans is that some National media people who don't pay real close attention are discounting the strength of Navy's schedule, and putting too much pressure on the program. All that being said, Navy will not be starting in the Preseason Top 25. Starting in that 20-25 range (as TCU and Utah should) gives a Non-BCS team with an o.k./weak schedule the opportunity to slowly but surely move up in the polls and end up in that 12-18 area, which would be the place to be if one were going to "Bust" the system.
The Upset: This is going to be a critical component for Navy if it wants to achieve BCS recognition. The only team Navy will play this year that will start off in the Preseason Top 25 (and Top 10 and maybe even Top 5 for that matter) will be Notre Dame. While Rutgers, Stanford, and Tulsa have the ability to hover between that 20-40 rank range, and UCONN, ECU, and even Air Force have shots at Bowl berths, Navy would need a huge win against a highly ranked team to solidify a Top 16 position. This is a tough schedule for Navy, the toughest in the PJ era, but it’s one that is designed to allow this team to break into the Top 25, not the Top 16. Of course, if Navy beats Notre Dame (who stays in the Top 25) and manages to go undefeated or possibly even lose one along the way (provided it is to a Bowl team) then the Midshipmen have a decent case to bring to the BCS people. Unfortunately, if Navy loses to Notre Dame and to Notre Dame only (thus going 11-1), I still don’t see the Mids getting a decent shot. I think people will point out the Duke, E. Mich, and Temple games as examples of easy scheduling, and the BCS committee would be more inclined to put a TCU or Utah in the game. If any two of the combination of Rutgers, Stanford, or Tulsa (or anyone else for that matter) does end up finishing in the Top 25, and Navy loses to Notre Dame, I suppose the case could be made for the Mids, especially with our appeal. If you’re so inclined to look at the matchup between Navy and Notre Dame in 2006, I’d highly suggest reading a joint collaboration between myself and The House that Rock Built. Bottom line, I don’t think Navy beats Notre Dame this year, and will probably come up short as far as the BCS picture goes.
Dominance: To be perfectly honest, dominance is a lot like Hype in that it varies from different perspectives. Certainly a good part of dominance is reflected on the score, but without watching each game it can sometimes become hard to judge by the score alone. When I look at dominance, I like to look at things like yards per game and turnover ratio, both of which help to provide a clearer picture of exactly how the game was played. All that being said, Navy may have a tough time being dominant this season. As I've alluded to, I think Navy is playing an underappreciated schedule. When you look at it you can see 7 teams that could very well be vying for a winning seasons and Bowl berths (ND, Rutgers, Stanford, Tulsa, UCONN, ECU, AF). Despite being bad teams (caused in no small part to incredibly difficult schedules), Duke and Temple have talented players, and Army is improving (to the point where some are talking Bowl). While the Mids will likely win the majority of these games, I don't think we're going to see the kind of blowouts we saw last year with Rice and Tulane. Then again, after the 51-30 dismantling of Colorado State's defense, maybe we will. There is no question this team can score, but the defense hasn't proven it can hold a winning team's offense to minimal points. The question then becomes what teams do you have to dominate to be considered for the BCS? Notre Dame dominated some bad teams last year and still got the BCS nod, which leads me to think that this category may be a little overrated when you’re dealing with a prestigious school with large scale appeal. If you don’t like that, get over it, I don’t know what to tell ya.
Coach: Block U saw Urban Meyer's appeal and coaching ability as a huge reason for their 2004 BCS season. Likewise, if the Mids have one secret weapon, it's Head Coach Paul Johnson. For you out of site visitors, Johnson is 26-11 over the past 3 seasons, and has orchestrated a rushing attack that was 1st in the country in 2003, 3rd in 2004, and 1st in 2005. His flexbone, spread style option attack is not only incredibly fun to watch, it's also incredibly difficult to defend. While Urban used his relative youth and intelligence to garner national attention, PJ could likewise use his hardnosed, always-wanting-more attitude to really make a national splash (not to mention that lovely Georgia accent).
Bottom Line: Navy doesn’t have much of a BCS case in terms of the preseason. This team has shown in can destroy good/decent non-BCS teams (CSU), and contend with Middle of the Road BCS teams (MD and Stanford). I fully expect Navy to be much improved this year, and be able to win those close games it couldn’t last year. However, as usual, Notre Dame remains a serious obstacle. While there is a possibility of building a good case for Navy in the BCS even with an ND loses, it would require Navy to lose no more then one other game. Yet with teams like Stanford, Tulsa, Rutgers, UCONN, and even ECU, Army, and Air Force, such a feat is easier said then done. If one thing is for sure, the Mids will be competitive in each and every game this year, largely because of the system but also because of the 100% that each player gives. With that kind of energy, I don’t think, however unlikely, that you can count the 2006 Navy Midshipmen out of anything.
Well, in the words of Forest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.” I’d like to extend my thanks to Dawg Sports (which will now be on the sidebar link) and Block U for getting this conversation going. As I said on Dawg Sports, the conversation is a good deal more interesting then making a Top 10 list, at least in my mind. Hopefully we will be able to reexamine this question at Midseason and at the end of this season, and good luck to all the teams I mentioned here.