Ah, July. While unofficial practices for the 2006 season have already begun, we're still some weeks away from the heart of summer practices. Word out of Annapolis looks good, with heavy praise already being given to what looks to be the best Navy recruiting class in some time. We all know how high the bar has been set, and we all know how good this team can be, but now the real question comes; What will Navy's record be in 2006?
To answer such a question we must, as is inevitable with blogs like this, take a shot at predicting the upcoming season. This will be the first of two general season predictions, with the latter coming the week before the season kicks off against ECU on September 2nd.
East Carolina: Apparently, East Carolina is going to be really, really good this year. I say apparently because I have only been assured so much by numerous diehard Pirate fans across the internet. While I may be a tad bit biased against ECU, I don't see the Pirates picking up the upset that some have been calling for. ECU's rush defense was ranked 112th nationally last year, and despite the additional of three highly touted JUCO's at Linebacker, problems like that don't get fixed overnight. This is not to say the Pirates won't field a Bowl-caliber team and be competitive in CUSA, but I think when you look at the experience of this Navy team you have to give them the edge for what could be a back-and-forth game. This game will probably be decided by 10 points or less, but frankly I wouldn't be surprised to see Navy pull away from the Pirates, who feature a talented group of skill players offensively. As long as Navy can limit ECU's passing offense, this game should go in Navy's favor, especially with the veteran leadership the Mids have. Adam Ballard flat out runs over the ECU defense in this one. WIN 38-31
UMASS: Knocking UMASS just because it's a Div-IAA team doesn't make much sense, especially considering the Delaware loss of 2003. This years team has been ranked #8 in I-AA play by The Sporting News (Delaware was #13 if anyone was interested) and #14 by AGS.com. That being said, this Navy team is much farther along in it's progression then it was in 2003, and UMASS lost a good deal of talent last year to NFL free-agency. This may not be the blowout that everyone wants, but UMASS doesn't have much of a shot. WIN 42-17
at Stanford: After last year's close lost against the Cardinal at NMCM, some Midshipmen fans have been talking an upset at Stanford's new stadium this fall. Navy may actually be the favorite going into this game, but Stanford gets a bad rap on the National Level, which of course was aided by the embarrassing lost to UC Davis last year. Stanford, barring any major injuries, should win this game, as Trent Edwards enters his 2nd season in Walt Harris’s somewhat complicated offense. He has several good wide receivers, including future NFL prospects Mark Bradford and the 6'7 Evan Moore, who caught one TD last year (over Keenan Little's head) before suffering a season ending hip injury against Navy. The defense may not be as strong as last year, but the talent coming into Stanford should be just enough to lift the Cardinal over the Midshipmen in another close game. The story here will be similar to last year's, as the Navy offense just can't quite keep up with Stanford's. No shame in a loss here, as Stanford is certainly a bowl-caliber team. LOSS 45-35
Tulsa: This is a real tough game to call, and while it will be played at NMCM, I have to go with Tulsa on this one. The Golden Hurricane is one of the best Non-BCS teams out there, a notion which was well reflected by their 9-4 record last year, which included 31-24 victory over Fresno St. in the Liberty Bowl. QB Paul Smith is a competent passer, and the Hurricane boasts a much underrated O-Line and a talented group of running backs. The defense may be CUSA's best, with Nick Bunting leading a very good linebacking corps. I wouldn't be surprised if Navy won this game, and right now I'm really leaning 50-50 on this one, but I just think that Tulsa will really be playing well next year. This one is a tossup, but right now I'm going with a LOSS 24-21.
at UCONN: Another very tough call, one which I think most of the experts have as either going "our" way or as a tossup. I don't doubt that a few of you are scratching your heads saying "What the hell, it's UCONN?!?" Well, yes it is, but as the kids say, this ain't your daddy's Huskie team. Even as a very young and injury plagued team last year, the Huskie's managed to pull out a slightly below average 5-6 record. They are Quarterbacked by a young and dynamic athlete in DJ Hernandez, who really embodies the "duel-threat" role. Both the 0-Line and D-Line are solid, and running back Terry Caulley was one of the best in the country before and ACL slowed him down in '03. If Caulley is back to 100% and the Defense shows up, I could certainly see UCONN winning this game, especially since it's at Rentschler. As it stands now though, I give the edge to the Navy offense, with the defense able to hold what has been a mistake prone Huskie offense in the past. WIN 28-27
at Air Force: When I was first putting this preview together, I had Navy losing at UCONN and bouncing back against the Falcons, mostly because I needed another reason to help me justify a Navy victory in what figures to be a real dogfight out in Colorado Springs. I've read so many different things on this matchup, and almost none of them seem to come from objective accounts. The Air Force fans have already chalked this up in their preseason win predictions, while the Navy fans have chalked it up in theirs. Navy is certainly more experienced and talent, but something keeps telling me Carney is really going to emerge as a good Quarterback. Air Force's rushing game should be vastly improved, as it went most of last year with a variety of different injuries, while its defense didn't do to shabby against us in last year's meeting. To top it all off, this game is at Falcon Stadium against a team which has never won the CINC, and against a Coach who could be on the hot-seat. Still, I know Coach Johnson will have the guys prepared, and the shift in talent finally starts to take its toll as Navy wins this one on- what else- a Joey Bullen field goal. WIN 27-24
Rutgers: I still think Rutgers is underrated from a national perspective, and talent wise certainly one up's (or two up's for that matter) the Midshipmen. A veteran O-Line paves the way for the monster-of-a-man Fullback Brian Leonard and the speedy Ray Rice, while QB Mike Teel has the opportunity to shine with All-Big East TE Clark Harris. However Rutgers loses both of it's DE's to the NFL, and despite having what may be one of the Big East's best secondaries, will yield more yardage to Navy on the ground. Because this is Homecoming at NMCM, I'm going to give the edge to Navy to knock off what will be a Bowl-bound Rutgers team. WIN 35-21.
Notre Dame (Baltimore): I have discussed this matchup in detail a number of times, most prominently right hyah. What more can you say? Coach Weis is an offensive genius, Brady Quinn is a Heisman candidate, Jeff Samardzija is an All-American, the O-Line is one of the nation's best, and you know that defense is going to get better. The Irish are on almost everyone's Top 10 list, and rightfully so. Not only is this Irish team loaded with talent, they have a master in Weis calling their plays. Last year the Irish had their way with the Mids, winning 42-21, although had the Irish been playing their starters the entire game or had Coach Weis been more inclined to show exactly how unclassy he was, it could have been worse. Don't get me wrong, Navy brings an improved team and this game should be competitive if the Mids can control the ball and slow down the Irish offense, but in the end Brady Quinn and Co. will find a way to pull away. LOSS 45-30
at Duke: As I pointed out in my Summer Duke Preview, the Blue Devils are actually an o.k. team talent wise. After the 28-21 scare of last year, I don't think anyone who follows Navy Football closely is counting on this being a blowout. Duke's defense has some big bodies up front, including Vince Oghobaase, a 6'6 325 pounder who chose Duke over Miami (the good one) and Oklahoma. Duke brings in the 36th best recruiting class this year (according to Athlon), and from what I can gather without actually having seen them play, the team is improving. But, and there is always a but, the Blue Devils still managed to finish 116th in total offense last year, and still have questions to be answered as far as the RB and WR positions go. An interesting note: Duke only has two scholarship QBs on the roster, which means if starter Zack Asack should go down, the Blue Devils could really, really have some offensive issues. This one is closer then I'd like, but it's a nice bounceback WIN 24-17
at Eastern Michigan (Detroit): Every year, the Midshipmen are bound to blow some God-forsaken team right out of the water (pardon the pun). With what should be the best Navy team in 40 years, this year is no exception, and when the Mids travel up to Detroit for this game (held at Ford Field) they will face what is by all accounts a very bad team. Anytime you’re facing a cellar-dweller in the MAC, you will probably have a good chance at winning, and this occasion will be no different as the Eagles gave up an average of 409 ypg last season. The offense remains a big question mark as a new QB and RB will start the season off. After what will surely be a Notre Dame loss, Paul Johnson will have this team focused to make the push for a Bowl, and depending on the amount of loses Navy will accumulate coming into this game (could be anywhere from 3-5), the intensity level will be turned up another notch. This is one of those all business wins, with every facet of the Triple Option working to perfection. WIN 52-24
Temple: Like Duke, Temple isn't as bad as they are made out to be, but then again when you go 0-11 you tend to get put in the "they suck" category. Last year's game was a little too close for comfort, considering Temple was actually leading at Halftime. Of course, as a 0-10 team that A) Probably didn't care too much and B) Hadn't ever held a lead before, the Owl’s proceeded to do a belly flop off the high dive and let Navy dictate the second half, eventually losing 38-17 to the Midshipmen. Under first year coach Al Golden, Temple will have to learn a new system and will likely come into this game with 0 wins (yes my friends, the Buffalo Bulls will prevail in the Week 1 slugfest between #118 and #119). Still, I expect Temple to be playing with reckless abandonment, and with a fairly talented cast of skill players and what looks to be a very meaty D-Line (which stopped us cold in last year's first half), I would expect the crowd at NMCM to release a collective "WTF" at Halftime. Yet, as it often does, history will repeat itself, and there is no way such a good Navy team allows themselves to be dictated by one of the worst teams in the nation. The second half is a blowout as Navy opens up the passing game. WIN 42-24.
Army (Philadelphia): The Black Knight's will be better this year, at least I hope (as I know all of you do). I see them finishing with 5 or 6 wins, which will be a step in the right direction for Bobby Ross's program. The defense, save the secondary, and the o-Line are veteran, and the WR group may be Army's best in several years. However serious questions remain about the ability of Dave Pevota to lead to offense, which will lean more towards the run this season. The Black Knights lose their top 3 rushers, including standout Carlton Jones and Scott Wesley. Even though this is a improved Army team, from last year's Army-Navy game it's apparent the Midshipmen are just farther along in their progression as a program then the Cadet's are. This one will start to show Navy’s talent pulling away, as the Mids picks up the WIN 45-21.
Final Regular Season Record: 9-3