Thursday, August 31, 2006
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
One of Navy's biggest concerns coming into the 2006 football season is the play of the defensive line. While the 2005 defensive line consisted of several very athletic players, it was apparent that against teams with especially large offensive lines (Maryland, Stanford, Notre Dame), the front three of the Midshipmen just couldn't get the job done against the run. Navy's 3-4 defense is designed around a linebacker corps that is capable of making every single play on the field, while the defensive line is called on to use it's speed on the edges to provide pressure on the quarterback.
Rob Caldwell is ready to bust some heads. Naturally, this pleases me, as I continue to hear the constant chatter about how Navy is overrated and about how athletic and fast this East Carolina offense is. What, do they think Navy is just going to sit around and let Jame Pinkney and the ECU offense just march up and down the field? Of course not, and just as ECU will be ready to try to stop Navy's triple option, so will the Midshipmen defense be ready for Pinkey and company's passing attack.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Several months before the start of the season, a fan discovers that his beloved team will face off against the Navy Midshipmen. This fan, thinking of himself as a rather curious fellow, decides to do some research on the Navy team. Somewhere between laughing his butt off at the diminutive size of the Navy slotbacks or the lack of prize recruits, said fan discovers that Navy's offensive line is rather small. With only one linemen over 300 pounds, and with the smallest linemen in Division I-A (Antron Harper, 5'11, 249), this enterprising young fan proclaims that Navy's offense must completely suck, and is no more then a "gimmick" offense that manages to beat the very dregs of Division I by only the smallest of margins.
Just in case you missed the memo, Navy brought in a stellar (or, for our tennis fans, superlative) recruiting class last season. No longer ranked behind such powerhouses as Temple and Florida International, Navy's latest class features several stud players that I expect to help continue the winning ways established by Head Coach Paul Johnson. In no particular order, here are a few of the players I belive will make the greatest impact...
Monday, August 28, 2006
As I said a month or two ago, I signed up to work as the Navy blogger over at the AOL Sports Fan House. I know, I know. AOL has a sports page? Why yes, of course. And while the multi-gazillion dollar internet company isn't exactly known for their football coverage, the Fan House is an attempt to change all that. It's really quite impressive you know, covering all 32 NFL teams and over 50 college teams. Lucky for me (and hopefully you), the guys in charge of this Endeavour (including Jamie Mottram) thought Navy should be represented.
So here I am, having neglected a weeks worth of blogging on Pitch Right to instead spend some time over at the Fan House. The next couple of weeks are going to be very hectic for me, so you'll be seeing most (if not all) of my non-BlogPoll posts over there. I will however provide a picture, link, and small excerpt from each entry I make over there on a post over here. I'd like to take this time to thank Chris Dalton for graciously allowing me to use his scrimmage photos. Without him I'd be left posting the same picture of Reggie Campbell everyday.
While the college Football Fan House doesn't "launch" for another week or so, feel free (in fact I implore you) to read my daily entries for Navy Football.
Yea, I figured most anyone who cared already voted in the mini poll at the side of the page. The poll, which asked "Beside Notre Dame, which team are you most worried about next season" was only marginally successful. 98 total votes were cast, with Stanford leading the way with 42 votes (43%). Rutgers was second with 19 (19%), followed by Tulsa with 12 (12%), and Air Force with 9 (9%). UConn received 7 votes, while Army came in with 3 and East Carolina with 2. UMass, much to my own surprise, received 4 votes, although I'm fairly sure at least one of those was a joke and at least one other came from Frank over at the UMass Football FanZone. I was the first person who voted in the poll, and voted for Stanford.
Anyways, as you may or may not have guessed, the new pole question if "Will Navy beat ECU on Saturday?" Likewise, each week the question will be whether you believe Navy will beat the team it's slated to play that week. I certainly encourage you to cast your ballot, and if you'd like to explain/defend your reasoning, by all means hit the "comment" button!
Let me say that again. Six more days until Navy and East Carolina open the season at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (and only 4 days until the college football season officially begins.)
We've spent our spring and summer waiting, waiting for some tidbit of information that could shed a light on our team's upcoming campaign. We've suffered through the cold, desolate months and were reborn- if for only a few weeks- with the prospect of spring practices. We've all read our preseason publications countless times and our Phil Steele magazines are falling apart at the spines. We've heard the 'experts' weigh-in and we've debated the scenarios amongst ourselves. We've watched the practices and seen the scrimmages, all attaching ourselves to a particular mindset but all hoping for the same final outcome. And now, we wait. We wait as if we were waiting for a play, living in the seconds between the snaps, waiting in anticipation of the runners first cut, holding our breathes between the passes and the catches. Here anything is possible, a victory is never of reach. Here all 119 teams has a chance to win; each Div I-A team, from the powerhouses of Ohio St. or USC, to the flailing programs of Temple or Buffalo, have the potential to be something more, something special. This is college football. This is the pageantry, the excitement, the action, the rivalries, the drama, the violence, and the spirit of competition. Here is everything that draws us to this great game and so much more, and today I am happy to say welcome, and I'm glad you're along for the ride.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Navy's letdown game, according to CFN, is Duke. Unfortunately, I think CFN got this one wrong. You see, with Zach Asack at QB this was a letdown game. Now it's just a game against a team with a talented defense but no offense to speak of. I think that Navy's landmine game is instead against Air Force out in Colorado Springs. Considering that everyone and his brother is ready to write Fisher DeBerry off, I would be weary of of this Air Force team, especially if Navy comes in undefeated, and Air Force comes in winless.
So, what of teams who face landmine games against Navy? Well, CFN seems to think Tulsa and UConn face tough battles against the Midshipmen, which i would have to agree with. However, how can Navy be the landmine game for Duke when Duke is the landmine game for Navy? A better pick would have been the opener against Richmond for Duke.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Haven’t Heard Of." Hampton is named 5th on the list, with the following writeup:
Hampton is built like a tank, has a stronger arm than his predecessors and most importantly, is a senior very familiar with Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense.
Navy’s running game is where they make hay and Midshipmen quarterback coach Ivin Jasper told The Washington Post that Hampton runs like mid-90s record breaker Chris McCoy. The running game sets up the pass, which averaged over 20 yards per completion last year, a total that Hampton could boost with his arm strength this year.
A more or less accurate assessment, and no, I don't feel like he's getting too much hype. When you look at the other guys on the list, this should instead be the "Top 10 QBs You REALLY have never heard of." To be honest with you, I had only heard of four guys on the list beside Hampton, and had only really "known of" two others (Cubit and Rowe). Nobody is saying (yet) that Hampton or any of these guys are stars, but that they have the potential to lead teams to winning seasons and put up good numbers in doing so. While I'm not to sure about the McCoy reference (although I will say Hampton has some nice moves), I was pleased to see this article. (HT Phatphelix at GoMids)
There is also an interesting preview up of the matchup between East Carolina and Navy, albeit from a biased source on the CUSA-Fans website. Thomas "Bubba" Rosenbaum does a good job breaking down the matchup, starting with injuries and going down to intangibles. Although the statement about ECU's work ethic, and how it's the best in the NCAA, is outrageous and most likely untrue, the article represents a fairly honest assessment of what the game should be like.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Other noticeable changes include the battle for Right Tackle, in which Andrew McGinn and Josh Meek look neck-and-neck for the control of the starting job. Senior Joe Person, who saw considerable action last season, is listed behind both. Freshmen linebacker Ian Merdith has moved up into the three-deep at OLB, while Nate Frazier is listed behind Wright and Cylc at DT. Unfortunately, it looks like uber-recruit Andy Lark will miss the opener. That's right fans of opposing teams, we have uber-recruits.
It's also been revealed that backup linebacker Kieth Lisante has quit the team, but will remain at the Academy and pursue his degree. Lisante, a Junior who was highly touted out of high school, was listed behind Rob Caldwell at the ILB spot before his departure.
More updates on the changing roster later this week...
Monday, August 21, 2006
The backfield is loaded with speed and experience, but the real excitement is over fullback Adam Ballard who turned into a dangerous, explosive runner down the stretch. Trey Hines is fully healthy and should finally live up to his promise as one of the fastest backs in Navy history. Poinsettia Bowl star Reggie Campbell returns, as does fullback Matt Hall from a knee injury. Also look for this group to be great at catching the ball.
It's good to see some love from CFN towards the rushing game, but I can't help but feel that whoever ranked these units didn't take into account how Navy's personnel fits into Paul Johnson's scheme. This isn't a ranking of talent, this is a ranking of effectiveness. How can our wideouts be the 9th worse unit in the country when they clearly provide good outside blocking and make plays downfield when asked too? How can an offense that averages over 300 yards rushing and around 100 ypg passing be ranked 80th? One again, CFN has proved that you can't rank anything or everything, or at least that you can't rank them well.
Speaking of CFN, I was disappointed to see that not one Navy game made it in their Top 40 "Big Games" for this season. Haven’t they ever heard of Notre Dame-Navy?
Switching gears, USA Today has a fine looking preview up for the 2006 season, complete with a poll on how many games Navy will win this year. (HT, USNA 86)
There is also a nice article on Navy’s linebackers from my least liked paper in the world, the Baltimore Sun.
I was not at last Saturday’s scrimmage (I was in Buffalo watching JP Losman’s erratic preseason start against the Bengals), but a full recap can be found here and hyah. Apparently the defense really tightened up, and it was encouraging to here some of the accounts of the defenses’ play, especially of Freshman DT Nate Frazier. Sounds like the Kaipo experiment (Num. 2) at wide receiver is working, although 2 dropped passes do concern me. Hopefully we’ll be ready in two weeks.
Now for some bad news, as it appears that Wide Receiver Kyle Kimbro, who was thought to be fighting for a starting spot, has decided to leave the program. Kimbro has left the Academy, according to Coach Johnson, to try to recover from off-season knee surgery. This is really unfortunate news, especially since Tyree Barnes hasn’t been able to practice because of off-season surgery. Let’s hope Barnes is ready for the 2nd, or that Curtis Sharp or one of these younger guys can step up.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
What's the biggest ripoff in this preseason poll? Either pick a team that's offensively over or underrated, or you can rag on a particular voter's bad pick (hey, we're all adults here, we can handle it).
I was going to say Jeff’s choice of Georgia Tech at #7, but after hearing him at least attempt to explain himself on Brian’s podcast, I’ll let it slide for the time being. One thing that does irk me just a tad, ok more then a tad, is Orson’s childish imitation of The ‘Ol Ball Coach with his 25th pick. How can you pick Duke? They literally have no Quarterback at the present after Asack was suspended, and despite doing well in the recruiting wars are likely only to win one game this year (against Richmond). While I admire Orson’s writing style and will be the first to admit EDSBS is the funniest website I’ve ever read, I can’t help but think he’s nothing more then a tool in Spurriers sick games.
What should a preseason poll measure? Specifically, should it be a predictor of end-of-season standing (meaning that a team's schedule should be taken into account when determining a ranking), or should it merely be a barometer of talent/hype/expectations?
A preseason poll should take into account how the team finished at the end of the previous season, the personnel it returns, the personnel it brings in (recruits), and any intangibles like schedule, coaching, and the system the team uses. Let’s use Navy as an example, because I’m most familiar with the program. After finishing 8-4 with a quality Bowl win, Navy returns 18 starters to play this year. They have an X’s and O’s genius at Head Coach in Paul Johnson, know the system well, and have a number of quality players coming in and coming up. A perfect recipe for a highly ranked team if not for the obvious disparity in talent between the Top 15 and the Service Academies, wouldn’t you say? I think you need to strike a balnce as far as hype goes. Certainly Tennessee and Purdue were facing a lot of hype last year, and neither produced. Am I making any sense? Basically I think the preseason pollster should take into account the factors I outlined, but let’s face it, we are a very biased bunch.
What is your biggest stretch in your preseason ballot? That is to say, which team has the best chance of making you look like an idiot for overrating them?
Navy at #21. As some of you know, I had the Mids at #25 until it became “cool” for patriotic bloggers to include Navy as high as #19. In all seriousness, Navy probably doesn’t deserve to be a preseason Top 25 team, although I think (and hope) with a good start they can move into that position. There are still some questions regarding the team, and I would move them into the 25-30 area before I see them prove me wrong against ECU. Arizona State at #15 is nothing more then a shout-out to my homedawg Phil Steele.
Sam Keller is a Phil Steele fan too
What do you see as the biggest flaw in the polling system (both wire service and blogpolling)? Is polling an integral part of the great game of college football, or is it an outdated system that needs to be replaced? If you say the latter, enlighten us with your new plan.
Well, for us bloggers it’s obviously our own allegiances and biases. We all love certain teams and we all hate certain teams, it’s just that simple. I think the Coaches Poll gets into that a little too. I think you’ll get a bias towards certain conferences, and definitely a shift away from the non-BCS teams. Polling on any level should stay (especially ESPN.com’s Bottom 10), but I don’t recommend taking it too seriously, at least not when it comes down to the BCS. That’s a separate issue I’m not even going to dare to take on.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Navy had a strong opening showing on the poll, garnering 8 total votes in the Top 25 (as high as 19th). Here's how it broke down, and why each bogger went with the Midshipmen:
Black Shoes Diary( Penn State), #19
I like Navy this year. They went 8-4 last year and return 16 players from that team. Their toughest game looks to be Notre Dame in Baltimore.
Bruce Ciski (Wisconsin), #23
Conquest Chrinicles (USC), #22
Strong running game. My sentimental pick
Dawg Sports (Georgia), #22
Paul Johnson is a proven commodity as a coach and the Midshipmen return a multitude of starters in the midst of the U.S.N.A.'s best run of success in a long time. If you're not rooting for the Mids this season, you're simply not a good American.
Golden Tornado (Georgia Tech), #23
Maize n Brew (Michigan), #25
Triple-option attack! Navy returned just about EVERYONE. While usually Navy's good for a good scare of a quality program, they could legitimately beat Notre Dame this year. There is experience and excellent coaching. And dammit, these boys are disciplined!
Pitch Right (Me), #21
Because I can
There was actually one other vote for Navy at #23, but looking over the bloglisting I couldn't find out who (most likely due to some late-ballot entry or other technological breakdown of the sorts). So, If you want me to sing your praises before Navy fans all over the internet, feel forward to step forth.
While it's true the first ballot is the most "sentimental" of the ballots cast, I think we can expect to see Navy ranked in the Top 40 for the rest of the preseason. Don't be surprised if some Domer blogs cast a vote at Navy for 25 next week, (ahem, Brian, cough, Pat) seeing as though I was one of 8 balloters to go with the Irish at #1.
And now, a rather pathetic attempt at a subliminal messege:
VOTE FOR NAVY
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
The one and only Dr. Van Nostram
Speaking of ECU, look what I found on the internet. Some "bloggers" seem to be think the Pirates will steamroll Navy 35-0. Haha, yes, I thought it was a joke myself when I saw it. Now I realize Navy could very well lose this game, but 35-0? C'mon guys, aren’t you aware that the lowest point total scored by Navy last year was 20 against one of the ACC's best defenses in Maryland?
It seems as though I've completely forgotten to post the latest Depth Chart. My apologies, and it can be found hyah, by the way. Notable changes? Well for starters, Zerb Singleton has moved into the starting Slot Back role opposite Reggie Campbell, no doubt in part due to his performance in Saturday's scrimmage. Hopefully this will motivate Trey Hines to work back from whatever injuries keep plaguing him. Also, a three way tie for backup Quarterback has developed between Troy Goss, Kaipo, and Jarrod Bryant (I've officially thrown myself completely on the Jarrod Bryant bandwagon btw.) After a very physical scrimmage, 5-7 corner Ketric Buffin has moved into the starting rover position, while uber-recruited linemen Nate Frazier and Andy lark remain behind Wright and Cylc at D-Tackle.
And for your viewing pleasure, the latest Paul Johnson comedic standup tour...er, press report is up. Apparently Joey Bullen hit a 57 yard field goal in practice. Sweet.
Monday, August 14, 2006
"From 109 in 2003 to being on the verge of the top 50 in three years, it's hard to argue with anyone who wants to put Paul Johnson among the nation's best head coaches. Navy won 26 games in the last three seasons after winning 27 in the previous seven, but only two of those wins came against teams that finished with a winning record. The APR Score certainly doesn't hurt things, but Navy can't get much higher with the low Attendance and Draft Scores always going to be a problem. The Bad Loss came at home against Delaware in 2003."
Id' like to point out the fact that NMCM is not a huge stadium in terms of capacity, but that doesn't accurately represent the following of this team. In addition, the Delaware loss of '03 isn't as bad as these I-AAphobes think. After all, the Blue Hens did win the National Championship that year.
While we're on the subject of CFN, I might as well fill ya'll in on how we're going to do this year. While the Navy game-by-game predictions havn't been released yet, several of our opponents predictions have. Here's what they came up with.
East Carolina: No prediction yet
Stanford: Beats Navy, goes 5-7 for the season.
Tulsa: No prediction
UConn: Beats Navy, goes 6-6 for the season.
Air Force: Loss to Navy, goes 4-8
Rutgers: Beats Navy, goes 6-6
Notre Dame: No prediction (although I'm sure I could take a guess)
Duke: No prediction
E. Mich: Loss to Navy, goes 3-9
Temple: No prediction
Army: No prediction
As soon as CFN decides it wants to release Navy's projected schedule, you can be sure I'll have it up here, red pen markings and all.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
The offense seemed to start off slowly against was can only be described as an "aggressive" opening by the defense. Caldwell, Tidwell, and Mahoney lead the charge, doing well to stuff the option early, which revolved around handoffs to the fullback. As expected, Hampton and the other quarterbacks needed a few passes to get on target. But when Hampton got going, he really looked good. He had several nice runs, including an early scamper in which he made a great pause move to deak out a diving defender. As the scrimmage progressed, he started hitting targets with good accuracy, culminating in a 23 yard touchdown strike to Jason Tomlinson. In six series of work, Hampton lead the first team offense on three scoring drives, two of which went for touchdowns. He finished the day with 11 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown, and went 6-9 for 76 yards and a touchdown. Hampton played so well they he actually received some praise from Coach Johnson, who is usually quite critical of his starting quarterback.
"I thought Brian Hampton played well today," the fifth year coach said. "I thought he made some good decisions."
Hampton did make some good decisions, and with Saturday's scrimmage it's clear that he's the best of the group. Yet that doesn't take away from what the other quarterbacks did on Saturday, as Troy Goss, Kaipo, and Jarrod Bryant all showed flashes of excellence with the second team. To be honest, I was a tad bit disappointed in seeing Kaipo play. We've all heard about his great athletic ability, but he seemed lost in his option reads early. There were several plays were it looked like he could of cut to the outside but instead chose to follow the fullback right up the gut into the pile for a minimal gain. He did manage to complete one pass, but his arm is clearly the weakest of the QB's. I was impressed by his Michael Vick like 17 yard TD scamper, but in the end I still rate Sophomore QB Jarrod Bryant's performance higher. Maybe it's because I came into this game already liking Bryant, but the Hoover High product at of Alabama really impressed me in the scrimmage. Although he only completed one pass, (a nice 23 yard snag by Curtis Sharp down along the sideline) Bryant put the ball on the money on almost all his others passes, but was the victim of numerous drops. The guy has great athleticism and pocket presence, and made an amazing move to spin out of a sack and cut up field for a 15 yard gain on one play. When asked about using either Kaipo or Bryant at other positions, Coach Johnson didn't rule out the possibility.
"If we do move one or two of them to another position, they can still come back and play quarterback," said Johnson. " It's not like you can't line up at wide receiver and then come in and play quarterback if you have to."
Offensively, both Zerb Singleton and Reggie Campbell had good days. Singleton seems to have taken over the starting SB job opposite Campbell, raking up 53 yards and a TD on 3 carries (including a great 35 yard TD scamper.) Both slotbacks run at 100% all the time, and it's difficult not to be impressed as 5'6 Reggie Campbell fights off tackles in the same manner as 6'1 Adam Ballard. Speaking of Ballard, the Junior Fullback played o.k. in the scrimmage, having a few nice carries up the middle, although it looked like the linebackers were locked onto him early.
I was really impressed by the speed of the defense, especially the linebacker corps. MLB Anthony Piccioni, at only 5'8, absolutely flew to the ball, earning 16 tackles (1 tfl). Kieth Lisante also had a good day at the backup ILB position.
Prized recruits Nate Frazier and Andy Lark rotated at the DT position for the second team, each doing a good job at penetration and disrupting the fullback-Quarterback exchange. Frazier finished the day with 8 tackles.
I think we can judge this as a pretty good scrimmage. Considering nobody was hurt (despite a close call with Campbell) and both the offense and defense, at all levels, did some good things, we as fans should take away cautious optimism from what we saw Saturday. While it's clear there is still a lot of work to be done (especially in regards to blocking), this was a good way to start the year and to get reps in for the players.
Friday, August 11, 2006
First and foremost, Navy at 25th is not just a "hometown" vote, ala Spurrier voting Duke at #25. The vote for Navy is indicative of the potential this team has to crack the Top 25 this year. As the most experienced team in the NCAA coming off an 8-4 record with a Bowl Win, why shouldn't they be featured in the preseason Top 25? Just for the record, as of 10:21 Friday, Navy has received two 25th place votes (mine and Maize n Brew's) and one 20th place vote (Bruce Ciskie's). Navy's evolving Week 1 vote distribution.
The top 5 teams could of all been ranked at #1, but I happen to like Notre Dame the most out of those choices so went ahead and plugged the Irish in first. But trust me, I won't be the only one. This vote is more a testament to the faith I have in Coach Weis at improving that defense then anything else. I could sit here all day and talk about ND, Texas, USC, tOSU, and Miami, but then again you've probably read the arguments for and against each team a dozen times already.
Louisville is a better overall team then West Virginia, and gets my vote to win the Big East.
Arizona State is a #15, and I gave no love to Oregon. This one came down to the talent level at QB for Arizona State and the hideous uniforms the Ducks wear. Plus I'm sick of all the west-coast whining that goes on about how everyone disrespects the Ducks.
Oklahoma slipped to 20th after the whole Bomar scandal.
Purdue is at 22nd, and earns my vote for "Surprise Team of the Year." Word out of West Lafayette is that QB Curtis Painter has really gotten a grasp on the offense, and they return one of the best Wide Receiving corps in the Big 10.
That's all for now, although I would very much appreciate any input you all have. This is still a rough draft, and I can always be persuaded to move some teams around. You can view the ballots of all Blog Poll members hyah.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Hi Frank, thanks for talking with me. I understand you actually served in the Navy?
First, greetings from UMass Football fans. All UMass fans wish to express their appreciation to the Navy Midshipmen for choosing a career in protecting our country. As an aside, I am a Navy Veteran. I spent a couple of years on a Forrest Sherman Class destroyer (Claude V. Ricketts DDG-5) back in the Vietnam era. Admiral Zumwalt’s son (the one who later died of Agent Orange exposure) was my Division Officer while on the Ricketts. The Navy is a small place.
Not too many Navy fans are familiar with Massachusetts football, so let's start with the basics. How does this team look for the 2006 campaign? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this ball club?
I believe 2006 will be a good one for UMass. We return 8 starers on Offense and 6 on defense. Our schedule is also favorable. Our strength is our defense. Our weakness is lack of depth at QB and DL.
Looking around several preseason publications, I've noticed that UMass is highly ranked amongst Div I-AA teams. After a 7-4 season in 2005, what are the expectations for UMass this year?
In an average of preseason polls, UMass is ranked #10. The UMass faithful hope to make the playoffs this year. As Navy fans know, making the I-AA playoffs is the most difficult task in college football. In I-A, 50+ teams are chosen to go to bowls out of 119 teams. Division II and III both take 24 teams into the playoffs.
In I-AA only 16 teams make the playoffs. Last year UMass was 7-4 with losses to the #1 team (by 6 points), the Patriot League champion (by 3 points), Army (by 7) and another 7-4 team and did not even get a hint of interest towards a playoff invite. Even a 8-3 record is not a guarantee. If you do go to the playoffs, and win the national championship, typically you will have defeated four teams with a combined record of about 33-6!
But the playoffs are great. In I-A, a team like Navy is shut out of the National Championship. But in I-AA, DII and DIII anything can happen. In our national championship year we were matched against the #1, #2 and #8 ranked teams. When we played on the field UMass won, not the higher ranked team. Don’t Navy fans wish they had that kind of chance?
Three UMass players from last year's team were picked up as NFL Free agents in the off-season. DB Shannon James went to the Ravens, WR R.J. Cobbs to the Vikings, and DL Keron Williams signed with Bucs. How does the loss of three extremely talented players reflect on this year's team, and does UMass have any NFL prospects coming into this year?
Shanon James was I-AA All-American and Keron Williams was All-A10 and our best defensive lineman. We’ll have to replace them by committee.
We probably have four NFL prospects in our seniors (free agents not draft picks). Perhaps the best is our punter Christian Koegel 6-0 185. He was #1 in I-AA in net punting and #3 in punting average. He is a lefty and the ball spins in the opposite direction that most punt returners are use to. He gives punt returners fits.
Our TB Steve Baylark 6-0 225 has 3,372 career yards and is vying to become only the third TB in I-AA history to have four 1,000 yard years in a row. He is a power runner that also can catch the ball out of the backfield. Brandon London, a 6-4 210 lb WR, has pro size and excellent hands. Our senior safety James Ihedigbo 6-1 202 is a heavy hitter and could get a free agent contract.
What has Head Coach Don Brown brought to this team in the past two seasons to keep them on a winning track?
UMass has had only one losing season in the last eight years. Coach Brown was the Defensive Coordinator of our 1998 National Championship team. He likes defense. His teams play hard and fast. He has proven an excellent recruiter and motivator.
It seems as though the Atlantic Ten has really become a powerhouse conference in the past couple seasons. Where does it stand in relation to other Div I-AA conferences? How do you think the Conference stacks up against the lesser I-A conferences?
In 2004 the Atlantic 10 was ranked first in I-AA conferences and the A10 power ranking was ahead of THREE I-A conferences. In 2005, we were ranked 4th in I-AA conferences. In the last seven years three A10 teams won the national championship (UMass 1998, Delaware 2003 and James Madison 2004.The A10 is easily the deepest I-AA conference. Since 2001, ten of the twelve league teams have advanced to the playoffs. No other I-AA league comes close to that record.
Also, an A10 team has beaten an I-A team six of the last eight seasons. In 2004, Maine beat Mississippi State and New Hampshire beat Rutgers. This year, I believe New Hampshire has a shot at beating Northwestern and Richmond should give Duke a hard time.
UMass is slated to play Boston College in 2007 and Texas Tech in 2008.
A good deal is made about the talent disparity between Div I-A and Div I-AA teams. In your experience, is this as prevalent as some contend, and do you believe (as we Navy fans do) that good coaching can beat superior talent a majority of the time?
Well, as all football fans know, I-AA allows only 63 scholarships spread over a maximum of 85 players. That’s one whole team right there. I-AA teams have far less depth than I-AA teams. Injuries tend to have more of an impact than at the I-A level. I-A teams have more athletes and more money than I-AA. Team speed is also an issue.
I-AA teams tend to be “half an I-A team” because limited scholarships mean I-AA teams tend to be good on one side of the ball and weaker on the other side. This effect was easily visible during the UMass-Army game. Our defense was fully competitive with Army. We held Army to no gain or a loss NINE times during the game and our defense scored two touchdowns. However, our offense, which by that time had lost four starters for the season, only scored 10 points.
Has there been any consideration on moving the program to the Div I-A level?
Yes, UMass has funded at least two studies about moving UMass to I-A. However, financial support of UMass athletics by the state of Massachusetts has proved shaky in the past. That and the lack of a obvious league to move into, led the last study to recommend UMass stay I-AA. That recommendation caused prior UMass coach Mark Whipple to accept a position as quarterback coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Reading around your blog, I've noticed several I-A transfers that will be playing for the Minute Men this season. How much will their presence be felt this season?
It looks like UMass will go into 2006 with 14 I-A transfers on our roster. Two will start; Patrick Powell a 6-4 265 DE from Maryland and Brad Anderson a 6-0 230 LB from Vanderbilt. Brown likes to play lots of packages. Typically 16 or 17 players on defense will see a lot of action. As many as five I-A transfers could see significant playing time in addition to the two listed above. Matt Lawrence a 6-1, 198 TB from UConn should see a lot of time in the backfield to spell Baylark.
Last season, UMassplayed a fairly close game with Army, although eventually falling 27-34. Does a close game against a Div I-A foe like the Black Knights give enough confidence to this team to be able to play a competitive game against a Div-I Bowl Team like Navy?
Since UMass has restarted playing I-A teams we have been competitive. However we rarely see any I-A team that is not ranked in the top twenty. We never get games with the Temples or New Mexico States of the world. Only strong I-A teams like Navy will play us.
I'm sure Navy fans will be happy to hear that. Let's talk about the UMass offense a little. Redshirt Sophomore Liam Coen looked impressive last year, especially in efficiency and completion percentage (believe it or not, I've actually watched some of these games online on the UMASS football website), and RB Steve Baylark has had three consecutive 100 yard seasons. Does this offense have the ability to put up points against Navy?
Our freshman QB was the #2 ranked freshman quarterback in I-AA last year with a 137.5 efficience rating. He completed 63.9 % of his passes and threw for 2,175 yards in 10 games.UMass’ receiving corps is very good. Our starting WR’s are Brandon London 6-4 210 pd (60 catches), Rasheed Rancher 6-5 187 (26 catches) and J.J. Moore 6-0 210 (27 catches in only four games before breaking his leg). UMass will not be shutout against Navy.
Sound slike this offense has some size. Let's switch gears. As I'm sure you know, Navy runs a very complex spread option offense which averages over 300 yards per game on the Division I level. What will the Minute Men do to try to stop this attack, and do you think can be successful in doing so?
Actually, few opponents Navy plays will be as familiar with the spread option as UMass. In 1998, UMass played Paul Johnson’s undefeated GSU team in the National Championship. We won 55-43. Coach Brown was the Defensive Coordinator for UMass during that game. UMass and GSU again met in the second round of the playoffs in 1999 and Coach Johnson won the re-match 38-21. Since then, UMass plays Rhode Island every year and the Rams run the Johnson spread offense. They were #3 in rushing offense in I-AA last year with a 318.5 yards/game average. UMass is 5-1 against the Rhode Island option (of course Navy has far superior athletes than does Rhode Island).
In the past, UMass has played four down linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs against the spread option. After that it’s assignment football and DRILL the option QB on every play even if he does not have the ball.
That said, I’ve watched Navy’s game against Colorado State in the Poinsettia Bowl several times. The Navy offense was SCAREY. Navy runs the spread option to perfection. While I think UMass has a better defense than Colorado State, defending the Navy offense will be a real challenge.
I'd be remised if I didn't ask you for a prediction for this one, so I'll go ahead and ask. Who wins and why?
Prediction: UMass has the edge in WR’s and punting. Linebackers are about even. Navy has an edge in team speed on both sides of the ball and is playing in their home stadium. Those 85 scholarships mean Navy has FAR more depth and athletes than does UMass.
With eight minutes to go in the third quarter Navy leads 24-21. Then the Midshipmen rip off three straight scoring drives to make it 45-21 Navy over the tiring Minutemen. The score could be one TD higher or lower depending when Johnson decides to call off the dogs...
I'd once again like to thank Frank for catching us up on the state of UMass football, and invite you to check back at the UMass Football Fanzone in a few days when he interviews me about this year's Navy team. For anyone really interested in seeing how this UMass team may look, I would recommend watching several of their games last season, made available for free by the Official Website.
Monday, August 07, 2006
1. Ohio State
4. Notre Dame
Aside from Oklahoma, this is pretty much what you would have expected. In my mind, any one of the first 4 teams could have been slated at #1, if only because their just doesn’t seem to be a team capable of dominating one of the others. I do however give a slight edge to Notre Dame and Ohio State because of the experience of at the QB position, but still think that questions linger on both defenses. As for Oklahoma, obviously the majority of polls cast must have come before the Bomar scandal and without a proven QB the Sooners fall into the 15-20 range in my mind. To be perfectly honest, I would have had the Sooners in the 8-12 range with Bomar.
7. West Virginia
10. Florida St.
I’m no going to earn many points with Tiger fans, but I think they are just a little bit overrated at #6. I think 9th or 10th would be a more appropriate spot (at least for now). I know all about Kenny Irons, but I’m still not sold on Cox as a passer or a very young receiving corps. West Virginia also looks a few spots overrated, and don’t act surprised if Louisville will be holding that spot at the end of the year. Florida is at a good spot, as is LSU. Maybe it’s just because of my own bias, but I think that Florida St. could implode in similar style as they did last season. Miami is clearly the better team for #10.
Miami is about were I’d expect to see them in a preseason poll. You could even make the case for the Hurricanes to be a bit higher if your one of those “OMG Kyle Wright dude!” kinda people. I’m not, so I’ll leave them at 10 or 11. Cal looks fine at number 12, but then again I didn’t watch a single Pac 10 vs. Pac 10 game last season so what do I know. Louisville and WVU should switch places, as the Cardinals should have easily won last year’s matchup, but by some freak Act of God did not. They will be stronger overall then WVU, and I’m going to go ahead and say I by this BS about how Brian Brohm is back. The Bulldogs have some questions to be answered, and I’d actually move them down a few spots. I think an Iowa or a Clemson fits better there. Michigan is going to implode, and I’d move them down to the “others” category and bring Arizona St. up. When you have that much talent at QB (Keller and Carpenter), you’re going places.
16. Virginia Tech
19. Penn State
I think Tech may struggle more then anticipated without Vick, so I’m not going to go out on a limb and put them any higher. Iowa and Clemson could and probably should both be 2-3 spots higher, while Penn State should be in the 20-25 range if ranked at all. Oregon is a team which I believe is perpetually overrated but just good enough to be the “Hey, look at us” guys of what some would lead you to believe is East-Coast biased media. In terms of actual talent, this is where they belong, if not lower. In terms of how many games they win, don’t be surprised to eventually see them in the Top 10.
25. Texas Tech
This is the part most people don’t care about, but the part I love to talk about. All very reasonable calls, although I would move TCU up to 19 and Nebraska to 25, drop Alabama to like 30th (Pending effectiveness of offense and new QB). I’d put 5-6 Purdue in place of Alabama (yes, Purdue, my surprise team of the year), and keep Fulmer’s Vols just where they are. Wait, no. Screw Fulmer, I’d move the Vols out of the Top 25, make them 31st, and move Utah into that place. I’m not buying this supposed Tennessee National Championship run until I see it on the field. Am I being hypocritical with Purude then? Of course, but I like the Boilermakers.
Because of what seems to be some grand conspiracy, Navy was not included in the “Others Receiving Votes” category, while lowly and pathetic Duke was, thanks in part to the sentimentality of a Mr. Steve Spurrier. I was in fact very surprised and perturbed to see that Navy did not receive at least 1 vote, which really shows how biased some of these coaches are. I’m not going to bore you by going through each one of these teams, but rather here’s a list of teams that will enter the Top 25 for at least part of the season this year.
As a recent addition to the MgoBlog's famous BlogPoll, I will be asked to submit my own Top 25 in the week to come. Later this week, I will post my rough draft, and encourage you all to post your own thoughts about where each team belongs. And I haven’t forgotten about that famed statistical analysis. Winning Percentages by state coming on Wednesday.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Am I the only one who thinks Coach Johnson is hilarious? Probably not, but quick once-over of the latest Presser from the first day of practice (Thursday, August3rd) reveals that things may be starting off on a bad foot. Case in point, Mr. Trey Hines, who apparently is suppose to start for us on September 2nd against ECU. Yet, as the Presser shows, once again it looks like the Senior slot back is having difficulty with injuries.
"What's up with Trey?"
"Good question. The guy stays hurt all the time. That's all I know. "
"Was it a surprise to you?"
"Yep. It sure was."
" What is it?"
"I don't know. He's just hurt."
While more of the exchange is captured in the report, I really can't tell if Coach Johnson A) So pissed off he doesn't care B) Generally has no idea what's going on with Trey or C) Is screwing around with this reporter. Since I've never met the guy and can only go off what other people say about him, I'm somewhat inclined to think of D) All of the above. Trey's situation is certainly weird though, as I saw him but yesterday, and asked how he felt. He told me he was nearly 100%, and looked forward to starting this season. While I know this Navy team is deep at slotback, suddenly the prospect of not having Karlos Whittaker or Trey Hines in the lineup makes us a lot thinner. I want to make it clear I'm not making random, baseless assumptions on Trey's status, as I can say I'm about as clueless as everyone is on this situation.
Dude looked fine yesterday
Coach Johnson did talk about some other stuff too. While apparently the 105 degree heat was a little too frigid for his taste, he did however tentatively compliment the conditioning of the team. He also made reference to how all the WR's "look like an All American in shorts," but the real tests comes when they start donning pads and blocking.
In separate news, former Navy slotback Karlos Whittaker will be playing for the Howard Bisons of Washington DC this year. This comes after seeing his name listed on the official Bisons roster for the 2006 campaign (He is number 25). It will be interesting to see how he does when Howard plays Rutgers on September 9th, and I would think that with his potential and D I-A experience he could really put a dent in some opponents rush defense. I wish him only the best for the 2006 season.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Now that we've got the serious stuff taken care of, I'd like to talk a little about the Navy Fan Fest/Media day that was held today. While not laced with the pomp and excessive coverage that say, these guys, or those guys get, the event was quite enjoyable. Aside from a really swell inflatable obstacle course, there really wasn't much to do except chat with the players, which frankly was fine by me. Most of the guys were really quite personable, and of course everyone was excited for the new season. One of the first players I saw was big 6-4, 250 pound Andrew Tattersall. After nearly spraining my neck looking at him, we struck up a conversation about the team and my own blogging pursuits. This would continue to be a pattern for most of the day, except in the case of a few players, notably Reggie Campbell, whose own height is relatively the same as mine. One thing I did notice was the muscle mass of the players. Granted, I've only on occasion stood besides one or two of these guys before, but from my seats at NMCM I can usually pick out minute details pretty well. I guess Caldwell wasn't lying when he said the off-season started in the weight room after the P-Bowl win. Byron McCoy, a third string slotback, was absolutely jacked, and I had to keep myself from gawking at Trey Hines arms. Anyway, I basically stuck to the same lines which each guy, which went something like this:
- Damnit it's hot out here (Someone said 110 on the field)
- Have you started watching ECU film yet?
- You know that was an awsome pass/catch/run/kick/tackle/sack you made in the (insert losing team here) game.
- You know, your really good on NCAA 07
Things I learned?
- Tyree Barnes is a tall guy. Or maybe I'm just short guy
- Adam Ballard really didn't lose that much weight
- Brian Hamtpon has braces
- Zerb Singlton was actually a walk-on at Georgia Tech before transfering to Navy.
- Don't race 10 year old's in the inflatable obstacle course with your cell phone in your pocket
Special thanks to all the guys out there today, especially Joey Bullen, Matt Hall, Tyler Tidwell, and Jason Tomlinson for taking some extra time to chat with us.
You can read some "Big Media" coverage of Media Day at the following places:
The official PJ Presser is out as well, which you can read hyah. More coverage as the day continues...