Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Is Navy Due to Pull an Upset?

This is a topic I've had in the back of my mind for awhile now, but haven't assembled in a coherent matter until today. I don't know if anyone has noticed, but I've been a little reluctant to post predictions of any kind for the upcoming year. There are a lot of reasons for this, but more than anything else it comes down to the fact that this year could go one of two ways. It could be a great success and and something of a surprise, or it could be an unfortunate but necessary reminder that we're not guaranteed a slam dunk season on a yearly basis. If it is however to be a great success, then I think we can all agree Navy is going to have to upset one of the four teams they figure to be underdogs against.

Fortunately, I think Navy is due to upset someone. As we have discussed before, Navy has yet to really pull a significant upset since Paul Johnson's second season in 2003, when Navy more or less upset every team they beat to finish 8-5. Since that time, Navy has defeated only two teams that finished the year with record better than .500, and beaten no ranked teams. However, because of the unique design of the offense, the will of the players, and the coaching genius which is Paul Johnson, I don't think ti's unreasonable to say that the Mids could catch someone sleeping this season. As I stated earlier, there are at least four games which Navy will more than likely be underdogs in, those being the games against Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Wake Forest, and Notre Dame. Depending on the strength of some the opponent once the season rolls around, Navy could also be 'dogs against the likes of Ball St. and Northern Illinois. And even though, at this point, the Mids will certainly be favorites against the Temples, Dukes, and North Texas' of the schedule, even those games are by no means "sure wins."

For arguments sake I've decided to take into account only the four teams which Navy is sure to be the underdog against, and have ranked them in order of the likelihood of an upset occurring. Keep in mind I'm not predicted any of these upsets will occur, but rather rating the likelihood of them occurring in relation to each other. As usual, comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Pittsburgh- This is the obvious first choice because despite being a "name" program with national prominence, the Pitt Panthers have stumbled into mediocrity the past two years and underachieved in the "New Big East" that they were, ironically enough, supposed to dominate. Coach Wannstedt is a solid recruiter who has been able to up the talent level of this team but despite the presence of several highly touted prospects this figures to be something of a rebuilding year for the Panthers. They lose their starting QB of three seasons in Tyler Palko as well as the majority of their linebacker corps, including First Team All-Big East performer H.B. Blades. There is still good experience and great talent at the skill positions, but one has to think that the breaking in of a new quarterback should set the offense back at least over the opening half of the season. Pitt meanwhile does not have the luxury of having game planned for the triple option in the past like fellow BE member Rutgers, and doesn't get as big of a home-field boost because the game will be played on a Wednesday night. The obvious losses at linebacker make the Panthers susceptible to an offense like the triple option, while the offense could still be going through some growing pains at QB by the time the two teams square off. This looks like the classic "upset" that pundits circle on their calender and is almost deterministically willed to be so. Just to be clear, that's not by any means a prediction of an upset on my part.

Wake Forest- I'm a big admirer of how Jim Grobe has built that program and an even bigger fan of the "gimmick" offense that Steed Lobotzke has implemented there. Most pundits have Wake down a few notches this year, and I won't completely disagree with that statement, but do warn that this team finds a way to win. Phil Steele readers and enthusiasts like myself may have noticed that Wake had the best fortune of any team in the country in close win game situations last season, and according to Mr. Steele's formula (pg 299) teams with six or more net close wins (touchdown or less) have been weaker or the same the next year 100% of the time over the last five seasons. I should point out that this is inclusive of only two teams, but over that same period teams with three or more net close wins have had over an 80% rate of having the same or weaker record the next season. Not to bludgeon people with formulas, but Mr. Steele's Turnover=Turnaround feature (which you can read about on pg 312) also sees Wake having less success this year than next year. Navy will have the benefit not having played Wake since a close loss in 2002, but Wake's defense should be more adept to playing assignment football against an option team because of their own offensive design. They get an extra day to prepare for Navy, but it does come after a home game against a Florida St. team which everyone swears should be much improved. The point of all of this is fairly simple; Wake Forest is a fabulous team and should go to a bowl game against next season but it isn't likely to run the table with 10+ wins again. Most reasonable people realize Wake got all the breaks last season (except against Clemson) and it isn't likely to happen again this year. The Deamon Deacons seldom blow anyone out which should give Navy a chance to be at least competative in this game. What worries me most however is that this team now expects to win, and gets back a loaded offense which should be much more explosive than last year's.

Notre Dame- It was tough putting the Irish here because it inevitably makes Rutgers look better than the Irish, and longtime readers will know that I'm not sold on the Scarlet Knights being that good and neither am I sold on the Irish being that bad. Still, this gives me a convenient excuse to break out the most prophetical post ever written by opposing bloggers, one which I still defend over a year after writing it. The Irish have never played lights out against the triple option and if not for some offensive miscues by Navy the past couple of seasons would not have blown the Midshipmen clearly out of the water (pardon the cheesy Naval pun) to the extent they did. The arrival of new DC Corwin Brown may do more bad than good against the Midshipmen, as he comes from an NFL background coaching defensive backs and thus doesn't have the experience coaching against the triple option and like offenses. Furthermore, ND will be switching to a variable 3-4 defense that could give Navy more options within the offensive game plan, notably establishing the fullback dive which has been absent in recent meetings. As everyone knows the Irish lose more or less their entire offense (at least the people you know by name anyways) including QB Brady Quinn, RB Darius Walker, WRs Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight, and three starting offense linemen. The losses at QB and WR are the most important, especially because the dreaded "jump ball scenario" figures to be much less in play than in over the past few seasons (Obligatory statement reaffirming Keenan Little was nowhere near as bad as the highlights against McKnight and Stovall made him look). 6'5 Jeff Samardzija and 6'2 Rhema McKnight are now being replaced by 5'8 George West and 5'10 David Grimes, while whoever ends up being quarterback will have had zero experience prior to this season. One thing the Irish do have going for them will be a renewed commitment to the running game and a very talented backfield which has the potential to more or less run over an undersized and inexperienced Navy front seven. This game will be played after what figures to be a physically and emotionally draining game against Southern California, but then again Notre Dame will get two weeks to prepare for the triple option. I believe that whatever the outcome of the game the Irish defense will struggle against Navy's offense and despite the size and inexperience of Navy's defense, Notre Dame should find it harder to score points en mass and at will like they have the past two seasons. That in and of itself should give Navy at least a chance in this game.

Rutgers- I hate putting the Scarlet Knights here because for the last two seasons I've truly believed they've been beatable, and think that a Navy team with nothing to lose and a little bit of trickery and a whole lot of luck can upset the Scarlet Knights. Nevertheless going into Piscataway against a team which schedules us between Buffalo and Norfolk St. (giving the team a good part of the late summer to prepare for the TO) is not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination, while game planning against a leading contender for the Heisman trophy may be even harder. Rutgers returns most of its offense including a dominate O-line and an improving QB in Mike Teel, although one has to wonder if the veteran presences of Brian Leonard and Clark Harris will have that big of an effect in the first couple games of '07. I fully expect coach Johnson to have the team fired up beyond belief for this game, and for him to pull out all the stops against a team that has suddenly become a darkhorse for the national title. I don't expect Navy to win this game but for it to be as competitive if not more than the first half of last year's game and for the Mids to at least have a chance at halftime.

Think I'm off the mark? Let me know!


JazzyUte said...

I hope you beat Rutgers, mostly because I'm tired about how good they are. Plus, I would love to see you beat Pitt, as their fans during the Fiesta Bowl a few years back soured me on their program. They felt entitled to a victory, only because we were from the MWC.

We all know how that turned out.

Adam said...

That's the problem with a team from NY/NJ. The media has to constantly make them seem like the best thing ever. Forget about Rice, Wake Forest, San Jose St., etc because apparently Rutgers was the best story in college football two years in a row.

I think Pitt fans have cooled off with regards to where they see their program. I make it over to their message boards every couple of weeks and they seem pretty down on the team.

Gary said...

While every Navy fans hopes and prays for a win over ND every year-I would take a win over any of these teams as the "signature" win for this program.
Its these "name" teams we have to start beating!
I think having Wake at home is a huge factor (though fans @ NMC are basically acting like they are at an opera-other than the Brigade).
In fact I have that penciled in my Athlon as a win.
Now ND-Rutgers-Pitt?
I can see beating Pitt but that game moved to Wednesday may affect the Mids more than Pitt.
Remember we have to study among other things.
To me Rutgers scares me more than ND this year-its game 2 in their place and a Friday noght will have that place insane.
If we dont hold steady early-it could get ugly.
They will be more up for us than their week 1 vs Buffalo-both team and fans!
The ND game is the same every year-hopes and then we fizzle.
They always seem to get a break before they play us in some way-last years miracle vs UCLA propelled them way past us where if they had lost?????
This year USC at home and if they get another victory like the one vs UCLA we could be in trouble.
While they are not that good this year and we can play "O" against them-its our undersized D that scares me and this tear I can see Claussen and that huge TE Carlson destroying us.
Its on the 4 leaf clover field @ ND- No chance.
When we end this thing it wil be in Baltimore-then we will have to wait another 45 years.
Its that Cubs thing- what do we do after we finally win it?
While beating ND is the ultimate-beating Rutgers would make the hugest impact and garner us some Top 25 ranking.

Anonymous said...

I have great respect and admiration for Navy, but Rutgers will not be your upset..ND looks like a possibility and Pitt is a good shot!!

Anonymous said...

Adam -
One problem...Why would Pitt be an upset? If you check Massey's compilation of 100+ rankings, Navy was #47 and Pitt #52

Adam said...

Good to see all the Rutgers fans here. I'm certainly looking forward to our Friday night game on ESPN.

Just remember though that last year's game was very close in the first half despite the loss of our QB Brian Hampton and the demoralization of the offense. It wasn't until two blocked punts in our own end that the game was blown open. You can bet Coach Johnson will have our guys ready, and I would expect him to break out some pages of the playbook that Schiano has yet to see.

I still think a Navy win over Pitt would be an upset, if for no other reason than that Pitt should be playing .500 ball (at least) in a power conference.

We will see come September, which I know we can all agree can’t come soon enough!

Adam said...

RE: The conversation going on at the Rutgers message board. Yes, I was at the game, and yes, this was a close game in the first half (emphasis on the HALF). I concede Navy would have most likely lost the game even with Brian Hampton in the game, but c'mon, don't be so arrogant to assume that there is no effect when your senior quarterback goes out early in the game.

Not only was the entire life sucked out of the stadium, but the players all said afterward that they're heads weren’t in the game after Hampton went down. It may be only be a "system" offense to the outside perspective, but there is a huge drop-off when you go from a seasoned, physically mature senior quarterback who starts the year 5-1 to a wide-eyed, sophomore backup who has only seen meaningful experience in one game. Have you ever talked to members of the Navy team since the loss? Do you know what was going through their heads after BH went down? It was really just a matter of time until the game was blown open, and that the Navy defense held firm much of the first half is a testament to the veteran leadership of that unit.

Yes, you destroyed Navy on the scoreboard, but college football is a game of momentum and emotion as much as it is pursuit of the ball carrier and execution. I think it’s clear in this case to anyone at the game paying a reasonable amount of attention to the action that both suffered as a result of Hampton going down.

Like I said earlier, Rutgers would of still won this game had Hampton not gotten hurt, but to say this game wasn’t close in the first half even with his injury is ridiculous. It wasn’t as if Brian Hampton was hurt late in the second quarter either, he went down on Navy’s 13th play from scrimmage after two first downs (although the fumble looked bad.)

Anonymous said...

I just rewatched the RU v Navy game last night and I can say it was close in the first half. While Navy wasn't moving the ball a great deal with Hampton in there, when he was gone the offense did virtually nothing. But even so, RU needed a TD in the last 2 min of the half just to make it 10-0 at the half.

Gary said...

The biggest letdown was on the poor Navy defense that was on the field for so long(it was warm) and was always having to defend good field position against that HUGE Rutgers line.
They played their hearts out knowing the offense was dead and did all they could.
They handled Rice easily and if not for Schiano trying to run up his yards with about 12 fourth quarter carries- he would not have even been close to the 99.
He had about 45 going into the garbage time 4th quarter.
Despite the score we all felt ok going into the half thinking that PJ would break the team out of its funk.
Unfortunately he left Kaipo in there way too long (looking like a scared deer and making like a turtle at the slightest pressure)and it would have been a perfect time to see what Bryant could have done- at least when he ran-he ran tough (basically at end of the game).
So I think we were tough the first half too but those 2 blocked punts and always being pinned in our own end leading to overuse of a small defense-just wore down any heart the D had left.
This year is interesting and I see a close game or blow out with the blow out in Rutgers favor.
Both teams should romp in their openers with Rutgers having the easier game(45-7).
They will be able to rest their regulars in the 2nd half.
Navy could be in for a struggle but should eventually pull away and win by at least 2 TD`s.
If for some reason we beat Rutgers that is the game that would have give us instant credability.
To say Notre Dame is possible is something we have said many times for the last 10 years only to have heartbreak.
But yes that is the one ULTIMITE victory we really want to have.
But by then our rankings will have already been determined based on the Rutgers-Pitt-Wake games.
While most mags put us from 50-60 I would like to think we are a Top 30-35 team.
Regardless I am very psyched for that Rutgers game.

Gary said...

By the way- sorry I had to double comment.
But I agree with Adam even a downtrodden Pitt team presents the Mids with a big challenge and we should be about a 10 point underdog as of now.
It would still be an upset ( as you can see our list of wins under PJ does not represent too many of the "name" recognized programs.
This would be a good one to have under his cap.