Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More News and Notes

First and foremost, the official press release of Coach Johnson's comments at yesterday's media day is up. I'll discuss this later today/tomorrow once I get some "real life" stuff taken care of.

Moving on...As you can see from the right side bar of the blog, the "How Many Games will Navy win this year?" poll is closed. Half of respondents felt the Mids would win 9 or 10 games this coming season (including a Bowl) indicating a very optimistic outlook that I more or less share. Only one voter felt Navy would win 6 games this coming year, and none felt the Mids would win less than six . Interestingly enough, seven individuals felt Navy would win more than 10 games in 2007, which to be honest seems a bit lofty at this point. Still, the general consensus by the fans, players, and the administration echoes this year's marketing slogan "expect to win," which is certainly a far cry from just five short years ago. The next two polls will feature questions on surprise performers for the 2007 season.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, Phelix gives us his five myths of Paul Johnson's offense, taking aim at the cliches and "yes, but" phrases the so called "experts" often use when describing the triple option. I especially like the point he makes about recruiting and "balance."

Our friend Pat over at The Blue Gray Sky gives us his annual position preview for Notre Dame's 2007 opponents, starting with the quarterback position. His analysis of Kaipo-Noa and Jarod Bryant is right on, although he does rate the Navy quarterbacks behind Shaun Carney and the Air Force unit.

Also, I'd like to briefly comment on the passing of Bill Walsh. It seems like just yesterday he was doing color commentary for the Navy-Stanford game, and although I knew he was sick, I was not aware that things had deteriorated so quickly. It's been said before, but it's worth saying again. He was a class act guy who basically revolutionized the game, and his legacy will be continued by disciples of his coaching philosophy far into the future. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

That's all for now.

Media Day Linkage

Defense Will Be A Question Mark For Navy (Washington Times)

Navy, Not Resting On Laurels, Looks To Continue Its March (Baltimore Sun)

As Training Camp Begins, Navy Hopes It All Works Out (Washington Post))

Notable Paul Johnson Quotes:

“A lot of those guys over there haven't played yet, but having been here and going into our sixth season, we've got guys who can run better that are a little bigger, a little faster. We've got personnel on defense — they just don't have a lot of experience.”
-Paul Johnson

“I told the team last night we've got potential — the big 'P' word. We've got some of that. Now can they translate that into being a good football team? We'll see.”
-Paul Johnson

"We had the best summer we've had since I've been here."
-Paul Johnson

Monday, July 30, 2007

Navy Fan Fest 2007

Football Season is in the air, and not just of the CFL rerun variety either. Yesterday marked the annual Navy Football Fan Fest/Media Day, the traditional marker of the beginning of fall camp and the ultimate prelude to the start of the season. I'll have further links and analysis on the transcripts, interviews, and newspaper articles which will begin to crop up within the next day, but for now I've got some random thoughts on the event.

As usual it was great to get out and talk to all the players. With everything going on in sports right now and all the negative publicity in the NFL and major college football, it's such a breath of fresh air to interact with the kind of student athletes you find at the Naval Academy. As you probably guessed from the above photo, it was especially good to get a chance to talk with Jarod Bryant, who remains as upbeat as ever on Navy's chances next season. I also really enjoyed talking with Joey Bullen, who said he's looking forward to competing with Matt Harmon for the starting place kicking job this fall. I made sure to get a few words in with Adam Ballard, Eric Kettani, Troy Goss, and Zerb Singleton, who all said they were ready to get going for the season and even inquired about the blog. Greg Thrasher, who sat out the 2006 season, also said he's back and ready to go for fall camp. Jeff Deliz was very humble about being named team captain, and more or less made my day when he said he enjoyed reading the blog. The slotbacks all seemed to be in good spirits, including Greg Shinego, who is my choice as a surprise performer in 2007. And then there was O.J. Washington, who may have been a little annoyed at my prodding him about last month's wide receiver preview, but was very excited about his 91 speed rating in NCAA '08. I also ran into David Ausiello from GoMids.com, who writes a great column called "Off The Yard" over there.

Oh yea, and then there was this amazing piece of Naval hardware:

Let me just say that was one helluva moon bounce.

I attempted a video broadcast from the event, although it made absolutely no sense so I decided to give up on it thirty seconds into taping. I guess I should stick to writing.

All in all, a good way to open up fall camp and kickoff the final countdown to the 2007 season. As usual, Navy's players conducted themselves with a degree of class and enthusiasm that is unmatched anywhere else in college football.

UPDATE: Phil Steele was Never Actually Blowing me Off

Wow, you're not gonna believe this. A few days after posting that Phil Steele was blowing me off on a Navy-centric question, I've come to learn that it was a freak email error which caused the question to never actually reach Mr. Steele.

Crazy, I know. Shortly after returning to my home following the Navy football fan fest, I received an email from Debbie Corrigan, a member of Phil's staff. She explained that she had been on vacation during the time my email was sent, and that for some technical error that I'm not even gonna try to understand, it was never delivered.

I immediately emailed Debbie to let her know that the post on Friday was more of a good-hearted joke on a slow day than anything else, and that I remain a devoted customer of Phil Steele magazine. She said to expect a answer to my question this Thursday at PhilSteele.com. If this isn't proof enough that Phil and his staff take care of their readers and fans, I don't know what is.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

35 Days and Other Stuff

I'll be traveling this Friday through Sunday so no posting until Monday night at the earliest.

Also, I'll be in Annapolis at the Stadium with my good friend Patrick on Monday for Fan Fest/Media Day. I'm the extremely short college-age looking fellow with a fresh high and tight haircut if anyone wants to say hello. I'll of course have a full report of the festivities Monday/Tuesday.
Hope everyone has a good weekend.

Phil Steele Continues to Blow Me Off

I know what you're thinking. Phil Steele? Again?

Well, yes, sorta. But not in the overtly man-crushing style I have been known for in the past. Yes, it may be true that I carry a picture of the man on the side of this weblog proudly proclaiming it to be "Phil Steele Approved" (completely made up by the way,) and it's no coincidence that for several months a google search of "Phil Steele" would often lead visitors to the single most viewed post on this blog. In short, I’ve lauded his work, I’ve proclaimed the infallibility of his predictions, and I’ve given him a new a growing fan base which to sell his abbreviations of VHT and YPP with. And this is how he repays me?

Where does this new found angst come from you ask? Well, it all started June 30th, as the email below shows. Being a daily visitor to PhilSteele.com and a frequent reader of his Question and Answer segment, I decided to write the man, the myth, and the legend an email regarding the Navy Midshipmen. Mind you, this wasn't a "how many gamz will navy win next season" kind of question, but an intuitive and well articulated double pronged question that encompassed all three service academy football teams. To be completely objective in my own analysis, it was the perfect question.

PhilSteele.com does clarify that Mr. Steele won't post all the questions and answers on the website, and being as busy as he his (the dude takes like two vacation days a year) I, at the time, didn't expect much. However, I received an email later that day saying the following:

So that was that. Phil will respond within 48 hours. Not "Phil might respond within 48 hours" or "Phil said he hates your question so forget about it," but a simple and direct "Phil will respond within 48 hours." As you may expect, I was more than a little excited at the prospect of receiving that email, to the point where I was counting down the hours two days later.

The email has yet to come.

Today is July 26th. ETA on the Phil Steele email was July 2nd. Considering it was the week of a holiday, I shrugged it off and and gave him another week. Nothing. I checked the website, including the newly updated questions and answers from other college football fans around the web. Nothing. I waited another week and checked it again. Nothing. Heck, I even checked the my regular mail to see if maybe he sent it via the Post Office. Nothing. And now, 24 days after the answer to the greatest college football question on the planet was due to arrive, the latest question and answer segment reveals a familiar tune. Nothing.

The ball is in your court Mr. Steele, the ball is in your court!

Countdown to Kickoff: 36 Days

Also, Happy Eric Kettani Day. If only I could find a picture of him on the internet...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Five Things I Think I Know About the 2007 Season

Five predictions I'm willing to make about the 2007 season...

Navy Will Beat a Bowl-Bound Team: This may not be as big of a deal as it sounds. After all, the Midshipmen bested the East Carolina Pirates (7-6, PapaJohns.com Bowl last year) in a 28-23 game to begin the year last year. One of the most frequent criticisms by "big media" sources (not to mention fans of the Air Force Academy) of Navy's recent run of success has been that Coach Johnson and his squad haven't beaten quality teams. We can argue this point until the cows come home, but the 2007 season will provide several challenges by teams which have shown the ability to go to Bowl games in the recent past, as well as teams which figure to be competitive in 2007. Rutgers, Ball State, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, and Northern Illinois all have good chances to go bowling by season's end if you ask me, and if Navy is to be successfully this year they're going to have to take at least one of these games. Keep in mind the Midshipmen have not played Ball State, NIU, or Pitt under Coach Johnson, giving the natural order of the triple option a HUGE advantage over the opponent's defense. The game against Pittsburgh screams upset!

Navy will *at least* scare Notre Dame: After 43 years I'm neither dumb enough nor bold enough to go out on a limb and say this is the year, although who could forget that before the 2006 season began Brian Stouffer and I came to the conclusion that this year, the 2007 season, presents the best opportunity for Navy to upset the Irish in the foreseeable future. All that being said I think Navy will at least give the Irish a run for their money this season, especially when you consider that all the pundits and "experts" have already penciled in the final four games of Notre Dame's season as wins. I've discussed the reasons why I think Navy has a decent shot at the Irish many times on this blog, but just to recap them I'll go through them once again. For starters Navy returns the bulk of their offense while Notre Dame must learn a new defense under a DC who was brought in for his ability to work with 3-4 defenses meant to stop Pro-style offenses. The Irish have had some trouble against the triple option in the past and with six new starters and a new system could struggle to contain Navy's offense. Also, Notre Dame returns only four offensive starters and must break in a completely new quarterback behind a fairly inexperienced offensive line. Despite getting two weeks to prepare for the game and getting the game in South Bend the above factors lead me to think Navy should keep this game closer than the last three games played between these schools.

Delaware, Duke, or Air Force will *at least* scare Navy: Once again, I'm not predicting any upsets here (at least not this early) but I think all three of these teams could more than give the Midshipmen a run for their money. Delaware has had success against the Mids in the past and is loaded with former FBS transfers, while Duke has nowhere to go but up and is entering a point where their highly touted recruiting classes of a few years ago are starting to come into their own. And even though Air Force should struggle next season the rivalry with Navy remains as intense as ever, and this is far and away the most important statement game for Calhoun's young program. If the Midshipmen show up full of energy and execute in all of these games, there is no reason why they can't win by a comfortable margin. Unfortunately in the course of an entire college football season things happen, and I'm predicting at least one of these games will be too close for comfort, if not an incredibly disappointing loss. All that being said, I'd like to be proven wrong on this account.

The Return Streak will End: Two words. Reggie Campbell. Campbell came close to breaking several kickoff and punt returns all the way in 2006 including a kickoff return against Stanford that he just took a bad angle on and ran himself out of bounds at midfield. He has the vision to find the gap in the coverage and has the speed to take advantage of openings. Shun White and his 4.46 speed may also get a crack at returning kicks this year, and he too as the ability to take it to the house. Last year's near misses and the general fact that this team is more or less "due" to end the return drought leads me to think this year will be the year Navy returns a kickoff or a punt for a touchdown.

Clint Sovie or Jeff Deliz will lead the Team in Tackles: Consider for a moment that over the last five seasons only two players have led the Midshipmen in tackles. FS Josh Smith led the Midshipmen in tackles from 2002-2004 with over 100 stops in each of these seasons, while ILB Rob Caldwell led the Mids with over 100 tackles in both 2005 and 2006. Coach Green's defense puts a lot of pressure on both the ILB and FS positions, and considering that both Sovie and Deliz are expected to be leaders on next year's defense I don't see why one of them wouldn't lead the team in total tackles. Both are good athletes who have great football smarts and, most importantly, tackle extremely well.
Five More Things I Think I Know to to come next week.

40 Times

Here are some 40-yard dash times listed from the latest Media Guide. There's a lot I could say about these, but most of it could be construed as over analyzing. The first four are likely the fastest times recorded on the team during spring ball (see this presser.) From what I can tell, these are actually legit, unlike most recorded 40 times which are exaggerated by a tenth of a second or more. Interesting to see the Carrollton guys (Thrasher and Reagan) not on here...

SB Reggie Campbell: "Sub 4.44"

SB Shun White: 4.46

FB Eric Kettani: 4.53

CB Ram Vela: 4.54

OLB Jordan Eddington: 4.69

If you want to discuss these, drop a line below. Otherwise adjust the speed rating on NCAA 08 accordingly.

Countdown to Kickoff: 37 Days

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Random Tuesday Points

David Ausiello of GoMids.com has an excellent story on what several Navy football players have been doing this offseason, and as you can expect, it isn't the usual lifting weights and hanging around that your average State U football player does this time of year. For instance, senior linebacker Jon Alvarado has been down at Camp Lejuene working with a Marine Crops Artillery Battalion, calling in air strikes and naval gun support in simulated combat exercises. This is definitely a good read, regardless of whether you're a Navy football fan or not. Be sure to check it out.

The following picture has been on NavySports.com all day, and I thought it was just too goofy looking not to comment on:

The face of Coach Johnson in this picture can only be described as a "dastardly snicker." I mean, that's the kind of face a six year old kid makes when he's just taken a cookie out of the cookie jar without mommy's permission. The fact that it's coming against Fisher DeBerry at last year's game only contributes to the awesomeness which is Paul Johnson.

Phelix over at The Bird Dog has a good run-down of the Mountain West conference media day in respect to the Air Force Academy. As you can expect, it's more mystery and intrigue surrounding an offensive gameplan that may or may not work, an offense Phelix calls "great plan for the Xbox." Speaking of the old 'BOX, anyone with NCAA 08 check out the Air Force playbook yet? If you have, drop me a line and let us know how it looks.

Eric from SatrdaySoundOffs continued to haul through his previews of all 120 Division I-A teams, giving previews of two Navy opponents this week in Northern Illinois and North Texas.

More tomorrow. That is all.

Countdown to Kickoff: 38 Days

Monday, July 23, 2007

Do "Inexperienced" and "Young" Mean the Same thing?

One of the most common points Navy football fans have heard this offseason is how "young" and "inexperienced" the defense will be entering the 2007 season. With only two starters returning, one figures there will be a considerable drop-off from the 2006 defense, and some have even predicted this year's defense could keep Navy out of a Bowl game. While I certainly would feel more comfortable as both a fan and a blogger knowing that David Mahoney, Rob Caldwell, Keenan Little, and company were back for one more year of havoc, I'm not losing any sleep over this year's defense. Call me blindly optimistic, but these things have a way of working themselves out, at least they do under the direction of Buddy Green.

I suppose this is a fairly subjective point, but I really don't see this year's defense as that "young." After all, there are only two sophomores in starting roles on the current depth chart, while the rest of the defensive starters figure to be upperclassman, including five senior starters. And don't forget that one of those sophomore starters, Nate Frazier, spent two years in prep school and is more or less a man-child, so even he isn't exactly "young." To me a "young" player is an 18 or 19 year old kid who in some cases has yet to physically mature while at the same time hasn't had the time or practice reps to be a consistent and reliable player at the FCS level. Of course there are always exceptions to this rule, but in general a junior or senior knows his job on the field much better than a freshmen. That's exactly why I'm not overtly worried about the new players Navy is breaking in on key spots on the defensive side of the ball. Let's use an example, one that I'm sure is very near and dear to all of our hearts. Navy's 2006 linebacker corps was one of the best in recent memory and maybe even in the entire modern era. This season, Navy must replace three of last year's starters, including four year starter David Mahoney, who if not for his service commitment, may very well be playing special teams in the NFL this coming year. With these losses, it's no surprise pundits have gone from saying this is clearly a strong point to clearly a week point on the team. I'm not going to argue this unit will be better in 2007, but I think fans are going to be surprised by the performance of the unit. Remember, it was not but a few years ago, after the graduation of the class of 2004, that Navy returned only three defensive starters on defense, including only one linebacker (David Mahoney.) The unit clearly figured to be down that year, but Rob Caldwell, Jacob Biles, and Tyler Tidwell all stepped up as first year starters to make the unit the strength of the defense. This year, I believe we have a similar situation. MLB Clint Sofie returns as the lone starter, and a good one at that. It's tough to accurately judge Sovie's 2006 season because A) He suffered some lagging injuries B) He played alongside a great group and C) By his own admission he was just "running around." He's as good as an athlete as Mahoney was, and he has that unexplainable nose for the football which, in my opinion, makes a great linebacker. Joining him in the middle, as we all know, will be Irv Spencer. Spencer was one of the most highly touted players out of high school to commit to Navy under Johnson, but was "stuck" behind a great player in Rob Caldwell for two years on the depth chart. Spencer has all the physical tools to thrive in this 3-4 system, and while he may not have the experience or leadership of Caldwell, it's not like he's just some freshmen stepping in. The same goes for the outside backers, who at this point figure to be seniors Matt Humiston and Matt Wimsatt. Wimsatt saw some time in 2006 while Tidwell was nursing a shoulder injury, while Humiston has looked impressive in spring ball. The point I'm trying to make is that, in respect to the linebacker corps, this is a well coached unit from the recruiting process (identification of talent) to the practice field. This year's group, in my opinion, could easily be the strength of the defense, despite not having ideal "experience."
The same could be said for the defensive secondary, which returns only one "true" starter in Rashawn King, who just happens to be the closest thing to a shutdown cover corner Navy will probably ever have. Yet, aside from the much hyped sophomore Blake Carter, Navy's secondary is a seasoned group with a similar amount of talent as last year's group. Jeff Deliz proved to be a solid tackler last year, and like Irv Spencer, has spent the last two year's behind a great player on the depth chart. Ketric Buffin, while only a junior, actually started a few games in 2005 and was set to be the starting rover last year before injuries sidelines him for much of the year. And how could we forget Greg Thrasher, who started several games at cornerback in 2005 before sitting out 2006 to concentrate on academics. Again, this unit looks "inexperienced" on paper, but aside from Carter, is far from "young."

Another point that's worthy of mention in this conversation is the general increase in talent the team has experienced the last few years. A perusal of the depth chart confirms that, as more and more sophomores are appearing on the three deep and in position to compete for starting jobs. Four or five years ago Navy almost needed starters to be seniors because guys needed time to develop. Now, as the balance of service academy recruiting has shifted into Navy's favor, we're starting to see guys come in a compete at an earlier time. While there is a valid concern over playing too many sophomores (remember Sovie's admission of not understanding the defense) one can't look past the availability of just pure talent.

In a ironic and slightly humorous way, I think Phil Steel said it best in his 207 preview when he wrote something along the lines of "the defense is clearly less experienced but could surprise." (It is ironic and slightly humorous because Phil writes that about every team he's not sure of.) I really think you have to put this defense in perspective, and take a look at the similar transition from the 2004 defense to the 2005 defense. Remember, Navy's defense is never going to be "lights out," and when all is said and done, the offense is still going to be the essential element to winning games. If Navy's 2005 offense (which returned two starters) could make up for the similar inexperience of the defense, I really don't see why this year's offense can't do the same. So to answer the initial question, no, "inexperienced" and "young" are not interchangeable, and Navy's 2007 defense is far from the latter.
(Picture from NavySports.com)

Countdown to Kickoff: 39 Days

Today's Countdown features Air Force quarterback Shaun Carney, who despite putting up numbers that would seem to indicate Service Academy immortality, has never won against the Midshipmen despite being a three year starter. He'll have one last crack at it during the last weekend of September, but as it stands right now, his time is running out.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Random Pickings: Poll Edition

It seems about time to wrap up the "Signature Win" poll that's been running for the better part of the summer, and to move on to a weekly poll format that blogger has just installed on the template. This week's poll question is "How Many Games will Navy win in 2007," and yes, just to clarify, that includes any bowl win the Midshipmen may or may not accumulate. You can find the poll to your right on the sidebar.

As for the the previous poll on the "signature" win, 24% of respondents said that Paul Johnson has yet to win a "signature game" during his time at the Naval Academy. 19% of respondents said that Navy's win over 25th ranked Air Force in 2003 would qualify as Johnson's signature win at the Academy.

I'll have more content up during the week, including a continuation of the positional previews we've been running through.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Saturday Sound Off Previews Navy

Eric over at Saturday Sound Offs has been doing an excellent job over the last few weeks covering everything and anything in the college football universe. Today he previews Navy in his daily Two-A-Days segment. He picks the Midshipmen to go either 8-4 or 9-3 and play in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ultimate Navy Preview 2007: Wide Recievers

Past Position Previews: [Quarterback] [Fullback][Slotback]

On to the Three Deep!

O.J. Washington: One of the few players on the roster who seems to receive at least semi-consistent praise from Coach Johnson, Washington has been touted as one of the best blockers on this Navy team, and rightfully so. Not only does he seem to "stick" blockers, he's seemingly always in the right place at the right time. It's that ability to redirect defenders and spring ball carriers which makes him one of the most underrated players on the entire team. While he's know for his ability as a blocker, Washington is also a solid possession receiver who has good hands and uses his body well. Not to get overly cliche on you, but he views the field well and understands how to sit down on sideline routes. He'll be challenged this year by more aggressive corners, but he's clearly the number one guy here and can only improve on what was already a good 2006.

Tyree Barnes: A big target at 6'2, 188, Barnes has also shown big-play capability during his first two years at the Academy. While he's only caught twelve receptions in his career, four have gone for touchdowns, including a leaping 29-yard grab against eastern Michigan. He's a gifted athlete for his size and has tremendous hands, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Navy utilize both those qualities in red zone situations. Tyree is also a very underrated stalk blocker, and has the size and technique necessary to frustrate opposing defensive backs in the run game. The key for Tyree is going to be staying healthy however, as he missed the opening portions of 2006 after failing to come back from surgery he had in the offseason. He had more surgery this past January, and sat out of the spring game in order to recover. He reminds me a lot of the recently graduated senior Jason Tomlinson and if he can stay healthy could put up similar numbers next season.

Greg Sudderth: I've talked about Greg a lot on this blog, and not just addressing the obvious fact that he can't tackle. Now that he's at wide receiver he'll hopefully save himself from some embarrassment, and flourish as a ball handler. He certainly has the athletic ability to do so, and is arguably the most highly recruited player coming out of high school on Navy's roster, passing up a host of ACC offers to play for the Midshipmen,. At 6'2, 207 he's got prototypical wide receiver size, and has enough speed to get behind defenders who get caught "peaking" in the backfield. He looked impressive in the spring game and had a good spring camp, and if he can show he's a consistent enough blocker then I think Coach Johnson will rely more on him during the season. Look for Greg to find his way onto the field in 2007, and possibly become one of Navy's surprise performers.

Curtis Sharp: A lot of people were excited about Sharp going into 2006, but the hype fizzled by year's end as he failed to catch an entire pass all season. He has tight end like size at 6-4, 239, and good athletic ability and decent hands. He's an intriguing prospect who has seen time in goal line and short yardage situations, but I don't see him making much of an impact this year due to the reliability of the players in front of him. Still, he'll have a chance to impress in fall camp, and could surprise in 2007.

Nick Henderson: Good looking sophomore who has ideal height (6'4). Showed some ability in the spring, and could be in line to start in 2008.

Troy Goss: Goss is still listed as a QB, but I'm projected him to move back to WR in fall camp and settle into the three deep. Was a capable blocker in mop-up duty last season.

Overall: There is a common perception on the national level that this unit is not very good. To that I'd say if you lined everyone here up in four and five wide sets then that would be the case, but that's not what Paul Johnson does. This unit is, generally speaking, very good at doing what needs to be done for the offense to execute effectively. As someone who has attended the Academy's football camp as a player (albeit a very bad and undersized one in a brief high school career) I can say with confidence that Coach Bohannon does an excellent job getting guys to buy into their roles in the offense. This year the unit returns a starter in Washington and a guy who has seen significant playing time in Barnes, as well as Sudderth who has stud like athletic ability in the open field. This is a much more athletic group than Navy has seen in the recent past, and despite the loss of a great player like Jason Tomlinson, I think this group is up a half notch or so in 2007.
Grade: 7

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Blue Ribbon Previews Navy Football

ESPN annually runs a series of preseason previews courtesy of the Blue Ribbon Yearbook. While most of these previews must be accessed with an ESPN Insider Account (which you can actually get free if you get ESPN the Magazine, like I do) their are free previews available to the general public at the site. Fortunately for fans of independent teams, all three independents are being offered as free previews.

The Navy preview is available hyah, while you can also access the Notre Dame and Army previews at ESPN's college football page. This is a definite must see for fans, as the people at Blue Ribbon always produce one of, if not the best, preseason previews out there. (But Adam, wait, I thought you were an unabashed Phil Steele fanatic? Well I am, but Blue Ribbon gives you more of a "look and feel" of the team, as opposed to Phil's reliance on numbers and just a general bombardment of information. I like to think of the two previews as compliments.)

There are a couple interesting points of note from the preview, and fans of Coach Johnson (which means all of us) will enjoy the coy reference to his interesting sense of humor at the beginning. There is also an interesting mention of sophomore Nate Frazier being a potential NFL prospect down the road, a point which seems a little premature seeing that Frazier has yet to register in any statistical category except "plays." There is also a nice quote by Clint Sovie in the linebacker section talking about how Sovie is transitioning from being the "new guy" in the unit to the experienced and insightful veteran. Very good stuff.

Blue Ribbon doesn't really go out of their way in the prediction department, but like every preseason preview out there seems content to pencil in the Midshipmen with a winning season and an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl. Sounds good to me.

Media Guide Now Availible...

...Over at Navysports.com in PDF format. Download it. Read it. Love it. As usual an excellent job done by the sports Information Department.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Just for Fun: College Football Facebook Groups

If we can't all agree on the BCS formula, the toughest conference, or the supposed merits of reading five different preseason guides each week, then at least we can all agree on something. That is that Facebook is a hilarious way for college football fans and players to express themselves, and not necessarily always in productive ways. Aside from allowing me to "poke" Navy slotback Zerbin Singleton or to buy "Adam Ballard 4 Heisman" shirts, it also gives college football fans an avenue to express their unique rooting interests. And no, we're not talking the "OMG Brady Quinn have my babies" or "UR TEAM SUX" type rooting interests. No, dare I say the college football fan has evolved past this. So here's the deal. I've searched through just about every FBS (yes dammit I use the new acronym) team and highlighted some of the best facebook groups related to that team that I found. Your team doesn't have a group? Well, I guess you and your university's student body have failed your football team, haven't they?

Note: I usually try to keep this blog classy and PG rated, but obviously a few of these group exhibit, uh, some of the stronger passions of college football fans. Keep in mind all these groups are actual facebook groups (you can;'t make stuff up as good as this), and I'm not endorsing any of them. So basically, I don't want to get the CFR treatment and have a million screaming 'Bama fans telling me how much of an idiot I am.

Akron: Akron will be national champs: Cause Gary "Pride of Colerain" II

Alabama: Alabama Football is the main reason why I drink...

Arizona State: I (Strongly dislike) Rudy Carpenter

Arkansas: Houston Nutt wont let me play football so im telling my momma

Army: Army Football Owns You

Auburn: The Tommy Tuberville Center For Kids Who Can't Read Good

Baylor: Baylor uses facebook to recruit people to attend home football games.

Boise State: Chris Myers ruined Ian Johnson's marriage proposal


Cal: If I were an oak tree I'd die for Cal Football.

Central Michigan: If this group hits 1,500, I will streak at the WMU vs. CMU football game!

Clemson: Boycott SportsCenter for Their Incredulous Reporting of Clemson Football

Colorado: Go Play Intramurals Brutha.....

UConn: Connecticut, it's almost a rectangle (not actually about football)

Duke: Duke Football (I'm feeling a win this year!)

East Carolina: Dowdy-Ficklen Fanatics

Eastern Michigan: I'm glad i'm NOT a Michigan State football fan

Florida: Guns Don't Kill People, Tim Tebow Does

Florida International: Dis is 4 all the Hurricane fans that think FIU started and loss the fight

Florida State: FSU dropped Jeff Bowden like the IAU dropped Pluto

Fresno State: Reggie Bush is an alien disguised as an inexplicably good football player

Navy: Making Tackles: Greg Sudderth can't do it (started by teammate and friend Greg Thrasher, who seems to spend way too much time on the Internet)

Notre Dame: I Would Let Tom Zbikowski Punch Me in the Face

Oklahoma: I want Rhett Bomar's old job at Big Red Sports/Imports

Penn State: I will give JoePa any body part so he can walk the sidelines

Pitt: Fans of Dave Wannstedts mustache ( the Wannstache)

Purdue: Destination Curtis Painter: 5000 Yards!!!!

Rutgers: Rutgers Football is the only thing going for NJ

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier was a dick...now he's a Cock!

South Florida: Pat White? Brian Brohm? F that, Matt Grothe!

Texas: Colt McCoy drinks a 1/2 gallon of milk a day AND SAVED A MAN'S LIFE.

Texas A&M: Mark Dodge: The Unsung Hero

Texas Tech: I could have gone to Texas Tech...but I already have a high school diploma.

Tenneesse: Down with the big orange pumpkin

USC: Its not USC I hate.. its more Pete Carroll

Vanderbilt: Fumbles, Bumbles, Stumbles: THIS Is Vanderbilt Football!

Virginia Tech: "Enter Sandman" is the BEST college football entrance.

Wake Forest: UNC fans have nothing better to do than make hate-wake facebook groups

Washington: The Opponent's Special Teams Are Actually "Special", The Huskies Still Lost

West Virginia: Pat White TV Growl = best ESPN moment ever...


Wyoming: Karsten Sween For Heisman 2007, 2008, 2009

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Ultimate Navy Preview 2007 Slotbacks

Today we continue with our Ultimate Navy Preview 2007, taking a look at the slotbacks in Paul Johnson's triple option offense. Navy returns both starting slotbacks from 2006, including their top reserve in Shun White. While their are technically only two starters at the position, head coach Paul Johnson routinely rotates up to three or four players in at the position during a game. We say this every year, but it rings true again this year. This is the best group of Navy slotbacks during Johnson's tenure. Let's go ahead and take a look at the three deep...

Reggie Campbell: What more can you say about Reggie? He's the most dynamic and explosive player on this Navy team, and has the ability to take the ball to the house whenever he touches the football. Campbell had a breakthrough sophomore campaign where he rushed for 514 yards and seven touchdown, while catching 12 balls for more than 300 yards and two scores. He is of course best remembered for his five touchdown performance against Colorado St. in the 2005 Poinsettia Bowl, in which he scored five touchdowns and had his face plastered all over ESPN (a good thing in this case.) Last season he only continued in his on-field brilliance, rushing for over 700 yards while catching 13 balls for 244 yards. Because of his diminutive 5'6 size, it's often said that Campbell couldn't play anywhere else but Navy. That may be more may not be true, but don't make the mistake of overlooking his pure athletic ability. He's one of the top sprinters in the Patriot League, and has insane strength for his size (460 yard squat.) Die-hard Navy fans saw the extent of Campbell's athletic ability during the spring game, where the 5'6 slotback (probably closer to 5'5) out jumped the 5'11 Jeff Deliz to make an incredible catch downfield. Because of his size, he's also incredibly difficult to tackle and unbelievably elusive out of the backfield, often able to slip the outside linebacker or safety who "runs the ally." I think Steve Kragthorpe said it best when he said a number of Navy players, including Campbell, could play for him any day.

"Reggie Campbell is a great football player. He can play any place in the country, there's no question. You can ask 117 teams that would love to have Campbell on their team."

I know part of that is just being respectful of the opponent, but Coach Kragthorpe's point is simple, and that is that Reggie Campbell is just a damn good football player in every aspect of the game. Not only is he a fantastic rusher and pass receiver, but the guy has been solid on kickoff (and the occasional punt) returns and even does an amazing job covering punts as a gunner. He is also an unheralded blocker who seems to come out of nowhere to cut guys down on the open field. Heck, the only think I think I haven't seen Reggie do is throw a pass, and you never know what Coach Johnson has up his sleeve. I don't know if I've ever enjoyed watching a football player on the collegiate level any more than Reggie, and 2007 should be his biggest year yet.

Zerbin Singleton: Often described as a "tenacious blocker," Zerb is hands down the most underrated player on this Navy football team (at least as far as this blogger is concerned.) He has the uncanny ability to stick of defenders and to cut them down with precisions cut blocks, and often paves the way for long runs down field by the other slot-backs. He had a huge game in the Mieneke Car Care Bowl last year, running for 71 yards and a touchdown on only six carries. Although he doesn't often get the chance to show it, he's also a solid receiver out of the slot, and could be utilized more in this respect next season. Despite his 5'8 frame Zerb is incredibly strong and has a reputation as being one of the strongest Navy players in recent memory. He's not as fast as Reggie or Shun, but he's a shifty runner in the open field and difficult to get a grasp of. He's also incredibly bright, which I guess you have to be when you're carrying a 3.29 GPA in Aerospace Engineering.

Shun White: A very talented player who burst onto the scene as a sophomore last season, White looks primed for an even bigger 2007. He's arguably one of the fastest player on the team and it shows, as he averaged an unreal 12.0 yards a carry last season en route to 578 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. He has excellent vision and the ability to make defenders miss in the open field, and could even be utilized as a kickoff returner in 2007. One thing White does need to improve upon is his blocking. If he can be more consistent in that aspect of his game then he goes from being a good player to a very special one.

Greg Shinego: A rising junior who has yet to see meaningful action with the first team, Shinego nevertheless runs with a full head of steam and is more than capable of breaking long runs. He's going to need to show that he can be a consistent blocker to receive significant playing time in 2007, but he should find his way onto the field from time to time. Last season Shun White came seemingly out of nowhere and although it's unlikely Shinego will gallop for 500+ yards this year, he's one of my picks as a surprise performer of 2007.

Bobby Doyle: Like Shinego, Bobby Doyle has a chance to develop into a very good player for the Midshipmen. He was a do-it-all athlete at Chardon high school in Ohio, playing both running back and quarterback. He has plenty of speed and good vision, and is more than capable of making people miss in the open field. He should have a chance to see some limited work at the position in 2007, but expect him to see regular playing time in 2008.
Scott Oswald- Excellent speed and good size.
Cory Finnerty- Needs to show better ability as a blocker.
Frank Rizzo- No relation to the famed Muppets character.
Overall: This is a very solid group which has earned even some well deserved national acclaim. Campbell is, quite literally, superman out of the field while Shun has big play ability written all over him. Everyone knows how good of a blocker Zerb is, but don't overlook his running ability in 2007. By the same token, watch out for Doyle and Shinego in fall camp, as either one of them could work their way into the rotation. This group is clearly the biggest streagth on the entire Navy team.
Grade: 9.5

Photo of Reggie Campbell from Defenselink.mil. Photo of Zerbin Singleton courtesy of Navysports.com. Photos of Shun White, Bobby Doyle, and Greg Shinego from my collection.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Schlabach Gives Shout-Out to Navy

A few days after penning an article on the schedules of a mysterious mixture of teams with and without BCS bowl aspirations, ESPN's own Mark Schlabach highlights the "must-see" games on a weekly basis for the 2007 season. His choice for week 14? None other than the Army-Navy game, which, according to him, "still matters more than most." Another interesting note is that his week 10 "upset alert" is Navy over Notre Dame. Interesting, I guess someone has been reading this site.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Ultimate Navy Preview 2007: Fullbacks

Today we continue our preview of the 2007 Navy football team, taking a look at one of the positions that makes Navy's offense unique among Division I college teams. While the fullback position has been reduced to a lead blocking role if not altogether abandoned for an extra wide receiver, in Paul Johnson's triple option the fullback still thrives as the main ball carrier. Here's the rundown on this year's three-deep:

Adam Ballard: The heir apparent to Kyle Eckel, when Ballard has been healthy he's been an unstoppable force up the middle for Navy over the last two seasons. After rushing for 668 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore in 2005, Ballard figured to be a sure 1000 yard rusher last season and probably would have been had he not missed the majority of several games with various injuries. He nevertheless managed to rush for 792 yards and three touchdown on 5.1 yards a carry. At 6'1, 223 he has the size and strength to break arm tackles and flat out bulldoze the occasional defensive back, while he sports good speed and vision which have paved the way for several long runs in the past. More than anything else, he's a reliable back who takes care of the football and advances the ball, rarely losing yardage and always keeping opposing defenses honest. I talked to him three weeks ago and he says that he's recovered and ready to go from a broken right fibula he suffered against Army, so expect him to be 100% going into the opener. An interesting statistic to note is that Navy has never lost a game when Ballard has rumbled for over 100 yards. His unique combination of strength and athleticism make him an ideal fullback in Paul Johnson's offense I look for him to have a big year in 2007 and finally eclipse the 1000 yard rushing mark in a single season.

Eric Kettani: Navy fans have been ecstatic about the ascent of junior from Kirkland, Ohio, and with good reason. While he only ran 229 yards and a touchdown last season, it's been the nature of his yards which have really attracted attention. He's one of the most physically gifted Navy players on the roster, running a sub 4.6/40 while owning a bench press max close to 400 power. But even with these workout warrior type numbers, it's his ability to see the field and find the hole that really makes him a good runner. Eric also possesses good hips and great balance, traits which make him all the more difficult to tackle. He had an awesome spring and while he doesn't have the experience or numbers of Ballard, his athleticism may force the coaching staff to utilize him on a more frequent basis in 207.

Kevin Campbell: Talented player who looks to continue the recent tradition of Navy fullbacks. He won't see much, if any time behind the likes of Ballard and Kettani this season, but could be a key figure going into 2008.

Overall: This looks like the best group of fullbacks under Coach Johnson, and certainly one of the better groups in the modern era at Navy. Ballard is a flat out beast who has the experience, talent, and battering ram mindset you want in a starting fullback, while Eric Kettani may be the closest thing to a pro style tailback on the roster. A young but promising group of sophomores round out this bunch, making it not only very good, but very deep.

Grade: 9.5

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Mark Schlabach: Navy's Schedule Sucks

...From his most recent column over at ESPN.com, in reference to the teams with the easiest schedules in 2007.

6. NAVY: The Midshipmen play only four Division I-A teams that finished with winning records last season: Rutgers, Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Northern Illinois. Five of Navy's 2007 opponents won four games or fewer last season, including Duke (0-12), Temple (1-11), North Texas (3-9), Army (3-9) and Air Force (3-8).
Toughest game: at Rutgers, Sept. 7

Easiest game: vs. Duke, Sept. 22

You'll notice first of all that his list of the easiest schedules makes absolutely no sense to begin with. Since he claims he's going off of 2006 winning percentages, it's interesting to see how he left out just about every team that faced the worst teams in 2006. Ohio, for example, faced opponents with a combined 37.8% winning percentage in 2006, which was the lowest in the country. Navy, in contrast, faced teams with a combined 45.1% winning percentage. Ball St., Akron, Nevada, BOISE ST (!!!), Buffalo, TCU (!!!), Bowling Green, and Miami (Oh) all faced teams with winning percentages lower than 45.1% in 2006, yet none appear on Mr. Schlabach's assessment. Can it be that Mr. Schlabach was only focusing on BCS conference teams? At first it might appear so, but why would Navy and Hawaii be on the list?

I don't believe in baseing schedule strength off of last year's winning percentages anyway, and tend to take the approach that Phil Steele and others recommend with regards to forecasting strength of schedule in the preseason. Translation? Some mathematical formula I don't understand. Needless to say however, a number of teams Navy plays in 2007 look like they'll be much better than last season, if for no other reason that there is no place to go but up for some of these teams!

The last point I'd like to make is that Mr. Schlabach gets Navy's "easiest" and "toughest" games wrong. Duke is not the worst team Navy will face in 2007. I hate to label any team as the "worst," but from where I'm standing (and that is a very attentive and specialized position as a Navy fan) it sure looks like North Texas won't be as good as Duke in 2007. Not to go sour on Coach Dodge and his program, but had the Blue Devils had the luxury of playing within the Sun Belt conference I doubt they'd be performing as poorly as they have been in the ACC. In addition to this, I think Mr. Schlabach overrates Rutgers, as you would expect the World Wide Leader and its Big East contract to do. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Notre Dame is still a better overall team than Rutgers, and it's going to take more than a home upset of Louisville to convince me of that.

As they say, that is all.

More Phil Steel Madness, Dammit

I'm not even going to bore you all with the excessive compliments of the man, the myth, and the legend. PhilSteele.com is offering six pages of regional magazine coverage for download every day from today to July 31st. He's counting down his Top 20 and today's regional magazine pages feature Texas A&M. Each preview is available for only one day so be sure to check it out.

Also, I'm adding a new blog to the blogroll. I've just come across the Mountain West Conference Podcast/Blog, which is an awesome site that features one of my favorite college football conferences. Be sure to check out their Air Force review podcast.

I'll have a Fullback preview up tomorrow in continuation of our Ultimate Navy Preview.

That is all.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Army Navy Game in Perspective

Last fall I wrote an article for the Fan House making the case that the Army-Navy Game was the premier rivalry in not only college football sports, but all of American sports. The basis for the argument was nothing new, that being that the unique history, pageantry, and symbolism of the game echo something which is, to borrow a line from author David Lipsky, absolutely American.

Unfortunately, many fans of the game and media services do not see it that way, as indicated by a fairly recent Rivals.com question asking which rivalry has "fallen the farthest." As some would expect, the Army-Navy game has fallen under that category, and judging by the poll results it seems to be one of the games that has "fallen" the farthest.

The poll however has not gone unnoticed by Navy fans. Today, The Bird Dog takes a look at the Army Navy game and asks "what makes a rivalry game?" His analysis is, in my opinion, spot on. Here's an excerpt:

The point I’m trying to make is that it isn’t the rivalry that makes it good. It’s just a game with two powerhouse teams that people want to watch. Other than the fact that it’s an annual contest, is it any different than the Ohio State-Texas series that we had the last couple of years? Not really, from the perspective of the average fan. And that’s the problem...The best rivalries are games where the passion of the teams and their fans are the same whether they are undefeated or winless. When rivalry bragging rights are more important than a national championship, that’s what makes for a good rivalry.

I've added the emphasis, because I think it's important to grasp the point at hand. The Bird Dog goes on to add that games like Williams-Amherst and Harvard-Yale also exemplify the spirit of a true rivalry, but it is the national appeal and rooting interest of the American people which make the Army-Navy game the quintessential American sports rivalry. The Army-Navy game, he writes, transcends the bonds of school or state affiliation, something that the Red River Shootout or the World's largest Outdoor Whatever Party will never be able to do, no matter the size of their TV audience.

This is definitely a must read article not only for fans of Army or Navy, but also for college football fans in general.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Ultimate Navy Preview: Quarterback

Well, it's getting to be that time a year again. With approximately sixty days to go until the start of the 2007 college football season, media days and fall camps aren't that far off, and the Navy's visit to Lincoln Financial on August 31st is finally on the horizon. Forget the Athlon and the The Sporting News you bought at the 7-11 last week, because we've got you covered with the Ultimate Navy Preview. Today we take a look at the quarterback position, which figures to be one of the main strengths on this Navy team.

Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada: A great athlete who started the final six games of the 2006 season at quarterback. Kaipo compiled a record of 4-2 record as a starter last year, and also saw significant action against UMass and Rutgers, scoring the winning touchdown in the former. Kaipo has the understanding and the raw athletic ability to be a star in the triple option offense, and despite questions over his arm strength and accuracy, he has shown the ability to make big throws in the past. Kaipo runs in the 4.5 range and has great football quickness and elusiveness, and is extremely difficult to bring down in the open field, making him a dangerous runner out of the triple option. He understands the system well, having played in option oriented offenses since his high school days in Hawaii. He does however need to show better composure in the pocket this year and the ability to "pull the trigger" in the passing game, as well as improve his reads of the defense. Given that he handled the team so well as a sophomore last season I only see continued improvement in his play, and with the experience under his belt I look for some of that raw athletic ability to be channeled into consist ant and system efficient quarterback play. He'll be the starter going into fall camp and despite the fact that the race is still open, he'll more than likely be the starter going into the August 31st game at Temple.
2006 Stats: 23-48 (47.9) 384 yards, 5-1 ratio. 507 net rush, 10 rushing TDs.

Jarod Bryant: A fan favorite, Jarod was one of the most highly recruited players to come to Navy in recent memory, turning down an offer to play defensive back at Auburn. A former star at the famed Hoover High program in Alabama, Jarod has shown flashed of brilliance on the practice field and in mop up duty, but needs to show better consistency and the ability to protect the football. Like Kaipo, Jaord is a great athlete who has good elusiveness and vision in the open field, traits which make him a dangerous runner in Navy's triple option. He also has good pocket prescience, and despite his size (5'10) he sees the field well. While he doesn't have a rocket of an arm, he is considered by many to be the best pure passer on the team, a trait which may lead Head Coach Paul Johnson to incorporate him into the offense.
2006 Stats: 6-15 (40.0) 42 yards. 86 net rush.

Troy Goss: Troy has been moving back and forth from wide receiver to quarterback over the past year, and with his senior season on the horizon it looks like more of the same for North Carolina's Mr. Football 2003. He lacks the athleticism of Kaipo and Jarod and doesn't have the best arm, but he's an intelligent player who understands the system and is accurate on short to mid-range throws. I spoke to him a few weeks ago and he indicated that things were still very much up in the air of next season. With the continued development of Zingler I look for him to settle in as a receiver unless either Kaipo or Jarod go down. I really feel for Troy and hope that he can be incorporated on the field in 2007.

Greg Zingler: Still a young player but has shown promise and improvement in his first year in the program. He was more down than up in the spring game but showed the ability to make some long throws. Still looks somewhat tentative running the option, which isn't unexpected considering his inexperience. Will likely compete for the starting job going into the 2009 season.

Overall: This may be the the deepest group of Navy quarterbacks in a decade, and certainly one of the more talented. Kaipo-Noa is a dynamic athlete who has the potential to have a huge season, while Jarod Bryant is in his own right a capable backup who will likely be utilized in various facets of the offense next season. There is a very good chance Troy Goss moves back to receiver in fall camp meaning that sophomore Greg Zingler would move in as the third string quarterback. This is definitely one of the the strengths of the team, although it goes to mention that this group also faces higher expectations than in past seasons.
Required Watching Material: Navy's 49-21 destruction of Eastern Michigan last season.

Unit Grade: 8.5