CREDIT: Sheldon Y/ArmySports.com
What will 2012 have in store for the Navy football program? After a disappointing 2011, the Mids will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, kicker, and -- most significantly -- will be coming off their first losing season since 2002. But that doesn't mean the outlook is bleak. Here's the first half of my preseason predictions going into the offseason.
Navy will outrecruit Army (again):
Contrary to whatever Army quarterback Trent Steelman might tell you, the Cadets are not closing the talent gap on Navy. Over the last five years or so we've seen countless high school seniors with scholarship offers from both schools choose Navy over Army, and with high school commitments beginning to filter in this January and February, we're likely to see that trend continue. Already Navy has a solid verbal commitment from Wisconsin running back Toneo Gulley (a three-star running back from Rivals.com), and according to the highly partisan ArmySports.com not a single Army commitment to date also had a scholarship offer from Navy. While internet reports paint only an incomplete portion of the true dynamic of service academy recruiting, it's likely that with a winning streak extending nearly a decade over the Black Knights, Navy will win most of the head-to-head matchups on the recruiting trail.
Trey Miller will throw more touchdown passes than Ricky Dobbs did as a junior:
During 12 starts as a junior in 2009, Ricky Dobbs threw six touchdown passes for the Midshipmen en route to showing Navy fans a dimension to the offense not seen since Chris McCoy was quarterback. Going into his junior season in 2012, quarterback Trey Miller has already been compared to Dobbs -- and not just because he hailes from the same state. While not the battering ram of a runner Dobbs was, Miller showed poise and impressive field vision in the pocket during a failed rally against East Carolina during Navy's 38-35 loss, in the process, tossing two touchdown passes. He was less successful in his only start of the year against Notre Dame, but given what we've seen from his arm in practice and limited action -- coupled with the coaching staff's frustration with being unable to throw effectively down the stretch in 2011 -- and I'm predicting the offense opens up in a big way behind the arm of Miller.
Navy will go undefeated at home:
Take a look at Navy's 2012 schedule and you'll see a welcome sight on the home slate. Five teams will come to Annapolis next year, five teams which combined for a 15-44 record in 2011. And it's not like that record is deceiving -- indeed, aside from welcoming a pair of 1-11 teams from 2011 (Indiana and Florida Atlantic) Navy will play host to an FCS Virginia Military Institute team that went 2-9 this past season, and well as a transitional FBS team in Texas State that finished the year at .500. While Texas State, Indiana, and especially San Jose State (which Navy lost to on the road in 2011) have the potential to give the Mids problems next year, I'm predicting Navy finishes a perfect five-for-five in Navy-Marine Corps in 2012.
Navy will not have a player with 100+ tackles:
Midshipmen inside linebacker Matt Warrick was a one-man tackling machine this past season (finishing the year with 103 total stops) but that didn't exactly bode well for the Navy defense. Finishing a disappointing 86th in total defense, 92nd in rush defense, and 105th in pass efficiency defense, Buddy Green's unit was, to put it mildly, a work in progress. That work in progress should yield results in 2012 when the Mids return six of their top eight tacklers from this season, including a quartet of linebackers and a freshman sensation in safety Chris Ferguson. The return in experience should mean less blown assignments for the Navy defense, which should also yield a more even distribution of tackles for the unit. And while his stats may not look as good, Warrick is likely to have an even greater impact in 2012, as his speed and violence of pursuit will continue to cement his place in a long line of Navy linebackers with impact senior seasons.
Navy will pull an upset...almost:
It seems like every year Navy gets close to pulling off the stunning upset which not only shocks the college football world, but confirms that Ken Niumatalolo's team is far from the "breather" some BCS conference programs may have scheduled them as. Last year we nearly saw Navy take down then tenth-ranked South Carolina on the road before falling 24-21, and in 2009 the Mids nearly shocked the world by taking sixth-ranked Ohio State down to the wire before a missed two-point conversion attempt foiled an upset bid in Columbus. Navy will have a chance to pull off similar upsets in 2012 right out of the gate with games against Notre Dame (in Dublin, Ireland) and Penn State, and both will likely see Navy's opponents in ranked position. But both will be played amidst extraordinary circumstance. In Notre Dame's case, across an ocean in front of a foreign audience, and in Penn State's, in a game played against the shadow of a year of scandal and change. While neither circumstance promises a close call, both hint that focus could be an issue for Navy's opponents. And we know teams under Niumatalolo don't back down to anyone.
Looking for more insight into Navy's 2012 season? Adam Nettina breaks down his five predictions to take to the bank for next year in the second half of our story on Friday
Adam Nettina has been covering college football at the Naval Academy for the past five seasons. He is the former Sports Editor of the Utah Statesman and currently writes his own sports and pop-culture blog called Option Pitch and Waffle Crisp