Navy Football 2016: Filling the Space of One Cadet
Keenan Reynolds was a fantastic quarterback for Navy; now he's a Baltimore Raven in the NFL. With his senior leadership and numbers I liked Navy to make a big splash entering the AAC last year, recommending an Over season wins play, which easily hit. If not for the inability of the defense to get their mitts on Houston's slippery Greg Ward Jr. on Thanksgiving weekend last year, Navy may have won the conference.
How much will Navy regress, given the loss of Reynolds and 76% of all their rushing yards, not to mention the entire starting offensive line, who all helped Navy be my 6th ranked run offense? Let's go below decks and find out.
Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo strongly considered taking the BYU HC position this past off-season, out of Mormon loyalty as much as anything else. He elected to stick with his football loyalties, thankfully for the Navy football program. This year, as much as any in his past will show how much of Navy's success is down to his ability to put the right guys in the right positions with the right coaching.
The offensive line, as mentioned, lost a senior to shining senior front that was extremely effective. This year's projected starting line reads as SO,SR,JR,JR,JR from left to right. Backing them up is another line of mostly Juniors and then another line of Sophomores. One thing Navy has going for it is a lot of bodies.
At the skill positions it's nothing but Seniors and Juniors in the three deep, which should offset some of the yardage losses.
SB Dishan Romine returns as the perimeter run threat, a role he played well with his 10.5 ypc average last year, though it was on only 36 carries. The bulk of Navy's runs go the FB on the dive or the QB keeper. Top FB Chris Swain is gone, but that's as much of a plug and play position as there is for that offense (unless someone can make me a compelling case otherwise, lol). Swain had 211 carries last year, Reynolds had 265, and then you drop off all the way down to 62 carries for the next man, Quentin Ezell, another senior fullback last year. I think they can find some guys to dive into the line with or without the ball, with out too much drop off in productivity on those plays.
So really, it's all about replacing Reynolds. I think they are in as good as shape to do it this year as possible.
Senior QB Tago Smith is as physically gifted as Reynolds, and has shined in his opportunities on the field. Tago didn't see the field a lot last year as Reynolds never missed a start, but he did come in for Reynolds in the 2nd quarter against Notre Dame when Reynolds got dinged up. Smith proceeded to lead Navy to two straight touchdown drives and a 21-21 tie at half. So consider that acing an extremely pressure filled, if short, pop quiz.
I've hit Navy with a 20% reduction in their passing game expectations, and a 15% reduction for their running game expectations. Considering the turnover it's entirely possible that larger reductions should have been applied. Considering the betting lines, others have worse expectations than I do. My numbers had Navy undervalued for most of the season last year, and I found myself recommending plays on them almost every single week, which of course led to winning more often than losing on them.
As you would expect, teams that my numbers considered undervalued last year are still undervalued this year when looking at season win totals.
Navy enters the season having lost about a third of its' defensive tackles from last year, which is right on the FBS average. Their losses were concentrated, though, on the defensive line and in the secondary, which isn't ideal.
As a result, and because they put up such excellent defensive numbers last year, I think some regression is in store for a program that just can't reload with superior talent every year.
I don't really have anything else I want to say about the defense, other than I've hit them with a 10% regression deduction for pass defense, and a 15% regression deduction for run defense.
Tago Smith has the legs and the arm, but what makes for great quarterbacks happens in the head. Fortunately Navy has a few warm-up wins on their schedule to get Tago acclimated to leading a team for a full game. First they get FCS Fordham at home, followed by another home game against UConn. The Huskies should be an improved team this year, but I still like Navy to win at home by 11 points. In week #3 Navy gets their first road game at Tulane, who will still be in the early throes of learning a completely overhauled Willie Fritz offense.
That looks like 3 wins to start the season before a tough 6 game stretch where I actually project Navy to lose 4. All of those 6 games are winnable (and, losable) with the exception of the longer odds shot @ Notre Dame.
I like Navy to finish the regular season with 3 wins as well with games against Tulsa, @ SMU and against Army.
Navy could regress a fair amount more than I'm already estimating and still hit that win floor of 6 games. There should be a minimum of one other win either @ ECU, vs. Memphis, @ AFA, vs. HOU or @ USF to put them at 7+ wins.
My projections are for Navy to go 8-4, with a projected margin of victory converted to % chance 8.1 wins. As such, I think there's solid value on Navy going Over 6.5 wins in 2016. As long as that high win floor holds, it should be smooth enough sailing.