The 2012 Navy football team is ready to rebound after an uncharacteristic 5-7 campaign in 2011, with their sights set on the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and the Army-Navy game.
The Midshipmen's schedule is a roller coaster ride, with a pair of tough games against Notre Dame and Penn State, followed by beatable opponents VMI and San Jose State. Then, the schedule picks back up with road tests at Air Force and Central Michigan, followed by the homecoming game against Indiana. The remaining games (at ECU and Troy, home against Florida Atlantic and Texas State, then at Lincoln Financial Field for the Army game) are all winnable, but the Midshipmen cannot afford to sleep on any of these opponents if they plan on putting together a solid season.
I will take you through my predictions for the 2012 Navy football season. Some predictions are bold, but none of them are out of the question for the Midshipmen.
This is one of my bolder predictions since Navy loses the majority of its offensive production in Kris Proctor (QB) and Alex Teich (FB). However, Navy's triple-option attack continues to put up big numbers against opposing defenses regardless of who is under center and in the backfield.
The names may change on the back of the jerseys, but the production is consistent.
With Air Force losing the majority of its triple-option attack and Georgia Tech facing formidable defenses in the ACC, the Midshipmen should have no problem leading the nation in rushing with 330 YPG.
Expect Gee Gee Greene and John Howell to have a big year in the slotback positions with their speed to get around the edges and into the open field. Both have tons of experience and know the offense well, which should help first-year starting quarterback Trey Miller.
Miller is prepared to lead the offense after seeing plenty of action in a backup role last year, with his lone start coming at Notre Dame. He has great speed and should frequently find the end zone this fall, but it will be his decision-making with the football that will make or break Navy's attack.
Finally, we cannot talk about leading the nation in rushing without mentioning Navy's offensive line.
Year in and year out, this unit has been solid, and it will continue this year. They are not the most intimidating group of guys on the football field, but they know their assignments and have been opening holes for the likes of Eckel, Owens, Ballard, Campbell, White, Kettani, Kaheaku-Enhada, Bryant, Dobbs, Murray, Teich and Proctor for the last decade.
Minus last year's setback, the Midshipmen have owned their series against the Irish as of late, winning three of the last five meetings. There is no reason why Navy cannot continue its winning ways against Notre Dame in the season-opener in Ireland.
The Midshipmen will have to keep pace with Notre Dame's prolific offense. However, Notre Dame was notorious for turning the ball over at the most inopportune moments last season. Although there will be some improvement from the Irish, look for Navy's defense to capitalize on their mistakes. If they can keep it close going into the fourth quarter, there is no reason the Midshipmen couldn't pull off the upset against the Irish.
Following its trip to Ireland, Navy visits Happy Valley, where Penn State is rebuilding its program under a new head coach for the first time in 46 years. Navy will have its hands full, as Penn State has one of the largest and loudest stadiums in college football.
But don't expect the large crowd to intimidate Navy; the Midshipmen have been here before.
Back in 2009, Navy opened the season at Ohio State and nearly shocked the Buckeyes before falling 31-27. It will be an interesting battle between the front seven of the Nittany Lions and Navy's triple-option. Whoever wins this battle, I believe, will win the game.
Over the past decade, the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy has come down to the Air Force-Navy game held in early October.
This year, it will be a legitimate battle amongst all three service academies, but I believe Navy will bring the trophy back to Annapolis.
Navy does have to travel to Air Force this year, but Air Force is in the process of replacing the majority of last year's offensive production from Tim Jefferson and Asher Clark.
More importantly, the Falcons lose nine starters on a defense that ranked sixth in the nation in pass defense. Although Navy will not be passing the ball often, the offensive line should have no trouble opening up holes for the rushing game.
Navy will have to play smart and not make the costly mistakes that led to Air Force's win in Annapolis last fall. It will not be easy, but I like Navy coming away with a 31-20 win against the Falcons.
Navy will capture the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy with a signature win over Army in Philadelphia.
Over the last few years, Army has inched closer and closer to victory, but Navy has found a way to win.
This year will be no different, and here's why:
First, Navy runs the triple-option much more effectively than Army.
Coach Niumatalolo has not lost to the Black Knights in his tenure as head coach.
And, finally, Navy has won the last 10 meetings in this storied rivalry.
Army will be returning an excellent playmaker in QB Trent Steelman, but the Navy defense should be able to contain him by staying home on misdirection plays and playing solid up front as they did last year.
On the other side of the ball, Navy's offense will have difficulty getting the ground game going initially, as Army's defense knows what to expect. But Navy's persistence in sticking with the rushing attack will eventually lead to scores. I also would not be surprised to see some play action passes from Navy for a quick score or two.
I believe the team that takes care of the ball wins this game. Therefore, I expect Navy to prevail on its way to capturing the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and beginning a second "Decade of Dominance" over Army.
Despite a tough start to the season, I see the Midshipmen rolling to a 9-3 regular-season finish before beating the Utah Utes in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco on Dec. 29.
This will tie the most wins in a season by a Navy football team, and you have to give credit to the job coach Ken Niumatalolo has done in his years at Navy.
The Midshipmen will probably start the season 0-2 with tough contests against Notre Dame and Penn State, but as I said earlier, Navy is no stranger to playing in big games and could easily pull off the upset. Then, I only see a tough road loss at either Central Michigan or ECU. The rest of the schedule contains all games in which Navy should win, whether or not it is favored.
After their 9-3 finish, the Midshipmen will be headed to San Francisco for the 2012 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against the Pac-12 No. 6 finisher, which I believe will be Utah. This sets up a rematch of the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl in which Utah held off the Midshipmen 35-32. Therefore, Navy will be looking for redemption while riding the momentum of its win over Army into the postseason.
This will be no low-scoring affair, but Navy will outscore Utah in a wild game on its way to capturing another 10-win season as well as a postseason Top 25 ranking.