On Saturday, August 30th, the Navy Midshipmen will kick-off their 2014-2015 football season with a match-up against the fifth ranked Ohio State Buckeyes at Baltimore’s M&T Stadium. The Midshipmen are unranked and clearly marked as the underdog in this match-up. However, the injury to Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller does insert some doubt to the game.
The Buckeyes of late are notorious slow starters, often struggling to defeat unranked opponents in season openers. The Midshipmen’s experience and toughness could provide the necessary ingredients for an opening weekend upset. Under the leadership of head coach Ken Niumatalolo, Navy has become a tough opponent for all comers and a match-up that can never be overlooked.
The Triple Option Offense operated by the Midshipmen is often a difficult system for defenses to game plan for during a season since very few top programs run it. Most teams are not willing to spend much time developing a defensive scheme that is only useful against one opponent. Instead teams rely on their players to make adjustments off of already established run packages.
The uncommon offense combined with the discipline that comes standard from a service academy has resulted in a resurgence in the Navy football program. Last season, starting quarterback Keenan Reynolds nearly doubled his rushing yards from the season before and increased his rushing touchdown total from ten to twenty-nine. Reynolds is unlikely to get much consideration for the Heisman trophy but I believe that is a gross oversight.
Behind Reynolds, the Midshipmen ranked second in rushing yards per game last season and averaged 33.5 points per game. Adding in his eight touchdown passes to his rushing touchdowns, last year Reynolds contributed 37 touchdowns to the Navy offense. That is only four behind the 41 touchdowns Johnny Manziel contributed to his Texas A&M Aggies last season and only five behind the 42 contributed to Florida State by Heisman Trophy winner Jamies Winston.
If Reynolds, now a Junior, improves even a little on those numbers he would certainly be among the leaders in college football and deserving of some Heisman attention. I would not call the Midshipmen’s schedule easy with match-ups against Ohio State, Notre Dame, Army and Air Force most likely being the toughest but it certainly is manageable. Navy should be looking at an eight win season at minimum but my prediction (which includes an upset over Notre Dame) is for ten wins.
Now maybe you are reading this and you are thinking, “That’s nice but it’s Navy, not a title contender so who cares?”
I can understand that point of view. Unless you attended a school or were a military member it can be difficult to get behind any team that does not have a chance at playing for the national championship. However, I would recommend that everyone at least consider following one of the service academies.
The service academies offer fans a chance to embrace the old school feel of sports and the nostalgia of the lost pageantry of college competition. Excluding the rare outlier and unlike their counterparts at other schools, the service academies student athletes made a commitment before entering school that would prevent them from pursuing a career in professional sports. The young men and women that fill the rosters of the service academies have made a commitment to defend this country and are enjoying perhaps their last opportunity to play a sport they love before deployments.
With all the greed and attention grabbing athletes filling up the headlines, the service academies offer a chance to root for something purer than that. Is that to say that these schools are above the touch of money and fame? Of course not. However, right on the front of the jersey is the reminder of what lies ahead for these young men and women.
A few years ago, on the recommendation of syndicated sports talk show host JT the Brick, I began thanking every military member I met for their service and it changed my perceptions. When every one of them thanked me back, I saw past the shield of the uniform and saw the person that risked their life for my freedom.
I watched the Army Navy game in a completely different way after that. It was unlike any other football game because I saw more than just athletes on the field. I saw potential Purple Heart recipients. I saw a field full of Pat Tillman. I saw heroes.
Although I never served, I choose to root for Navy because of my family members who did serve. Whatever the reason you come up with and regardless of the one you choose, I cannot imagine your enjoyment of sports not being enriched by cheering for one of the service academies. Pick one and cheer on the heroes that will one day defend your freedoms.
For me it is “Anchors Aweigh”!