Today, we’re a little over 80 days away from the kickoff of the 2012 college football season. As such, we’ll preview the No. 83 team in our Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football previews, the Navy Midshipmen.
Coming off a 5-7 finish in 2011, head coach Ken Niumatalolo returns a total of 11 starters, five on offense and six on defense. The Midshipmen will be depending upon contributions from several unknowns to get back to .500 and return back to a bowl game in 2012.
Junior quarterback Trey Miller should be at the helm for the Midshipmen on September 1st when they open the season against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Emerald Isle classic in Dublin, Ireland on Saturday, September 1st.
While Miller isn’t as polished in running Navy’s vaunted triple-option attack as his counterpart Kriss Proctor who started in the early-going of 2011 prior to injury, he is the more polished passer, and showed a great deal of accuracy during practice this spring.
Miller’s effectiveness, however, will be dependent upon a patchwork offensive line. Coach Niumatalolo enjoyed a rarity among service academy teams in 2011: an experienced and battle-tested offensive line.
The 2012 version will be full of unproven players who have played relatively little during their time on campus. Two guys to look for who should set the tone on this new line unit are junior tackle Graham Vickers and senior guard Josh Cabral, both of whom played sparingly in 2011.
Senior slotback Gee Gee Greene and sophomore fullback Noah Copeland will be depended upon to carry the load in the backfield. Josh Howell and Bo Snelson will also get their share of carries among this talented and deep unit that will carry the success of the Navy offense on their shoulders this fall.
In the triple-option, wide receivers don’t get many looks and are more blockers than skill players, but in passing situations, Brandon Turner and Matt Aiken should see the majority of looks.
The Midshipmen return six starters on defense, but will have to replace a great deal of production from the five starters lost. Defensive ends Wes Henderson and Collin Sturdivant will be tasked to try and replicate the outstanding numbers delivered year-in and year-out by Jabaree Tuani who finished his career ranked second all-time in career sacks and TFLs.
The second-level of the Midshipmen defense will be expected to step up as a whole and be larger contributors than in 2011, given the exodus on the line. Senior Matt Warrick will be paired with captain, and 2011′s returning tackler Brye French.
Senior Tra’ves Bush will make the move back to safety in 2012 after spending a season out-of-position at linebacker in 2011– but still tallying 93 total tackles, second only to French’s 111.
Cornerbacks David Sperry and Parrish Gaines round out a defensive secondary which will be tested early and often in 2012 and must rise to the occasion for defensive coordinator Buddy Green’s defense to be a success and give the Midshipmen a fighting chance this fall.
As is true of all independents, the Midshipmen have a varied and challenging schedule. The Week 1 Emerald Isle Classic against Notre Dame is obviously the first major test for Navy, and should be a great barometer of where the team stands coming out of fall practices.
Things don’t get any easier during Week 2 against the Penn State Nittany Lions in State College, but ease off a bit in the following weeks as Navy takes on San Jose State and Air Force teams that are in for unpredictable seasons.
An early split start over Navy’s first four games could give them just enough momentum to make a return bowl appearance this fall.
Kris Hughes is the College Football Network Manager for Rant Sports and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. You can follow him on Twitter or check out his Facebook page. Kris is also the host of Rant Sports Radio on the Blog Talk Radio Network Wednesday evenings at 8 Central Time.