As the Washington Examiner's Kevin Dunleavy mentioned here, Navy could be in for a long day on Saturday against FCS powerhouse Delaware. He even wondered who should be favored in the contest. Any way you slice it, I think the Blue Hens are the better team…on paper.
Outside of the quarterback position where the Blue Hens had to replace Pat Devlin, they are loaded on both sides of the ball. This is pretty much the same team that narrowly lost to Eastern Washington in the FCS Championship game to end last season – including a defense that returns 10 of 11 starters, four senior offensive linemen, and a running back who ran for over 1,600 yards.
Meanwhile, Navy has to replace 8 starters on defense, and arguably their best quarterback (Ricky Dobbs) and wide receiver (Greg Jones) in the triple option era.
I can't image the outrage amongst Navy fans if the Blue Hens beat the Mids by more than a touchdown, but it could happen and it wouldn't surprise me a bit. Can Navy pull the upset? Sure, but in order to do that, senior quarterback Kriss Proctor is going to have to throw the ball and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper is going to have to let him. I can definitely see Jasper coming into this game with a gameplan that plays to Proctor's strength – which everyone knows is running the ball. How far Proctor has come throwing the football will most likely be a critical factor in deciding the outcome. That means someone is going to have to step up to replace Jones…and quickly. I wouldn't be surprised to see the slot backs playing more of a role in the passing game to start…especially Gee Gee Greene. If the offensive line can give Proctor time to throw and he is able to hit a big play early, this could become a high-scoring affair.
I say it could be a high-scoring affair because I have no confidence that Navy's defense will be able to stop sophomore tailback Andrew Pierce. Why you ask? Because the last time Navy took the field, a freshman by the name of Ronnie Hillman ran for 228 yards and 3 TDs against a Mids defense that featured 8 presumably better players than those who will start on Saturday. Most disturbing is the fact that Navy lost four of their top five tacklers. Sure Hillman is probably better than Pierce, but they are very similar runners…both capable of outrunning Navy defenders on any given play. Stop Pierce from running wild and the Mids will have a chance. Get him to turn the ball over and this game will come down to the fourth quarter.
I have written before about being the ultimate pessimist, but after the past two years of shoulda-coulda against Ohio State and Maryland…I just have a bad feeling that Navy might once again lack that killer instinct in the opener.
In the five years of writing this column, I have been pretty consistent in not predicting the outcome of games…probably because of my fear of showing how little I really know about football. And I always get bad feelings before games, so I may end up predicting Navy to go 3-9. But alas, I'm stepping up to the plate this season and putting something on paper. And on paper, which is all you really have to go by in an opener, this one favors Delaware.
Here's hoping I am wrong…terribly wrong.
Score: Delaware 34, Navy 24.
Game MVP: Andrew Pierce (200+ all-purpose yards)