Rocky Road Ahead for Mids

Navy won 7 of 8 games after last year's deflating loss to Air Force – a remarkable accomplishment for sure. However, a closer look at how those teams finished out 2010 takes a bit of the luster off the feat. It should also give fans great pause if they think the Mids can pull off another run like that in 2011. If they do, I'll be shocked.

It's not every season that Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo closes the door and circles the wagon for a team meeting. Reports out of Annapolis indicate that it was definitely an emotional affair with the hope of making sure the team understands what lies in front of them.

Last season after the tough loss to Air Force, Navy's team captains, Ricky Dobbs and Wyatt Middleton did something similar and the results were pretty astounding. Not only did the team follow-up the Air Force contest with a come-from-behind, last-second victory over Wake Forest, they went on to finish the season 9-4.

However, of the eight opponents the Mids had following the Air Force game, only two (Notre Dame and Army) finished the season with winning records. The combined win-loss record of these eight opponents (does not include San Diego State) for the season was 41-62. That's a .398 winning percentage for those keeping score at home. At the time, victories over teams like Wake Forest, SMU, and East Carolina seemed to be pretty significant. But after losing to Navy, those three teams went on to finish the season a combined 5-12. The Demon Deacons actually lost their next five games. If you combine these numbers with the 2010 version of Central Michigan (3-9), Arkansas State (4-8), and a loss to Duke (3-9), the 2010 schedule seems a little light. It also makes the victory over Notre Dame stand out even more.

The number one reason why Niumatalolo held a team meeting this week is because he knows that the 2011 schedule is much tougher than the 2010 one…at least right now it appears that way.

Of the remaining 8 opponents on the schedule, four of them will most likely go to bowl games (Southern Mississippi, Rutgers, Notre Dame, and SMU). With the exception of Rutgers, those teams all have a good shot of cracking the Top 25 in the next few weeks. I think Navy will be doing very well to go 2-2 in these games.

Thankfully there are still two of the ‘should wins' on the schedule in Troy and San Jose State. However even those teams have showed some moxy this season. Troy is 2-2 and gave Arkansas all they could handle in a 38-28 loss. San Jose State, normally a pushover, is 2-3 and has beaten a 3-2 Colorado State squad.

This leaves a revenge-minded East Carolina team, who won't have a problem remembering the 76 points Navy put up on them last season, and Army, who…well, who knows with the Cadets this season.

The Pirates (1-3) do not appear to be that good, but they still only lost to Virginia Tech by a touchdown. And they get to play Navy on homecoming – which is usually a good thing for the Mids' opponents.

Army is a complete enigma because they play well at home but may be the worst road team in all of college football. The next two weeks (at Miami-Ohio and at Vanderbilt) will go a long way in figuring out what team may show up in Landover in December. Army could easily be 3-8 and completely demoralized headed into the game with Navy…or still in bowl contention.

I said at the beginning of the season that I would be thrilled with a seven-win season and I think in the wake of the Air Force defeat, Navy fans should be getting onboard with that real possibility.

And now for my prediction…

Once again I proved that I am absolutely awful at predicting the outcome of Navy games. I had the Mids in a blowout 35-17. Hey, at least one team scored 35 points. So far on the season, I'm 1-3.

This week all indications point to a high-scoring affair. My biggest concern is Navy's inability to stop their opponent's running game. The Mids are currently giving up over 200 yards per game which is bad enough to be 107th in the country in that department. Unfortunately, not only does Southern Mississippi run the ball well, they can also chuck it through the air…and Navy, historically speaking, does not do well against multi-dimensional teams. I don't see that changing this Saturday.

Southern Mississippi 31, Navy 28.

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