Seven Reasons Why Navy Will Be Better in 2012

After five straight losses, it's a challenge for even the most optimistic of Navy fans not to concede the team's fading bowl chances. But that doesn't mean Ken Niumatalolo's Midshipmen are headed to pre-triple option era status. Signs of life for next year's team are apparent, and even if 2011 is lost, here are seven reasons to count on a better 2012.

As Luck Would Have It: No one is making excuses for the last five Navy games and the mistake-riddled performances of the offense in the redzone, the third down defense, and especially not for the kicking game. But there is something to be said for "not getting the bounces," which comes in as one of the season's biggest understatements. My experience is that close losses one year tend to even out the next year, and extensive statistical compilation from PhilSteele.com confirms this. In any case, it's almost impossible to envision the kind of officiating that overturns a potential game-winning touchdown or calls a player for a highly questionable personal foul in overtime. Will it make a huge difference in the win column? Maybe not, but it can't hurt.

It's Miller Time: If we saw one good thing on Saturday, it was the coming out party of a young quarterback responding to pressure and leading his team to what was almost a spectacular comeback. Ironically enough, it started with a turnover and two straight possessions of three-and-outs. That makes Trey Miller's subsequent performance all the more impressive, as he showed remarkable resolve, arm strength, and moxy by throwing for two scores and what should have been another. With Kriss Proctor's status still uncertain after the senior suffered an elbow injury from a late hit against East Carolina, Miller should have more opportunities to continue to develop in game action this season.

Remembering 2007: Navy's defensive struggles have been more than apparent through the first seven games of 2011. Not only has Buddy Green's defense allowed 36.2 points and 465.6 total yards on average during the losing streak, but the Mids have allowed opponents to convert on nearly 60% of down attempts on the season, and generated an average of a single sack per game (good for 10th worst in the country). The last time Navy's defense struggled as much? 2007 certainly comes to mind. That was the year a similarly injury-riddled and underclassmen-heavy Navy defense finished dead last in the nation in passing efficiency, 108th in scoring defense, and 99th in total defense. I've spoken to Buddy Green many times about his defense that year, and he has always been quick to point out that the experience – while tough at the time – helped prepare his players for future success in 2008 and 2009. The stats back Green up, as Navy's defense finished 53rd overall in 2008 and 34th in 2009. I expect to see that trend continue into the next two seasons.

Plenty of Playmakers: While a staple of Navy offenses of the past three years will be lost in 2012 after the graduation of fullback Alex Teich, next year's team will have no shortage of the proverbial playmakers. One needn't look further than the slotback position, which figures to return the electrifying talents of Gee Gee Green (288 yards, 8.5 avg) and John Howell (278 yards, 11.6 avg) as well as the steady blocking of Bo Snelson. Likewise, sophomore Mike Patrick has shown promise at fullback, while receivers Matt Aiken and Brandon Turner will have been made seasoned veterans by their 2011 experience. And don't forget about current sophomore Marcus Thomas, who finally busted through on a kickoff return last Saturday when he went 90 yards for a score.

Schedule for Success: 2011 will go down as the season that featured one of the most challenging slates for a Navy team in the triple option era, but there's reason for hope when looking at the 2012 schedule. While projecting success for teams so far in advance is always a dicey proposition, 2012 isn't lining up to be murderer's row. Navy will play a VMI team which has started 1-6 this year, as well as San Jose State, Central Michigan, Indiana, and Florida Atlantic teams which have gone a combined 6-24 thus far in 2011. Throw in a Texas State team which will be competing in its first year at the FBS level, as well as a showdown in Colorado Springs with a Tim Jefferson-less Air Force, and next year's Mids should get some help in their quest to bowl eligibility.

Chris Ferguson: No freshman defensive back has generated so much hype this early in a season since Wyatt Middleton burst onto the scene in 2007. It's fitting, then, that the North Carolina native lists Middleton as one of his mentors, and has already begun to follow in Middleton's shoes. Ferguson caused two game-changing turnovers in his first career start against Rutgers, including a forced fumble at the goal line to prevent a Rutgers score and also returning an interception 16-yard for a Navy touchdown. While he wasn't able to prevent East Carolina's offense from having a field day, Ferguson has a high football IQ and could be just as good, if not better, than Middleton when it's all said and done.

There is No Complacency: Ever since taking over for Paul Johnson after the 2008 season, Ken Niumatalolo has stressed the need for his players to understand the inherent difficulty of winning at a place like Annapolis, and how, for Navy's winning to continue, the players would have to adapt the mindset of never getting complacent in their preparation and execution. I'm not saying Navy's problems in 2011 have come as a result of complacency after eight years of winning, but now that the "tradition" of winning is likely to take a year hiatus, the incentive to get back to the postseason, and to regain the Commander-in-Chief's trophy – is going to be tugging at Navy's players and coaches that much more. Playing with a chip on its shoulder is how Navy first overcome the losing year's of the 1990s and early 2000s, and ultimately, it will be that mentality which gets Navy back to the postseason.

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