2012 In Review: Time Was On Navy's Side

The Navy football team flourished for many reasons last season. One subtle and overlooked key to the Midshipmen's marvelous year was that Navy made time of possession count for something.


Let's get this point on the record and out of the way: Time of possession IS an overrated statistic in football. The proliferation of high-scoring pass-first offenses in college football has greatly diminished the centrality and primacy of "TOP" as an indicator of superiority. However, diminishment is NOT the same as elimination. There are still times when time of possession matters, and in the world of service-academy football, it stands to reason that ball control remains an important priority for Ken Niumatalolo… and Troy Calhoun… and Rich Ellerson. Triple-option teams want to drain that clock in Chinese water torture fashion – drip, drip, drip – and slowly drive a defense insane. When facing big-boy competition, the service academies need their offensive systems to compensate for a comparative lack of heft and depth in the trenches. Keeping a formidable opposing offense off the field remains important. In conferences such as the Big 12 and the Pac-12, the number and quality of possessions matter more than the length of each individual possession. For the academies, the old ways and metrics still count… at least to an extent not matched in much of major college football.

In 2012, then, Navy was by far the service-academy team that did something useful with time of possession. The Midshipmen: A) gained more "TOP" advantages than Air Force and Army did; and B) turned those advantages into victories.

Navy won the time-of-possession battle in 8 of 12 FBS games last season. Army won that same battle in 7 of 11 games. Air Force struggled here, winning "TOP" only 4 times in 12 outings. Navy went 6-2 in the eight games in which it controlled the ball longer than its opponent. Army went 2-5 in the seven games in which it gained a time-of-possession edge. Air Force went 2-2 in the four games in which it kept the ball more than its adversary. From every conceivable angle, Navy did a better job than the other two (FBS) service academies in terms of maintaining possession of the pigskin… and turning that reality into positive scoreboard outcomes.

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