Navy Football: A Great Run, Defined

We're doing a thought exercise (with a brief bit of commentary) this week. Cue the ESPN "30 for 30" music. What if I told you that Navy has played 98 games over the past nine college football seasons in which it has averaged at least four yards rushing per carry? What would that fact mean to you, and what would you expect to flow from it? A long-term examination of Navy appears below.


College football is the Wild West in terms of statistics, because there are almost 100 more teams in the FBS than in the NFL. Standardized statistics exist for all FBS teams, but if you want to create more specialized statistics and perform more deep dives, it takes a lot more time. Moreover, since a lot of national publications might not care to include Sun Belt or Conference USA teams in their content any more than necessary, full rankings of FBS teams in various categories might prove to be elusive at times. However, if you’re willing to research all FBS teams, you can come up with some fascinating analyses in college football today.

One such project is to look at the profiles of teams over the past nine seasons (beginning with the 2005 campaign) when they average at least four yards per carry. Four yards is not an arbitrary number, because it’s the whole number at which a team moves the sticks without needing a fourth-down attempt. Five yards does represent a powerful added measure of production, but four is something of a baseline for any team that prides itself on its ability to run the ball.

What will you find when you look at the past nine seasons of college football through the prism of teams averaging at least four yards per carry in games? Where would you expect Navy to end up in this conversation? Let’s find out:

First of all, Navy has played in 98 such games over the past nine seasons, for an average of roughly 11 games per season. That’s clearly a manifestation of Navy’s ability to hit the target and establish its foremost strength. What’s striking about this “98” number? Navy has played more games with at least four yards per carry than ANYONE else in the FBS. Oregon is second at 95 games. Paul Johnson, after leaving Navy, has enabled Georgia Tech to hit the top three at 92. Northern Illinois is at 90, and Ohio State sits at 89.

What’s Navy’s record in these 98 games? 66-32, half a game more than a two-thirds winning percentage. Does that seem underwhelming? Perhaps from one vantage point. It’s easy to think that Navy should do more than that when establishing its foremost form of offense. However, a two-thirds victory rate is an 8-4 season, and while Navy has occasionally managed to win 10 games over the past decade (2004, 2009), an 8-4 regular season followed by the bowl game has been the norm for the program. Factoring in the tougher opponents (and stronger offensive teams) on the schedule, winning two-thirds of games is just about right where Navy should be.

As a point of comparison, Oregon – the second team on this list – is 84-11 in the 95 games in which it averaged at least four yards per carry over the past nine seasons. The Ducks are faster, stronger, and more balanced between run and pass than Navy. Oregon has the resources to make more of the “four-yard mark” than Navy does. The Midshipmen should not feel that they have underperformed with their 66-32 record. (Georgia Tech, save for the 2009 season, would rate as an example of an underachiever, or at least more of one.) Top Stories