Navy preseason predictions 2015

Navy opens its 2015 season on Saturday against Colgate. Look inside for exclusive game by game predictions by academy football analyst Jim Lawler.

Navy football enters a new era this fall joining the American Athletic Conference after 134 years as an independent. The Mids return record setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds (photo above) for the final season of his brilliant career. Fans will be able to enjoy watching Reynolds one last season as he attempts to rewrite the record books. Keenan's 64 rushing touchdowns are the most in Navy history, the most in NCAA history by a quarterback and are tied for fourth most in NCAA history.

Reynolds needs to score 14 touchdowns to surpass record holder Montee Ball from Wisconsin. Reynolds is ranked 17th in NCAA history for rushing yards by a quarterback. He needs 1,310 rushing yards to get past Michigan’s Denard Robinson to become the all-time college quarterback leader and 994 to pass Napoleon McCallum as Navy's all-time rushing leader. All those records are within reach if he stays healthy. Navy saw both of last year's slotback starters graduate but still possesses terrific depth at A-back. It remains one of the deepest positions on the team with five of the six players on the two deep depth chart carrying the ball last season. The Swain train rolls one last season at fullback with B-back Chris Swain becoming the starter. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo has stated that Navy wants to be more effective passing this season and use talented wide receiver Jamir Tillman to stretch the field. The key is how the offensive line is will gel with three new starters.

On defense the big news is the loss of defensive coordinator Buddy Green who will miss this season due to health reasons. Coach Dale Pehrson, who has been with the program since 1996, will replace him. The defense's most irreplaceable player may be senior captain Bernie Sarra at nose guard. Will Anthony, a fellow senior and First-Team FBS All-Independent, joins Sarra up front at defensive end. Navy returns only junior Daniel Gonzales at linebacker but there is good depth and competition here. The Mids are led by cornerback Brandon Clements in the secondary. Navy kicker Austin Grebe finished last season as Mr. Perfect hitting all eight attempts after replacing Nick Sloan. Gavin Jernigan finally gets his chance after backing up one of the best punters in Navy history, Pablo Beltran, the last three seasons. Let’s look at the 2015 Navy schedule.

Sept. 5 vs Colgate
The Navy Midshipmen open the season at home against FCS Colgate from the Patriot League. This is the first match-up between the two programs since 1998 when Navy quarterback Brian Broadwater made his first start in a wide open 42-35 victory. Thankfully the days of struggling to barely beat an FCS opponent are long gone. Colgate finished last season with a 5-7 record. Navy will roll. Navy Win

Sept. 19 vs East Carolina
Navy opens the new era as a member of the American Athletic Conference when it takes on East Carolina in a league game. ECU has to replace quarterback Shane Carden who graduated and wide receiver Justin Hardy who was drafted by the NFL. The Pirates defense was ranked eleventh nationally in rushing defense last year but the Mids have always had great success running the ball against the Pirates. Navy has averaged an amazing 55.7 point in the last three games against the Pirates. Navy Win

Sept. 26 at UCONN
Former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco returns for his second season and needs more production on offense. UConn’s greatest strength is on defense where Florida State transfer E.J. Levenberry joins linebackers Marquise Vann and Vontae Diggs. UCONN has chance to prep for the Navy spread option against Army two weeks earlier. Diaco's Irish defenses often had trouble slowing down Navy offenses that weren't run by Trey Miller. I doubt he will be able to do it with lesser talent on the Huskies. Navy Win

Oct. 3 vs Air Force
The Mids look to revenge their most disappointing loss last year and reclaim the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. Last fall Air Force quarterback Kale Pearson completed a touchdown pass to Garrett Brown with 35 seconds remaining as Air Force defeated Navy 30-21. The game was tied at halftime but the Falcons held Navy's rushing attack to just 36 rushing yards in the second half Reynolds tried to rally the Mids late as he hit DeBrandon Sanders with a 40-yard touchdown pass with 2:14 remaining in the game. Air Force recovered the on sides kick and drove for a touchdown for the win. Keenan Reynolds played this game with a knee brace which limited his performance. The winner of this game has won the last 17 Commander-In-Chief's Trophies. Payback time at home. Navy Win

Oct. 11 at #11 Notre Dame
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish held off the Navy Midshipmen 49-39 in a wide open game last year. Both teams combined for 987 yards of offense at Fed Ex field in a nationally televised night game. Notre Dame returns 18 starters from last year’s 8-5 team that peaked at No. 5 last year in the ranking before struggling down the stretch. A lot of people believe that this is Brian Kelly's most talented Irish team. They may be right but I'm not a big believer in the Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Last year they allowed more than 29 points and 400 yards per game. VanGorder has contempt for the spread option having changed the offense Paul Johnson created at Georgia Southern and bombing with a 3-8 record his only season at GSU. I always hoped Keenan Reynolds would upset the Irish. He has a punchers chance in this game but Notre Dame's rather average running game has been able to pound the ball all day against the Mids the last few years. ND quarterback Everett Golson transferred to Florida State for his final year of eligibility. Navy Loss

Oct. 24 Tulane
Tulane struggled last season to a 3-9 record after moving from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference. Quarterback Tanner Lee threw more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (12) in 2014. Lee saw five interceptions returned for touchdowns last year. Tulane returns 15 starters from last year but this isn't a good team. Navy should win at home. Navy Win

Oct. 31 at USF
Navy travels to UCF to play a conference game. UCF (4-8) is struggling to build their program under third year coach Willie Taggart. Running back Marlon Mack is their only offensive threat. He led the American Athletic Conference with 1,041 rushing yards, 5.2 yards per carry and nine scores. Even with Mack they had one of the worse offenses in football. Navy matches up well here and should produce a road victory in the first meeting between these two schools. Navy Win

Nov. 7 @ Memphis
Last year the Tigers won 10 games for the first time since 1938. The Tigers return four starters on an offensive line that led the ACC with 31 rushing touchdown. Memphis fields a fast and athletic defense that allowed only 3.4 yards per carry last year. I don't believe Memphis will be as good as they were last year. They will miss linebacker Tank Jakes who was last year’s AAC defensive player of the year. Still this is a challenging road game for Navy and they can't win them all. Navy Loss

Nov. 14 SMU
June Jones looked like he had the SMU Mustangs program turned around and on the right track when it all fell apart last year. Jones resigned after opening the season with two losses by a combined score of 88-6. The Mustangs finished the year with a 1-11 record and his famed Run-N-Shoot offense scored only 133 points. Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is the new head coach but he will need time to rebuild this team. Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo is an unbeaten 4-0 against SMU. Navy Win

Nov. 21 @ Tulsa
The Tulsa Golden Hurricane has a new head coach in former Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery. He ran one of the nation’s top offenses at Baylor. Tulsa fell to 5-19 the last two years after winning 10 or more games 4 of the previous six years. Montgomery will have some talent to build around on offense. Junior wide receiver Keevan Lucas had 101 receptions, 1,219 receiving yards and scored 11 touchdowns last fall. The defense was a disaster last season as it allowed 39.3 points per game. The Golden Hurricane allowed fewer than 30 points only once last year. Montgomery will likely turn the program around but Navy should outscore Baylor this year. Navy Win

Nov. 28 @ Houston
Former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman is another new head coach in the American Athletic Conference. Houston had been a good program making bowl appearances in 9 of the last 11 years but didn't dominate a weak schedule in 2014. He has quality senior running backs in Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson. They averaged a combined 25 carries and 127 yards per game. The Cougars success will likely depend on how they adapt to new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando 3-4 defense. Navy will likely drop a road game late in the year and this one is more likely than the Tulsa game. Navy Loss

Dec. 13 Army (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Last year Navy defeated the Army Black Knights 17-10 for a record thirteenth consecutive year in America's Game played at M&T Bank Stadium. The Black Knights took an early 7-0 lead when Army's Josh Jenkins blocked Pablo Beltran's punt inside the Midshipmen's ten yard line. Army's Xavier Moss picked up the ball and ran it in seven yards for the score. Navy struggled early with three consecutive three and out possessions to open the game. The Mids used the passing of quarterback Keenan Reynolds to pull even on a nine yard touchdown pass to Jamir Tillman late in the first half. It was the start of 17 unanswered points by Navy to secure the victory. Navy's has a huge edge at quarterback with Keenan Reynolds leading the Mids. Navy has far too much experience, talent and speed for the Black Knights. The streak continues. Navy Win

I predict a 9-3 regular season in a record setting final year for quarterback Keenan Reynolds. Navy should regain the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and appear in a bowl. If the Mids can stay healthy they have a chance to potentially win ten games for the fourth time in school history this year.

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