Having mentioned it before doesn't mean the topic shouldn't be mentioned again: Navy is venturing into previously uncharted waters.
The Midshipmen are sailing some gridiron seas they've never navigated before. Playing for a division title is the team's focus right now. Achieving that goal has been made a lot simpler by the weekend's events, and if Navy wins the prize, the team knows it will have to play on Dec. 5 instead of getting ready for Army. A succession of three high-stakes games awaits Navy if everything goes right.
This team, paradoxically, wants to have a tougher road. It wants to have a shorter prep week for Army. It wants to feel the heat three straight weekends... because that means the team will be in a conference championship game with a chance to play in a New Year's Six bowl, which is exactly what the move to the AAC was designed to make possible. Navy didn't have this kind of roadmap last season or the 30 before it.
Navy wants a bunch of "first-world college football problems."
This does, however, bring up an important point about the Midshipmen's next game.
Navy's home slate is over after Saturday's magnificent romp over SMU. The Mustangs have not won a lot this season, but they've scored on a lot of opponents, particularly in first halves. Navy didn't allow Chad Morris' team to get off to a hot start. The Midshipmen -- emboldened by their conquest of Memphis the previous week -- took to the field as reborn athletes. This polished and sleek demonstration of skill, ruthless in its consistency, revealed this team at its best. On a certain level, it's reasonable to say that you don't get in the way of a good operation when it's humming along so seamlessly.
However, the challenges of logistics loom for this team, and it's important for Ken Niumatalolo to handle that piece of the puzzle... as well as the Tulsa Golden Hurricane and, verily, the next two weeks for the Midshipmen.
Here's the logistical reality Navy faces in the next fortnight -- beyond the obvious fact of wanting to play in the AAC Championship Game on Dec. 5: The Midshipmen have to go to Tulsa for a Saturday night game. The team really could have used a noon start this week, but it didn't even get a 3:30 window. It must play a night game, and then face a game the following Friday in Houston, the one for all the marbles in the AAC West.
Given the proximity of Houston to Tulsa, one wonders if Navy will even bother to go home after the Tulsa game. Going to Maryland and then flying all the way back to the South Central Plains region could be taxing at a time when the toll of the long season is certainly felt by a lot of players. The short turnaround, combined with the geographical layout at work, makes it very important for Navy to not overextend itself against Tulsa. The Houston victory over Memphis should only reaffirm a desire to not give this Tulsa tussle any undue measure of importance.
Tulsa is not a fantastic team, but at 5-5, the Golden Hurricane could very well be a .500 team, one which did play competitively at Oklahoma earlier in the season. Navy certainly doesn't want to lose to UT, but a loss would not deprive the Midshipmen of a New Year's Six bid. Yes, a loss to Tulsa would cloud the picture, but it almost certainly wouldn't stand in Navy's way if the Mids beat Houston on Thanksgiving Friday. That game against the Cougars will decide the West, since the Memphis loss means the Tigers can't win a three-way tie. (They won't be involved in one.)
The other teams fighting Navy in the Group of Five race for a New Year's Six bowl have already lost leverage in their own right. Temple lost to South Florida; Boise State lost to New Mexico; Air Force has three losses, and Navy beat the Falcons; onlly the winner of Tuesday's Toledo-Bowling Green game -- should it then win the MAC championship -- could reasonably claim the New Year's Six bowl bid over Navy if the Mids lose to Tulsa and beat Houston. Even then, Bowling Green (should it emerge here) has two losses, one of them at home to the Memphis team Navy thrashed. Toledo might be the only team with even a chance of topping Navy if the Mids win the AAC.
You get the point: Beating Tulsa would remove any ambiguity from Navy's equation if the Mids then beat Houston. However, this is not a game Navy has to sell out to win. In fact, it's the kind of game which -- for all the reasons stated above -- demands a downscaled approach.
Backups need to play a lot -- not just for the sake of experience (though this is a great spot in which to gain some), but to keep bodies fresh for Houston. The competitive ethos -- in football and in life -- demands full investment to every snap, every movement, every moment of every game. You can't tell players to go half-speed or three-quarter speed in football. Players will get hurt, they won't play well, and they will lose their drive. What you can do, though, is rotate people in and out to reduce wear and tear.
Would it be great if Navy could hammer the Golden Hurricane in the first half? Of course. Yet, preparation demands a willingness to have a plan in place from the outset, to build in rest and make backups aware that they're going to play. In other words, trusting that the scoreboard will allow for liberal substitutions is probably not going to be good enough against Tulsa. This likely needs to be an approach formulated before the game, not just something hoped for if everything goes well.
How this is orchestrated? That's up to the coaches.
That some kind of substitution plan is put in place? That's the call which has to be made.
If a certain number of snaps is expected against Tulsa, Navy should aim to get its prime players at least 20 fewer snaps, so that everyone is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in Houston, ready for the game which will define the non-Commander-In-Chief's Trophy portion of the 2015 regular season.
As an added but certainly not insignificant detail, Navy should consider doing things against Tulsa which will create a simpler, shorter game. This might be a game in which to not throw a pass. This is certainly a game in which to not show anything resembling a wrinkle or gadget -- there's no need to give Houston coach Tom Herman anything extra to see on film. There's only so much tape Herman will be able to study, after all. The playbook needs to remain thin, and the offensive line -- in practice for its big moment against Houston -- needs to be able to establish the power game with the B-back up the gut.
You can see that there's a lot for Navy and its coaching staff to think about before hopping on that plane to Tulsa. Handling bodies and minds and thresholds of activity will be just as important as tactics and film study in the days before Nov. 27. If Navy gets half of the picture right, that might not be enough.
The Midshipmen are technically playing Tulsa this week, but in many ways, they're entering a prolonged period in which readiness for Houston is the main concern.
The tactical approach to Houston can certainly wait, but the logistical challenge is already beginning.