In the latest act of the fictional TV series, "Navy Realism Theater," we present another statistic (with some additional accompanying facts) which simultaneously underscore how brilliant the Midshipmen have been in recent years, especially 2015, and underline the immensity of the challenge facing the 2016 group. Hope for the best, by all means, but don't expect Navy to live such a charmed life on numerous numerical levels. That's a healthy mindset to acquire after a 2015 campaign which redefined the boundaries of what's possible in Annapolis.
This week's big stat is as follows: In 2015, Navy finished plus 10 in interception differential. Analysts talk a lot about turnover differential, but they don't nearly as often reference fumble differential or interception differential. Those terms have not found a comfortable and well-established home in the football lexicon and its analytical wing.
Why focus on the notion of "interception differential"? For one thing, college football -- not at the service academies or certain select programs, but certainly on a broader level -- has become much more of a pass-focused sport, as mentioned in this space a few weeks ago. This ain't the 1970s, pal -- it's a brave new aerial world. If you can stop the pass and make plays on defense against the pass, you can pass the opposition en route to a higher place in the conference standings and a more elevated spot in the bowl pecking order.
Over the last three seasons but especially in 2015, Navy has been a great interception-differential team.
Since 2013, Navy has finished plus-7 or better in interception differential, but last year was the topper, the ever-lovin' lulu of all times. The Midshipmen plucked 12 pigskins propelled by opposing passers. Keenan Reynolds threw only one pick, and the team finished with only two on the ledger sheet. That's a plus-10 figure.
To briefly make a historical note in reference to the folks at West Point, Army's one bowl season this century, the 2010 campaign, was one in which the Black Knights finished plus-11 in interception differential: 14 claimed, 3 surrendered. This doesn't guarantee success, but it often points to prosperity.
Navy's back seven did such a terrific job last season to snare 12 picks, and Reynolds -- often an ambitious passer who was given chances to hit downfield plays by Ivin Jasper -- was marvelous at throwing long balls where they couldn't be picked off. As was the case in so many other statistical categories and on so many other levels of analysis, Navy reached or came very close to an ideal standard on the field.
This year, the team must make an attempt to finish at least at plus-5 in interception differential. Tago Smith probably won't thread the needle as often, but if he either shows a steady hand or chooses to bundle four interceptions into one bad (non-Army) game, Navy could still thrive in the American Athletic Conference and reach so many of its goals for 2016.
It is a cleansing reality for bad teams, but an invigorating challenge for good teams: Seasons go very quickly, and past actions mean precious little come September. It's a chance for Smith to create his own reality, his own legacy. He saw Reynolds put passes in safe places. Now he can show what he learned from his mentor. It's a chance for Jasper and Ken Niumatalolo to create a team which gets a lot out of its relatively small number of pass attempts, all while Dale Pehrson's pupils pluck pigskins on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Interception differential -- learn to make it a part of your football vocabulary. Navy, in this uncertain season bereft of Keenan Reynolds's talents, has to once again make it a part of a winning football formula.