Why Navy's program has passed Air Force

Nebraska's football program, starting in the 1970s, directed much of its efforts at one goal: Get to a bowl game. The Huskers went to a bowl for 34 straight years. They traveled pretty much anywhere--Shreveport, Houston, El Paso, etc.

Tom Osborne was asked once why he was so insistent on going to bowl games. His most tangible answer was that the team used the roughly four weeks of practice leading to the bowl game as if it were another spring practice.

Osborne's point was not lost on his opponents. The Missouri coach went further. He was asked by Sports Illustrated why Nebraska and Oklahoma dominated the Big 8 in the 1970s and 1980s. He answered that the extra four weeks of bowl practices for those teams amounted to roughly 20 practices.

To a rising senior who had redshirted in the Nebraska program, that's 80 more practices--four year's worth of bowl games--than they would have had without a bowl.

Put another way, if teams practice five times a week...at 80 practices...it's almost as if they had a season's more experience than teams that didn't go to bowls. That was the reason there were more than a few guffaws in Lincoln when Notre Dame voted to turn down a bowl invitation in 1996.

I bring this up because Saturday's game gave me, for the first time, the most tangible evidence that Navy has passed Air Force. The three straight wins were close enough that I believed it meant the programs were close--very, very close.

We had heard Navy was winning the recruiting battles. We believed in the commitment from the administration and the incredible coaching skills of the staff.

And Saturday marked the first time that Navy really, emphatically looked like a much better team than Air Force. This is because of the reasons listed above; and I think the distance will widen because Navy has been very shrewd with lining up bowl invitations.

The NCAA grants 15 or 16 bowl practices; because of exams, Navy uses 12 or 13. That's still 36 more practices for Navy's seniors than Air Force's seniors, who haven't been to a bowl game since 2002.

Put another way, it's roughly a half-season more work. And that's also putting aside the intangibles from going to a bowl game in terms of exposure and recruiting and morale, etc.

Navy has clearly turned the corner on Air Force. The Mids are on the verge of another bowl, another 12-13 practices more than Air Force and Army will get if they don't qualify.

Now the question is, how will the Falcons react? Will they make changes to the coaching staff? I am not the only one who noticed Navy barely needed to get out of second gear to win on Saturday.

My best guess is new ideas are needed at Air Force. If I were there, I would move secondary coach Knorr (former head coach at Ohio) to defensive coordinator and fullbacks coach Hamilton (former HC at East Tennessee and Elon) to an elevated role in the offense.

Meantime, a friend in the media who covers Air Force says that offensive coordinator Chuck Peterson is trying to become more polished and more accessible to the media. Does he have an inkling about DeBerry's future? Is he trying to become more savvy to improve his standing as being considered "head coaching material"?

Navy is firmly ahead of Air Force for the first time since the late-1970s. In my opinion, if Air Force doesn't make some changes, the gap will widen. As Johnson said following the 2003 win at FedEx, "They wanted to send a message to us last year. Got it. [pause] Back at ya."

It has taken a couple years for the message to sink in.

Air Force can't ignore it anymore.


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