Media/Fan Roundtable Talks Navy Football recently put together an expert panel to discuss the 2008 Navy football season. Joining our own in-house talent were Bill Wagner of the Annapolis Capital and Adam Nettina of College Football News. Topics discussed included what would constitute a successful season for the Mids; what is the most pressing concern for Navy; and thoughts about meeting Georgia Tech in a bowl game.

GM: First, let me thank everyone for joining us on the conference call today.  With us is Bill Wagner (BW) of the Annapolis Capital, Adam Nettina (AN) of College Football News, Mike James (MJ), The Birddog Blogger, and Mike Althouse (86), the Message Board Director.  Without further delay, let's get to the questions.


GM: Bill Wagner, fill in the blank, it would be a successful Navy season if….


BW: If they win the Commander in Chief's Trophy again.


GM: Is that it?


BW: Well, going to a bowl would probably follow with that.  If they [beat Army and Air Force] there's probably enough wins on the schedule to go to a bowl.  But I think retaining the Commander in Chief's Trophy is more important than a bowl at this point.  Having a winning record so Ken Niumatalolo starts with a successful year [is important] because if they don't have a winning record the pressure on him, and the second guessing, and the people saying it was all about Paul Johnson. [Critics will say] as soon as Johnson leaves we are headed back the other way.  I just think that a winning record and certainly beating the service academies is the number one goal - so that's more important than a winning record and a bowl bid in my opinion.


GM: Adam?


AN: I agree.  I know it has been the company line the last few years, but I think when you look at Army and Air Force and the changes that they have made in the past two years that you want to keep that momentum going.  Like Bill said, a bowl game probably comes with [wins over Army and Air Force].  I also think probably winning the bowl game [would be huge] since Navy hasn't won a bowl game since 2005.  But usually when you undergo a coaching change, a team doesn't experience a better year than they had before, so 7-5 or 8-5, if you win a bowl game, I think that's a very successful season.


GM: What would constitute an unsuccessful season?

AN: I think if Navy does lose a game to either Army or Air Force [it would be unsuccessful].  Navy has become accustomed to going to bowl games and if that didn't happen this year, I would have some questions going into the future.


GM: How about you Mr. James, what do you think?


MJ: I agree with Wags.  I really don't have anything to add.  (Laughter by several participants.)


GM: So if we lose to Air Force, it's not a successful season?


MJ: (Pause.) [Expletive] no, it's not a successful season.  What are you kidding me?  And you put that down. 


BW: How much worse though would it be to lose to Army though?  Playing at Air Force in Colorado Springs, and you know that after losing to Navy for x amount of years, they are desperate to win that game.  But losing to Army, would be worse than losing to Air Force, wouldn't you agree?


MJ: This is like asking me which of my daughters I want to drop in my dumpster somewhere.  Both options stink. 


GM: Let me ask Mike Althouse.  Would you agree that an 8-4 season with a loss to Air Force would not constitute a successful season?


86: I would agree with that.  We are the top dog.  We have to keep that position for recruiting.  It's been a huge deal for the last three or four years.  Our recruiting classes have been so much better.  If we were to regress and lose to Air Force…you will start to hear a lot of howls.


GM: But the Air Force/Navy game has been so close the last couple of years.  It could have gone either way a few times.  Can you really base the success of a season on one game?


86: If you look at who Air Force lost to graduation…and if we can not beat them with our allegedly improved defense this year.  It would be an unsuccessful season if we lost the trophy.


MJ: We can come up with all kinds of hypothetical [situations].  What if we beat one team and lost to another, but the bottom line is every year the goal is going to be to win the Commander in Chief's Trophy and go to a bowl game and that's what is going to be successful.  I don't think that is an absurd standard to set.  I think that is pretty basic.


86: You can set up all kinds of criteria.  What if we went 10-2, beat Notre Dame, but lost to Army and Air Force.  Would that be a successful season?  I don't know – if we go to a bowl game and beat a decent BCS team, I guess you could make the argument that is a successful season, but is it successful as far as team goals go?  No.  Our priority is winning the CIC trophy.  The second priority is going to a bowl game.  The third priority is to win the bowl game.


GM: It's safe to say that just a few years ago, Navy's goal was just to win a game or two.  So now, it seems we are just in a whole difference universe of expectations.  We have to beat these two teams or our season may not be a success.


MJ:  The thing is we can go ahead and beat Rutgers or beat Notre Dame, but in the long run that really does not make a difference because the teams that we are recruiting against are Army and Air Force, and if their coaches can say, "Hey look, Paul Johnson is gone so now we are going to win, so come here because we are going to be good.  I think that is a much bigger deal than whatever nominal gain we would get by beating someone else.  It's just the way it is.


BW: That's why I said what I said.  Mike James is exactly right.  There's more gain to your program, and especially this year, after Johnson left.  It's important for Niumatalolo to show that the service academy dominance is going to continue.


GM: Ok, what about our rivals, Army and Air Force.  What do you think would be a successful season for them?


BW: Well, number one, Army is just trying to inch forward towards a winning season.  They just need to win games, period.  But certainly, beating Navy would move Army's program ahead two years faster than it could be.  But, I just can't see Army beating Navy; but stranger things have happened.  But I'll throw this out there: There is one person in Ricketts Hall who does think that going to a bowl is important because he worked so hard to help create the [Congressional] Bowl.  So if Navy does not show at the it this year, the Congressional Bowl could be in big trouble because I don't know who else is supposed to play if Navy is not there.


MJ: It's gonna be Navy and Akron, and it's not like some MAC team is going to roll in with like 20,000 fans to fill the place, so it's pretty much doomed for a bowl game if Navy doesn't go.


BW: That's exactly right.


GM: Adam, what about Air Force.  What would constitute a successful season considering all of the starters they lost to graduation?


AN: Well, I don't really know what Troy Calhoun's focus is.  Are they still looking at being competitive in the conference or have they changed their focus back to Army and Navy?  It seems like it changes every year, but I think if Air Force can go .500 in conference, pick-up an easy win against Southern Utah, or a supposed easy win, and split Army and Navy, then they are well on their way back especially considering they lost like 95% of their offense last year.


GM: Mike Althouse would you agree with that?

86: Yeah, I would agree with that.  I like the .500 [winning percentage] in conference for them because anything more would be an ultra-successful season for them.  If they lose to Army, it's unsuccessful.  They own Army.


MJ: Good point.


86: And if they beat us, it's definitely a successful season especially considering the losses they had.  It's just going to underscore how good of a coach Calhoun is if he beats us.  It's like everybody has said, it could reset the balance of the service academies. 


GM: Mike James…how big of a loss do you think TE Travis Dekker is for Air Force?


MJ: I don't know because it depends on what they were planning on doing with their offense.  You know if you remember at the beginning of last season they were talking about throwing more and not running the option as much.  [They said the option] would just be a part of the offense.  Well, they [were awful running it once], and once they started running the option again full time, they got good again.  So I don't know how they were planning on using Dekker. 


AN: I think not having Ty Paffett in there for camp because of off-season surgery is a bigger deal for them.  He was supposed to be the next Chad Hall.  Just the emphasis that Calhoun put on Hall last year really takes away what they are probably going to try and do on offense this year.


86: I'd be surprised if that kid plays this year.


MJ: I'd be surprised too.


GM: Back to Bill – what is the biggest concern for Navy right now?

BW: The offensive line.  They are not working in concert right now, and I talked to Kenny the other day and I asked what the problem is, and he said the offensive line works as a unit.  It's all five working together and if there is one person not doing their job or if one block gets missed, the whole thing breaks down.  Right now, that five man unit is not working in concert, and I've been to two scrimmages and heard Niumatalolo yell, "Get off the [Expletive] field" to the offensive line five times.  He's so disgusted that he's been throwing the first team offensive line off the field because they are just killing the option.  It's a jail break.


GM: Bill, how long have you been covering Navy now?

BW: I started the last year of Charlie Weatherbie.  So I guess that makes it my eighth year.


GM: So in the last eight years, I mean we've heard Coach Johnson complain about how the offense couldn't block anybody in a scrimmage.  Where are you rating the offensive line now compared to other years from what you have seen so far?


BW: I've watched Navy score six touchdowns in a scrimmage and have Johnson complain.  That's not happening.  Kenny said he could not remember a scrimmage since Johnson returned in which the team failed to score a touchdown in a scrimmage.  I mean they take 16 possessions and five or six of them are with the first team.  I remember the first team always marching up and down the field, and scoring at least one or two touchdowns.  I've never seen the first team offense struggle to cross midfield in an intra-squad scrimmage.


GM: Hearing that Mike James, does that get you at all excited about Navy's defense?


MJ: Um, well, it's been awhile since they dominated anything regardless of how bad the other side of the ball has been playing so I'm not discouraged by the defense.  I don't know what to make of it.


GM: Are there other things that concern you?

MJ: The biggest thing that concerns me is the schedule.  I guess I say that every year, but this year when you look at, it's kind of absurd but when you have people talking about Ball State having a shot at the BCS this year, or Pitt is in the top 25, and Rutgers…I think the schedule, and I've been saying this since last year, even if we were better this year, with this schedule, you might not even notice it because we could just as easily go 6-6.


GM: How about you Mike Althouse.  What is your biggest concern?


86: Kaipo's health because so much is predicated on that.  With Bryant having to play quarterback, we lose our safety net because nothing behind him impressed me on Saturday at the scrimmage.  I think you need him on the field at slot back and I saw a lot of plebes playing slot.  And if the offensive line isn't playing very well, then the offense becomes a house of cards.


GM:  Adam, knowing what you know about Kaipo, make a prediction…does he play against Towson?


AN: I don't think so. I think he sits out.  To get back to the biggest concern, I agree that the offensive line is definitely a factor right now, but I'm going to buy in to what Eric Kettani told me the other day, that things are going to work out [on offense]. And until I see otherwise, Navy's defense is going to be the big question mark in my eyes.  This wasn't just the worst pass efficient defense in the country; it was the worst by a large margin.  And considering some of the teams we play, including Towson, who puts the ball in the air, SMU…until I see a real difference on the field in a game, I'm going to be skeptical about how the defense can respond.


GM: Bill, biggest surprise thus far on the depth chart?


BW: Hmmm…I guess Alex Teich at fullback.  I cover Navy recruiting and I usually try to focus in on who they consider their ‘top recruits' and two years ago when I wrote about recruiting, nobody mentioned to me that Alexander Teich was considered a big ‘get.'  Now he came in as a slot back and they recruited a million slot back types, but he got here this year [after NAPS] and he was bigger than they thought.  And I'll tell you, he jumped out at me in the second day of practice.  I was like, ‘who is that?'  He runs very well inside.  He's got very good acceleration.  He hits the hole quickly and he's got the ability to make that one move inside that makes a linebacker or a secondary guy coming up miss.  The idea that Teich could be the second fullback on this team is something I never would have thought going into fall camp.


GM: Mike James…first your opinion on moving slot backs to fullbacks.  Is this a new strategy? 


MJ: No.  We tried it with Trey Hines, and for awhile in 2005 we moved Adam Ballard to slot back to just try to get him on the field.  So I don't think it is particularly new.  But one thing that Adam Nettina mentioned – was anyone else bothered by Kettani's comments when he said something to the effect of ‘the offensive line will get it together, they always do?'


AN: I was a little surprised when he told me that.


MJ: I don't know, that seems a little complacent to me.


BW: But you gotta know Kettani.  Let's remember two years ago when he was a sophomore and played for the very first time in his career, for the most part, at Ford Field.

MJ: Oh yeah, he was saying how he was a little faster than Ballard.


BW: I asked him what the difference was between him and Adam Ballard and he said ‘I've got a little more shake and I'm a little faster.'  Even Ballard was raising his eyes at that comment.  So you have got to consider the source.  Eric's kind of a laid back guy, and very confident.


GM: Everyone real quick, just your reaction.  Will Army's offense work and by that I mean will it be successful?


BW: What is the offense?  What is the thing I saw about calling it the quadruple option?




AN: I heard that they were running the flexbone for one of their scrimmages.


MJ: Well, it can't be any worse than what they have been running, so it depends on how you measure success.


BW: I guarantee you that they won't run any true triple option because A) They don't have anybody there that knows how to run it and B)They would never do exactly what Navy's doing just out of pride so it's not going to be triple option…it's going to be option-based.  I bet we are going to see a lot of veer type stuff, speed option on occasion, but it's not going to be true triple [option].


GM: Mike Althouse, what is good about the new 3:30 p.m. start time for Navy home games?

86:  They are hot.  It's going to be really warm especially in August and September.


GM: Mike James, how does the new start time affect your life?

MJ: My DVD recorder works just as well at
3:30 p.m. as it does at noon.  It's all the same to me.


GM: Bill, how about you?

BW: Well, I have a very selfish opinion because stories have to be done at
10:30 or 11 p.m. at the latest, no matter what.  Even when the games started at 1 p.m., I was still writing until 10 p.m. because I try to be as thorough as possible.  So it's just going to limit some of the coverage you are going to get in the Annapolis Capital.  There is only so much I can get in there by that time.


GM: That's what your blog is for…


BW: Yeah, I can get up on Sunday morning and put some things in there that I didn't have a chance to get in the paper.


GM: After Georgia Tech, Adam Nettina, who would you like to see Navy play in the Congressional Bowl?


AN: I really wouldn't mind seeing Navy play Florida State or Miami.  Either of those two teams could easily finish that low in the ACC.


MJ: What's this after Georgia Tech nonsense?

GM: You don't want to see Navy play Georgia Tech?

MJ: No.


GM: Why not?

MJ: Why would I?  I don't care that Paul Johnson's coaching Georgia Tech.  If Paul Johnson can take Navy and beat Notre Dame, gee, what can he do to Navy with Georgia Tech?  Yeah, sign me up for that.




BW: That would be a very tough game for everybody involved.  Emotionally…I don't see how there are any winners in that one.


MJ: I agree, I just want to get there.  Whoever is the best team we can get to come in there, but if turns out to be some MAC team, I won't turn my nose up at that either.


BW: I'd like to see NC State, and then Navy can beat Tom O'Brien already.


GM: How long will it take Georgia Tech to play in a BCS game, Mike Althouse?

86:  I don't know.  It could be three years.


BW: That's what I was going to say – three years.


MJ: It helps that the ACC isn't that good right now.


86:  With the ACC being down, he might be able to sneak in their next year.  It depends on what [talent] he's got down there right now.


GM: Over/under – the number of emails Scott Strasemeier sends out this year?


BW: Oh my goodness…3,000…or more.


MJ: 3,000 a week.


BW: I will say this…Scott Strasemeier is the hardest working guy in sports information.  Dealing with sports information directors around the country like I do, you start to appreciate how much [effort] he puts into it because so many people are unbelievably lazy.  Half the time, I can't get them on the phone.  On that regard, I'll take an ultra-competitive, ultra-effort Strasemeier over all of those people.


MJ: Let it be known that getting 3,000 emails a week is not a complaint.


86:  Yeah, not at all.  The Navy sports information department does more with less [people] than any other school in the country. Top Stories