What ensued would be 24-17 loss that exposed Navy for what the team really is: A good, but not great, non-BCS conference team.
Now, before you go firing off emails let me explain what I mean by that. The Midshipmen have come a long way since Paul Johnson took over in 2002, and with it, expectations have risen in Annapolis. As fans, media members, and just general onlookers on the program, nobody is expecting a losing season anymore, nor should they be. "Expect to win" isn't just a marketing slogan; it's a mantra the program takes seriously. And after seven years, two coaches, and a whole lot of doubters, I'd say the team and it's support staff have more than lived up to their end of the bargain.
So why do some fans continue to complain about the performance of the team?
Last I checked, nobody was projecting this team as a BCS "buster" prior to the season, and if I remember correctly, there were quite a few questions even the most optimistic of fans held prior to the season. Sure, Navy has played beyond expectations at time this year, nearly upsetting Ohio State and scoring impressive wins over bowl eligible teams such as Air Force, SMU, and Notre Dame; but do those wins make Navy immune to being ‘upset' in its own right?
The answer is no. This is still college football, and it is still a game which is, by nature, filled with variables. Personnel matchups. Weather. Travel time. The list goes on and on. As sports fans we want look for trends and we look for order. But so often, we find ourselves immersed in a game which doesn't make sense. What happens one week may be completely indicative of the team's strength, or it might not be. When it comes to the Top 25, the fact of the matter is that the Mids probably aren't one of the 25 best teams in the country. But then again they don't have to be, because in today's day and age of competitive parity, it's all relative.
What we saw on Saturday was one game, and it doesn't diminish what this team has done and what it can still do. Likewise, losing to Hawaii isn't the end of the world, just like losing to Temple wasn't the end of the Navy season. If anything, the Hawaii loss comes at the best possible time of year for Ken Niumatalolo, who can (and will) use the team's performance to get them ready for Army on December 12th. And with the Army-Navy game and the Texas Bowl on the horizon, it's not as though ten wins – and that coveted, but not season defining – Top 25 appearance our out of the question either.
So keep the Hawaii loss in perspective, and remember that it still wasn't that long ago that an eight win season would have seemed like a dream come true for this program.
Best in the Triple Option Era
List season is upon us, and I'm not just talking about the Naughty or Nice list or that seven page toy wish list your kid brought you the other day. With Army-Navy fast approaching, it's likely we'll see a number of recollections and rankings on past games in the media over the next week, with pundits and fans alike offering up their favorite memories. While my lifespan can in no way do justice to attempting to compile the best performances by Navy players in the entire history of the series, I will offer up my top five best Navy player performances against Army during the so-called "triple option era." In descending order, they are:
5) NG Nate Frazier, 2008: Perhaps a surprise pick to some, Frazier's stat line from last year's Army game hardly seems worthy of a top honor. Yet while he "only" recorded seven total tackles in the game, his physical play up front stymied Army's attempts to establish fullback Colin Mooney throughout afternoon.
4) FB Adam Ballard, 2005: Consider it the 2005 Army-Navy game to have been the national coming out party for the former Navy fullback, who gashed the Black Knights for 192 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, including a 67-yard dash for a score. Be sure to chalk up the assist for the offensive line however, which opened up some huge holes for Ballard to run through.
3) FB Kyle Eckel, 2004: Eckel had great games against the Black Knights in both 2003 and 2004, but he capped his senior season with an impressive 179 yard day against Army in 2004. Running around, over, and through the Cadets, Eckel left no doubt of his toughness on the cold December day.
2) QB Lamar Owens, 2005: One of the reasons Ballard had such a big day in 2005 was because Lamar Owens was nearly flawless while making his reads. Owens not only directed Navy to the 42-23 win, but he led the team to 531 total yards – a series record. He finished the afternoon with three rushing touchdowns, including a highlight reel 28-yard scamper in which he broke several tackles.
1) QB Craig Candeto, 2002: Perhaps the gold standard for quarterback performances in the modern history of the series, Candeto's 103 rushing yards and six touchdowns helped to cap off a 2-10 season in 2002 and set the tone for what would be a program defining 2003 campaign. Candeto wasn't the flashiest of Navy quarterbacks, but his hard-nosed style and quick decision making will long go down in Army-Navy history.