I could probably come up with a dozen or so on-the-field questions for the Midshipmen in 2010, but that's what spring football is for. Instead I decided to ask (and answer) four off-the-field questions that have been sparking some interest amongst fans including: Will the Mids be ranked to start the season, and should Navy promote Ricky Dobbs for the Heisman Trophy?
1. Will the Midshipmen start the season ranked?
I can not remember a time when there was so much buzz about a Navy team over eight months before they play their first game. I am not saying that there isn't good reason for some excitement. The Mids 35-13 thrashing of Missouri in the Texas Bowl could arguably be the most impressive victory in the triple option era. However, some publications have gotten a bit silly in their pre-season polls. The usually reliable Mark Schlabach of ESPN put Navy at #25 in his way-too-early 2010 pre-season poll, but he made a pretty big error in his report. Schlabach said that the Mids have eight starters returning on the defensive side of the ball. A quick glance at the last depth chart for Navy in 2009 clearly shows only 5 underclassmen starters returning on defense. And while the Mids should be in good shape up along the defensive line with returning starters Jabaree Tuani and Chase Burge; and in the secondary with Wyatt Middleton, Emmett Merchant, and Kevin Edwards, the linebacker position needs to be restocked. And as good as quarterback Ricky Dobbs was against Missouri, I think a lot of this pre-pre-season hype can be attributed to an awesome defensive performance against the Tigers. Remarkably, the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Mark Bradley put Navy at #22 in his pre-season poll. That's one spot ahead of Miami and at least three four spots ahead of unranked USC.
Answer: Listen, nobody would love to see Navy start the season ranked more than me. I was tooting the disrespect horn for a good part of 2009 (thanks to Temple for ruining that). However, I am equally of the opinion that pre-season polls should be abolished completely because they are baseless and have way too much effect on the outcome of the convoluted BCS system. So while my heart says it would be great to see a #24 before Navy in the first poll in August, my mind says it really, really means nothing. No worries though, I do not think it will happen. I don't think pollsters are going to put Navy ahead of USC's or even the UCLA's of the world before the season starts. They will all have forgotten about Ricky Dobbs and the Missouri game by then.
2. Is promoting Ricky Dobbs for the Heisman a good idea?
I could point out all of the reasons why this is a good idea, but thankfully Navy blogger extraordinaire Mike James has already done that for all to enjoy. He makes several compelling arguments in his piece, which you can read here. I will, however, summarize what he said. According to James, Dobbs is a prototypical candidate who could handle the pressure that comes when your school spends some money to promote you as potentially the best football player for the upcoming season. And such a campaign, even if it doesn't have a chance of leading to an actual award, argues James, would be great exposure for the non-BCS football program.
Answer: This is another tough question because once again, my heart is all for it. The idea of seeing Ricky Dobbs on a poster with the words, ‘Heisman' anywhere on it makes me want to buy season tickets for my whole family. However, my mind is wondering whether or not it is the same kind of poster that will be plastered to the Maryland locker room as soon as it comes out. Navy opens the 2010 season against their in-state rivals and in all likelihood they will be favored to beat a Terrapins team that finished 2-10 in 2009. So going into the game, the Mids will not only be expected to win, but the school wants all eyes to be on its Heisman contender, Ricky Dobbs, from the first snap of the game. Last season, coach Ken Niumatalolo said that Navy was almost able to beat Ohio State because of a ‘perfect storm' of elements that had the Buckeyes overlooking the undersized Mids. As soon as one Heisman poster is printed, Navy will almost be sending the opposite signal to its opponents, especially Maryland, in effect saying, "Hey don't overlook us, or our super-star Ricky Dobbs." Sure Maryland is no Ohio State, but I think if you embark on a Heisman campaign in the off-season for your quarterback, you kind of lose the whole underdog mentality just a bit. For as long as I can remember, Navy has prided itself on saying how they have to out-hustle teams because there is no way they can bench press more than them. Hopefully the marketing folks in Annapolis will figure out a way to pitch Dobbs to the country without ditching what makes Navy an inspiring story every time they win.
3. Will all of Navy's games be televised in 2010?
One of the biggest reasons why Navy fans are spoiled is because of their ability to pretty much count on being able to see their favorite team play on television every Saturday. In fact 51 of the Mids last 53 games have been aired in some capacity. That is an incredible run of exposure which has undoubtedly helped recruiting and the expansion of an already global fan base. So what will happen this year? Will the Mids luck run out?
Answer: Of course not. All Navy home games (Georgia Southern, SMU, Notre Dame, Duke, Central Michigan and Arkansas State) are already taken care of. So too is Army. This leaves the following games to find a platform for viewing.
September 4 at Maryland: The Terps are the home team so it will be up to ESPN or Jefferson Pilot to broadcast the game. There is little doubt that it will be picked up regionally, but it will be interesting to see if ESPN airs it on one of its television platforms. I think ESPN360.com, at a minimum, is a safe bet.
September 18 at Louisiana Tech: In 2009, nine of the Bulldogs' 12 games were broadcasted on national television, with five coming on ESPN, ESPN2, or ESPNU. According to a release put out by Louisiana Tech, three of their games were amongst the ten most watched WAC broadcasts by ESPN, which also bodes well for the Navy game being televised. In the past, Navy has agreed to move away games from Saturday to accommodate a national television broadcast, and with a bye-week after this game, there is definitely a possibility that could happen here.
October 2 at Air Force: There is no way this game isn't broadcasted. The only question is whether it will be on CBS College Sports or VERSUS. I'd imagine it would be the former and not the later.
October 9 at Wake Forest: Two years ago, fans had to tune in online (ESPN360.com) to watch Navy upset the Demon Deacons. It's probably a safe bet that this will once again be ESPN's plan.
November 6 at East Carolina: When I first looked at the schedule in terms of television possibilities, I was immediately concerned that this game would be the biggest challenge to broadcast. Then it hit me that CBS College Sports has a contract with Conference USA, so I was encouraged. Combine that with the fact that Air Force plays at Army on the same day and I am no longer worried. I anticipate CBS College Sports will once again package the two games into a service academy promotion right before Veteran's Day.
4. Will Navy's coaching staff remain completely in tact?
Answer: Unless something drastic happens again in the NCAA coaching carousel, this is an easy one as all Navy coaches are set to return in 2010. This is a bit of a surprise especially when you consider that 18 percent (22 out of 120) of FCS football programs made a coaching change in the off-season. If the average coaching staff has 11 members, that's about 250 or so potential jobs that were filled. However, Navy may have dodged two significant bullets when Air Force coach Troy Calhoun decided to stay put, and when Georgia Southern hired Paul Johnson protégé Jeff Monken. Ok, make that three bullets because Monken did not go back to his Navy roots to pluck any coaches for his new staff either. I see those as the major dodges because if Calhoun left for Tennessee, Air Force would have been in the market for a triple option-minded coach just like Georgia Southern proved to be.
Another interesting tidbit is that of the 22 schools at the FCS level that changed coaches, only five of them (Virginia, Florida State, Notre Dame, Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech) have faced triple option teams in the past 2 seasons. Virginia, Florida State and Western Kentucky all looked to current or former coaches at their respective schools to lead their programs. And none of these coaches have any intention of running an option attack. Meanwhile, Louisiana Tech and Notre Dame decided to go with spread option minded head coaches in Sonny Dykes and Brian Kelly.
I'm not sure why schools like Akron, Louisiana-Monroe, Marshall, Memphis, and San Jose State didn't even consider interviewing members of Navy's offensive staff. You'd think that being a consistent bottom-dweller in their respective conferences would have made them think a bit outside-of-the-box in terms of their offensive approach.
To this point, I have only mentioned that Navy's offensive coaches may or should have gotten more interest, but I don't mean to take anything away from those on the other side of the ball in Annapolis. As Coach Niumatalolo said leading up to the Texas Bowl, the strength of the 2009 Navy team was its defense, not its offense. And a ton of credit for their performance needs to go to defensive coordinator Buddy Green and his staff. You'd have to think that some of them will get calls after next season, especially if Navy's defense continues to perform at such a high level.