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Navy Football 2016 Team Preview: Coach Ken Sticks Around

Navy is coming off a high from an outstanding season last fall.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Midshipmen almost went through a coaching change this off-season but will sail forward with Ken Niumatalolo who enters his 10th year in command of the Navy football team.

2015 Record: 11-2

F/+ Rank: 21

S&P Rank: 20

FEI Rank: 24

Wins: Colgate, East Carolina, UConn, Air Force, Tulane, USF, Memphis, SMU, Tulsa, Army, Pitt

Losses: No. 11 Notre Dame, No. 8 Houston

*****

A few months ago it looked like Ken Niumatalolo was *this* close to heading out west and becoming the head coach at BYU. At times, it even looked likely and maybe even a done deal.

However, some complications arose during the negotiations process--like BYU insisting Coach Ken not run the triple option which why even bother bringing him as coach--and the Cougars ultimately went in a different direction.

That's great news for Navy who is coming off perhaps its best season in decades. Niumatalolo had become a master at engineering 8-5/9-4 type of seasons in Annapolis but could never get the Middies up to the next level until this past season.

The 11 wins were a high water mark for Coach Ken and he shattered his previous high F/+ ranking of 40 back in 2010 by an impressive 19 spots.

Low Moment

Late in the season the Middies were still in a dead heat to claim the Group of 5 playoff bid. They had to visit Houston and if they won a berth in the AAC Championship would have been assured and a playoff spot nearly locked up.

Houston quarterback Greg Ward was questionable before the game but play he did and the Cougars' offense sliced its way through Navy for an easy 52-31 victory to spoil Navy's quest for the playoffs.

Prior to this defeat, Navy had only lost 2 out of its last 15 games--both to Notre Dame.

High Moment

Navy went into then No. 13 Memphis and picked up a huge 45-20 win which put the Middies in the front seat to win the AAC in the first place.

Memphis was riding a 15-game winning streak and were undefeated up until this point in 2015. Although Navy out-gained the Tigers by 21 yards it was 3 turnovers from Memphis that really hurt them.

Also, in addition to this win Navy would defeat Pitt in the post-season for the program's third straight bowl victory.

2016 Schedule

Home: Fordham, UConn, Houston, Memphis, Tulsa

Away: Tulane, Air Force, East Carolina, USF, SMU

Neutral: Notre Dame, Army

There's a legit case to be made that Navy's entrance into the American conference has made their football schedules a little easier. Perhaps tougher in the middle tier games with the likes of the USF's and East Carolina's of the world but the Middies do not appear to be interested in scheduling Power 5 teams now that they're in a league.

This schedule is quite favorable overall. Neither Temple or Cincinnati are on it from the other division and the likely toughest opponents within their own division (Houston, Memphis) are both at home. This could set up a 9-3 type of season.

Projected S&P Ranking: 66

Irrespective of how many wins they'll notch the Middies are not expected to be anywhere near last year's team. A projected drop of 46 spots could mean a record in the vicinity of 5-7 could happen but as I mentioned right above the schedule probably won't be hard enough for that many losses.

Either way, this is shaping up to be a Navy team that isn't one of Ken Niumatalolo's best.

Predicted Kickoff Spread: Notre Dame (-18.5)

You have to give Navy credit as they've been able to maintain a lot of consistency in recent years and reached new heights last fall. Therefore, one could comment that they are just as likely to come back and have another tough team that challenges for 8, 9, or even 10 wins.

Unfortunately, the Middies lose so much production, leadership, and depth (especially on offense) that a season full of struggles is much more likely.

Typically, Navy has found gold in the past with a handful of key players within their system and they ride those players to a bunch of wins. While there has been consistency in the big picture once those key players move on there have been some downturns. For Navy, they've done a great job making sure those downturns don't last very long.

The 2016 season looks to be like one of those downturns but I wouldn't expect it to last into 2017. And who knows by this point in the season Navy might be pretty good. This still should be one of the 2 or 3 easiest Navy teams that the Fighting Irish have played under Brian Kelly.