NCF Nation: Ken Niumatalolo

Navy challenge twofold for Irish

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- His 24-year coaching career across 12 different college and pro stops has offered Brian VanGorder a taste in all that offensive football has to offer. And yet this Saturday's trip to Navy will be the Notre Dame defensive coordinator's first time facing an option team in a decade.

"2004, I want to say: Georgia Southern," VanGorder said, referring to when he was Georgia's defensive coordinator.

VanGorder takes an Irish unit into Landover, Maryland, that is still smarting from its first defeat of the season, at defending national champion Florida State last week. And he gets the benefit of a team bye week and student mid-semester break before preparation for the Midshipmen hits full force in the coming days.

When it comes to Navy, though, the biggest concern is not necessarily stopping the triple-option on a given Saturday. Yes, Keenan Reynolds has proven to be lethal, illustrating his brilliance again this past Saturday by rushing for 251 yards, the highest total by an FBS quarterback this season. His three rushing touchdowns in a win over San Jose State extended his FBS-leading active streak of games with a rushing touchdown to 14 games.

But peek ahead to what awaits Notre Dame Nov. 8 in Tempe, Arizona, and you see what is hardly an ideal recovery mission for the Irish when they go to Arizona State. And when it comes to facing Navy, recovery time is usually what matters most for the Irish.

In the seven games Notre Dame and Navy have played since coach Ken Niumatalolo took over Navy before the 2007 season, the Irish have a 4-3 record against the Midshipmen, including a current three-game winning streak. In the seven games played immediately following their contests with Navy, the Irish are just 2-5. Those two wins: a seven-point victory at Wake Forest in 2011 and a three-point home win over Purdue in 2012.

The Irish have lost to a good Air Force team when they themselves were not good (41-24, 2007); they have lost to a terrible Syracuse team that had just fired its coach (24-23, 2008); they have lost to a Pitt team that was a few plays away from a Big East title (27-22, 2009); they have lost to a Pitt team that barely went bowling thanks in large part to beating the Irish (28-21, 2013).

This is not particularly unique to Notre Dame: Of the 4-4 Midshipmen's first seven opponents this season, just two -- Temple and Rutgers -- won the following game. And the Owls' win came against an FCS Delaware State squad after a bye week.

None of these setbacks, of course, came from a VanGorder-run defense. None of those prior Irish opponents, though, may be able to match the offensive firepower of the ASU team Notre Dame will face in two weeks.

The Sun Devils -- who have no picnic of their own this Saturday in hosting Utah -- are the 11th-best passing team in the nation, and they score nearly 37 points per game. That is a little off their nearly 40-points-per-game clip from a year ago, a season in which the Irish beat them, but the pace and expected desert heat will be a challenge nonetheless.

First comes Navy, though, as the Midshipmen appear to be hitting their stride coming off their top-two offensive outings of the season.

"I think the value of the week off right now through seven games and coming off a great game (Oct. 18), the most important thing right now is we get some rest and get away from the game a little bit," VanGorder said last week. "Let the coaches work the Navy game plan, let the players get away. I think that’s important. Hopefully they’re fresh in coming back and, yeah, they’ve got to adapt, it’s an entirely different game. But these guys will. Our players, again, are high-character, smart guys. They’ll adapt and be fine."

Few can doubt that. The last time they had excess time to prepare for Navy, the Irish won 50-10 in the 2012 opener in Dublin. The season before that, with the locker room on edge after a loss to USC, the Irish channeled their frustrations into a 56-14 rout.

Both of those years mark the only times out of the past seven that the Irish then went out and won the next week. With a team this season whose playoff hopes remain very much alive, it is safe to say these Irish are not taking anything for granted.

"Everybody’s got to be detailed," VanGorder said. "It’s assignment football, and if you have a breakdown it can be devastating."

Not as devastating as the fallout, win or lose Saturday, which makes the Irish's first trip West the following week all the more challenging.
In some ways, social media is often a popularity contest. And few fare better in popularity contests than Notre Dame, which attracts attention like no other on an annual basis, win or lose.

The latest example comes from the Tulsa World's Kelly Hines, who compiled a list of college football coaches by Twitter followers.

No. 2 on the list? Brian Kelly.

The fourth-year Irish coach has 91,042 Twitter followers as of the writing, trailing only LSU's Les Miles, who has 105,760.

Anyone who has seen Miles live-tweet a sporting event in the past should not be all that surprised, given the Tigers coach's seemingly unfiltered thoughts on everything.

Kelly's successor at Cincinnati, new Tennessee coach Butch Jones, checks in at No. 3 on the list, at 75,300 followers.

Other coaches of interest to Notre Dame fans are USC's Lane Kiffin (18th, 29,790), Kansas' Charlie Weis (28th, 17,460), MSU's Mark Dantonio (39th, 9,425), BYU's Bronco Mendenhall (53rd, 4,560), Nevada's Brian Polian (60th, 3,046), Temple's Matt Rhule (66th, 2,289), UMass' Charley Molnar (76th, 1,548) and Navy's Ken Niumatalolo (84th, 837).

ND's 2012 opponents, Week 1: Navy

July, 16, 2012
Week 1: Sept. 1 versus Navy (at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland)
Time/TV: 9 a.m. ET, CBS
Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 72-12-2
2011 record: 5-7
Head coach: Ken Niumatalolo (32-21, four years)
Returning starters: Offense: 4; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Trey Miller, RB Gee Gee Greene, WR Brandon Turner, WR Matt Aiken, WR Casey Bolena, LT Graham Vickers, LG Josh Cabral, DE Wes Henderson, LB Brye French, LB Matt Warrick, LB Matt Brewer, CB Jonathan Wev, CB David Sperry, CB Parrish Gaines, S Tra'ves Bush, S Chris Ferguson, P Pablo Beltran

Key losses

QB Kriss Proctor, RB Alexander Teich, C Brady DeMell, G John Dowd, RT Ryan Basford, NG Jared Marks, DE Jabaree Tuani, LB Caleb King, LB Jarred Shannon, CB Kwesi Mitchell, K Jon Teague

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Proctor (914 yards)
Proctor (787 yards)
Receiving: Turner* (300 yards)
Tackles: Warrick* (103)
Sacks: Tuani (5.5)
Interceptions: Mitchell, Bush*, Ferguson*, Sperry* (2)

Three questions for ... College Football Nation blogger Andrea Adelson:

Versus Notre Dame in Ireland, at Penn State (following a bye). One can think of easier ways to open the season, but Navy has laid a tough task ahead of itself. What can this program take away from those games and environments early on, and do the Midshipmen actually have a shot of stealing one?

Andrea Adelson: Navy is no stranger to playing tough games. This is a program that continually challenges itself. The Midshipmen nearly upset South
Carolina early last year, and have beaten Notre Dame twice in the last three years. If anything, I think opening the season with two incredibly tough games will set this team up for the rest of the season, even if it loses both. There are some young players that are going to get valuable on-the-job training against two traditional power teams and to me, there is no substitute for that as the season moves on. Can they steal one? Absolutely. Last time I checked, neither team is Alabama. I never count Navy out of a game.

Quarterback Trey Miller got thrown into the fire early last season following Kriss Proctor's injury. How much will that help Miller this year, especially with running an offense as sophisticated as Navy's?

AA: I spoke with coach Ken Niumatalolo during the spring, and he is really excited about having Miller start this year. Niumatalolo called Miller's performance against Notre Dame last year "baptism under fire," so I think he learned a valuable lesson from that experience. Any time you can go into the year with some game experience as the bona fide starting quarterback, it helps. But no question, opening the season on the road against the Irish is going to be a huge task for Miller and the entire offense.

There's no beating around the bush. Navy, due to turnovers and poor execution, often beat itself last season. (That may sound familiar to readers of this space.) With five of last season's losses coming by three points or fewer, just how close is Navy this year to getting back on track and returning to a bowl game?

AA: I think Navy will get back to a bowl game. What really surprised me about last season is Navy rarely beats itself. In fact, Navy is usually one of the most disciplined teams in all of college football. Niumatalolo basically went back to the basics this spring and stressed that discipline. "We are paying more attention to detail," he told me. "I know we lost close games last year and there are small little things we missed that cost us a game, and I think that resonates with our guys because they know losing five games by 11 points, they saw all the little things we could get better."

Non-AQ spring previews

February, 16, 2012
Let's take a look at some spring storylines for selected non-AQ teams.


Spring practice start date: March 12

Spring game: April 14

End date: April 16

What to watch:
  • Gus Malzahn era begins. Hugh Freeze took Arkansas State to the Sun Belt title in his only year on the job. Now the Gus Malzahn era begins, with promises to continue the high-flying attack that dominated the league last year. Malzahn obviously has made his name as one of the top offensive minds in the game, so it will be interesting to see how he interacts with reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year Ryan Aplin.
  • Michael Dyer's eligibility? The former Auburn running back has transferred to Arkansas State, but his eligibility for 2012 is unclear. The school has considered filing a hardship waiver to the NCAA because of an ailing family member. If approved, he would be eligible immediately.
  • Big defensive losses. The Red Wolves are losing some of their best players on defense -- Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Brandon Joiner as well as first-team selections Demario Davis, Darryl Feemster and Kelcie McCray. In fact, only 10 starters return to the team, so there will be plenty of position battles this spring.

Spring practice start date: March 12

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Replacing Kellen Moore. This is not just a local story. It is a national story. Trying to replace the winningest quarterback in NCAA history is going to overshadow anything Boise State does during practice in the spring or fall. There are several contenders: junior Joe Southwick, sophomore Grant Hedrick, redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea and true freshman Nick Patti, already enrolled. Southwick has served as the backup to Moore the past two seasons, while Patti is a highly heralded recruit out of Florida with similarities to Moore. You can bet this will not be settled in the spring.
  • Youth. Moore is not the only starter who has to be replaced. This will be a relatively inexperienced team when it comes to starts. Several big-time contributors are gone, including running back Doug Martin, left tackle Nate Potter and defensive linemen Shea McClellin, Billy Winn, Tyrone Crawford, Chase Baker, linebacker Byron Hout and safety George Iloka. By some counts, Boise State has only six returning starters for 2012.
  • Big East early? This has nothing to do with on-the-field matters, but there remains the possibility that Boise State could jump to the Big East a year early to fill the hole left by West Virginia.

Spring practice start date: March 5

Spring end date: March 30 (spring game TBA)

What to watch:
  • QB depth. Riley Nelson goes into the season as the unquestioned starter after replacing Jake Heaps nearly midway through last season. Nelson's energy and enthusiasm helped the Cougars end with a 10-win season in Year 1 as an independent. This team is now officially his from the start of the season. Now, can he stay healthy? He has gotten injured in 2010 and 2011, and there is not much experience behind him with Heaps having gone to Kansas. Depth must be developed.
  • Replacing Matt Reynolds. Reynolds was a rock for the Cougars at left tackle the past several seasons, so his shoes are big ones to fill on the offensive line. It helps that three starters are returning on the line, but Reynolds tied a school record with 52 starts in his BYU career. High school All-American Ryker Mathews would seem to be the favorite to win this spot. He missed last season with a foot injury.
  • Eason gone. Perhaps one of the most underrated players on the defense was Corby Eason, who was tied for the team lead with 14 pass breakups. He is gone, and Jordan Johnson will get his chance at cornerback.

Spring practice start date: March 21

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  • Bye-bye, Case. Just like Boise State, the Cougars must replace record-setting quarterback Case Keenum, who got a sixth year of eligibility and proceeded to smash a number of NCAA passing marks. Unlike Boise, the Cougars have a quarterback with starting experience. That would be David Piland, who took over in 2010 when Keenum and backup Cotton Turner got hurt. Piland got the luxury of redshirting last season, and he goes into spring as the heir apparent. How much has he improved?
  • Tony Levine takes over. Kevin Sumlin is gone, and Levine was promoted to head coach. That should certainly ease the transition, but Levine is going to want to put his own stamp on the program. What changes will we see with the way he runs practice and schemes? This will be a perfect time for Levine to learn with trial and error before spring practice begins.
  • Sammy Brown gone. Brown was just as important to the defense as Keenum was to the offense, and his departure is a major hole. The entire linebacker corps has questions, with Marcus McGraw and Phillip Steward also gone. Those three players ranked among the top four in tackles for the season.

Spring practice start date: March 19

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Miller time. Trey Miller goes into the spring as the starter at quarterback. He did play in several games last season and was pretty inconsistent. But now that he has some playing time under his belt and the full-time starting quarterback job, he can start to take some ownership of this team.
  • Get tougher. Coach Ken Niumatalolo wants his players to get tougher, both physically and mentally. Last season was not what anybody at Navy anticipated, and the heartbreaking losses are simply tough to accept. But Niumatalolo is not going with scheme changes in the spring to get his team back to a bowl game. It is all about making sure his players are tough-minded and fighting for one another.
  • Discipline. That means playing with much more discipline, and paying attention to detail. When you lose five games by three points or fewer, you start to understand you have to do everything right, even the little things.

Spring practice start date: March 28

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Lynch time. All-everything quarterback Chandler Harnish is gone, leaving the job to his backup for the past two seasons, Jordan Lynch. He is a former safety and, according to the folks who know, plays like one. He also is apparently a better runner than Harnish. Lynch has seen his share of playing time, but how will he fare now that he is in command of the entire offense?
  • Offensive line. How do the Huskies replace four seniors with a combined 151 career starts? With Trevor Olson, Joe Pawlak, Scott Wedige and Keith Otis gone, Logan Pegram is the lone returner. The line had much to do with the success of Harnish and the offense last season. They gave up just 12 sacks and ranked No. 12 in the country in rushing offense and No. 11 in total offense.
  • Defensive strength. Northern Illinois returns eight starters on defense but also should get a boost from two more players -- 2010 starters Devon Butler at middle linebacker and Tyrone Clark at weakside linebacker. Butler sat out after he was injured in a shooting last April; Clark sat out for undisclosed personal reasons but practiced with the team throughout the year. Butler dressed out for bowl practices, although he didn't do any contact.

Spring practice start date: March 5

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • No Austin Davis. Terrific dual-threat quarterback Austin Davis is gone, leaving a big question mark at the position. Backup Arsenio Favor is expected to get the first-string reps during spring practice, but there definitely will be those watching for incoming freshman Anthony Alford come the fall. New coach Ellis Johnson tried to recruit Alford to South Carolina. Alford also was a baseball player, like Davis.
  • Ellis Johnson takes over. Southern Miss has built a winning tradition, and Johnson is taking over the surprise Conference USA champs. But he faces some rebuilding questions both on offense and defense. How does he handle these in his first head-coaching opportunity? Johnson has been a lifelong assistant, and worked under many good head coaches. How he adapts now that he is in charge is definitely something to watch.
  • Defense rebuilding. Six key players from the front seven are gone, including Cordarro Law and Ronnie Thornton. There also is a new coaching staff in place for these players to get used to. Remember, some are going on their third defensive coordinator in three years.
I had a chance to catch up with Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo about his program's future in the Big East. He already made headlines for his opinion on the future of the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy. Here is a little more of what he had to say.

What impact does moving to the Big East have on you from an on-the-field football perspective?

Ken Niumatalolo: It’s already helped us in recruiting. Academically, we’re still going to recruit the same kids but what this has allowed us to do -- we’ve always sold you can come and play Division I football and get a world-class education but now we can sell that you’re going to play in a BCS conference. Every kid always has the dream of playing football on the highest level. With the guys we’ve recruited, it has opened doors already we wouldn’t have gotten into if the Big East wasn’t a part of that.

Are you looking for a different type of football player now?

[+] EnlargeKen Niumatalolo
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireNavy coach Ken Niumatalolo has seen immediate dividends in recruiting since the Midshipmen decided to join the Big East.
KN: We’re trying to find the biggest, fastest guys, good football players that are good people that can fit into the academy. We’re not going to beat Stanford and Northwestern and the Vandys of the world on kids, but we may steal one kid. They can’t sign everybody. We’re hoping maybe we can get one of those guys and if you get a couple of those guys like that, they change your program. In size and speed those are the things you’re looking for. Maybe with us being in this environment will help us. Having said that, I know it’s going to be hard to compete in the Big East on a week in and week out basis. I was just concerned about the other side of it, where do we go? I understand what’s going to happen. We’ve played very good football programs -- Ohio State, South Carolina and people like that. But we didn’t play them every week. I don’t know if the guys we’re recruiting are going to be bigger and faster. We think it’s going to get us into those homes more. We know we’ve got to try our best, but they’re going to be long years in the Big East. We have to make sure we can be as competitive as we can be.

You mention that grind, which is something that you guys haven’t had to do.

KN: Well, really every game that we play is a grind. Everybody that we play is bigger than us. Delaware is bigger than us. We play I-AA teams that are bigger than we are. We’ll try our best to get up to caliber but continue to recruit the same type of kids. I don’t want to compromise who we are. We’re not trying to lower academic requirements. I feel like there are enough good football players around the country that have good enough grades to get into the academy. We’re going to recruit nationally. Most of these schools might recruit regionally. Maybe we’ll be ready for the grind. The grind of the academy allows us to compete right now. If it wasn’t for the grind of the academy, the lives that they live, academic requirements -- we have some tough-minded kids here. Hopefully we can get a little better player, take them through the process, toughen them up for the grind, and we’ll see what happens.

What is your No. 1 concern with the move?

KN: The preparation factor. We need a couple more strength coaches. We’ve never had a full time recruiting coordinator. We’ve had a recruiting coordinator, but he’s also a part-time coach. We’ve never had a football operations guy. So things like that I’m thinking we have to do like all the other BCS programs have so our football coaches can concentrate on coaching. We’ve had some success here in the past. I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel but we have to refine our skills. Where can we improve, how can we be better? I’m in discussion with our athletic director to improve our facilities. Those are the ways I’m thinking about to help us compete. What we do from an offensive and defensive standpoint will give us a chance to compete. If we go into that league and run a conventional offense, it would be very difficult for us to compete.

What can you take away from what Air Force has done in a conference, and what did not work for Army in Conference USA?

KN: We looked at both situations …. The thing Air Force was done when Fisher [DeBerry] came or even before that, they got an offense that fit them. They understood who they were; they ran the option and didn’t care about what was the trend of the day. They did something that gave them a chance. They were strong enough in who they were and they believed in it. They run a 3-4 scheme (on defense), just have to have one big guy at the nose and the rest can be more outside linebacker type guys. Size-wise it gave them a chance to compete on defense.

What happened to Navy and Army, both ran option but succumbed to public pressure -- we need to throw the football. Both went and got conventional pro-style coaches who are great coaches but quickly realized the academies are different. If anything can be taken away from Air Force, I commend them and applaud them for being strong in who they are, and saying this is what allows us to win. They stayed true to their schemes. They tweaked it and so will we, but the core of who they are in the option still remains in place and that has allowed them to have a foundation. … I’m looking more toward the future, not looking at what Army did with C-USA. Looking ahead that landscape is going to change. The signs are all over the place. I wish things would stay the same. We love being independent. It was a perfect match for us. But before we get caught outside without any shelter, we wanted to make sure we protected ourselves.

What is the ultimate goal as members of the Big East?

KN: Obviously we always want to win. As a team if your goal isn’t to win a conference championship, you shouldn’t go into a conference. But I’m realistic. If we happen to go 7-5 and get to a bowl game, we should have a parade because that’s going to be hard to do. I understand better than anybody how difficult that’s going to be. So you always start with your goals, to shoot for the stars, be a competitor and always do your best.

Navy sets sail with the Big East

January, 24, 2012
For over 100 years, Navy has gone it alone, making football independence work.

The Midshipmen succeeded where so many others could not, because, quite simply — they have a national brand, a national following, and a history that few programs can match. But the shifting winds of collegiate athletics have made even the strongest of independents weak in the knees.

[+] EnlargeMike Stukel
Danny Wild/US PresswireBeginning with the 2015 season, the Navy Midshipmen will be a member of the Big East.
Facing an uncertain future, scheduling restrictions and the prospect of being left on the sidelines, Navy has embarked on a program-changing course with its entry into the Big East beginning in 2015. There is a chance Navy will make conference affiliation work the way Air Force has in the Mountain West. There is a chance conference affiliation will fail, the way it did with Army in Conference USA.

Nobody is quite sure how this new era will work out, for Navy or the Big East. Both are taking incredible risks in their respective makeovers, hoping the convenience of joining forces will allow them both to be players in the future.

"We feel really strongly that it's clear to us the future of college football is in a conference, and that's the bottom line," Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said in a conference call Tuesday. "There's strength in numbers, there's strength in the market, strength in branding, strength in resources a conference can bring to the table."

Strength and the Big East do not exactly go together these days. The long-tortured season of expansion has left the Big East without founding members Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia, in a court battle against the said Mountaineers, and in the middle of its second league makeover.

Boise State, SMU, San Diego State, Houston, UCF and SMU come on board in 2013, and commissioner John Marinatto reiterated Tuesday that the league plans on adding one more program to get to 12. The buyout for any departing team has now increased from $5 million to $10 million for current members, and goes into effect for new members once they join the conference. So yes, that means teams like Boise State or Navy could back out at any time and face no financial penalty.

Meanwhile, there are no answers about the future of the BCS and whether automatic qualifying status will still apply. None of that screams "strength." But this is not a decision Navy came to hastily.

In fact, conference affiliation has been kicked around for about 10 years at the Naval Academy. The expansion craze of the last two years has shifted perspective. Several studies were done, meetings were held. Navy looked at what Air Force and Army did with conference affiliation. It weighed the pros and cons.

Gladchuk clearly explained why Navy would make such a move now, and everything he said made sense.

There are scheduling concerns as an independent. A shift to nine-game conference schedules mean fewer windows for independents to get games, particularly in October and November. Bowl opportunities are sure to change in the next BCS cycle. The money is shifting toward teams in major conferences as well, creating even more disparity between the haves and the have nots. The idea that the Big East has reconfigured itself, increased its buyout for departing members and is up for a television renegotiation allowed Navy to feel now was the right time to make this decision.

"If this had happened at any other time, I don't know that I'd be for it," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "In college sports, there's a hurricane getting ready to come and those that are in homes don't worry about it. It's the people on the outside looking in that need a place for refuge. That's why I was on board with Chet from the standpoint it's been great for us being independent, but with the college landscape changing we're out in the open trying to fend for ourselves. We feel we found a great home in the Big East for us."

There is no doubt the Big East and Navy feel they need each other. In adding Navy, the Big East gets to expand its media footprint and add a program that has been to eight bowl games in the last nine years. It has a national reach far larger than anybody left in the conference. In the Big East, Navy feels it gets security, the ability to expand its brand and an opportunity to put itself on better financial footing.

The risk is much greater for Navy, however.

"I'm not sure what's going to happen, but we feel like for us, this is road we need to go," Niumatalolo said. "We have to up our recruiting, up our facilities without compromising ourselves as an institution. As we maintain those parts of our mission with allowing us to compete at this level, we feel like we can do it. Are we biting off more than we can chew? I don't know, but we're excited about what the Big East has to offer."

Weekend Rewind: Non-AQs

November, 21, 2011
Let's take a look back at the non-AQs in Week 12.

[+] EnlargeKellen Moore
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireThanks to a stellar game from Kellen Moore against San Diego State, Boise State remains in play for an at-large berth into the BCS.
Boise rebounds. It may not have been pretty, but the Broncos rebounded from their loss to TCU with a 52-35 win over San Diego State. Kellen Moore went 28-of-40 with four touchdown passes and an interception as Boise State jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead and then held on. The defense, with its top three cornerbacks out, has not looked like the dominated unit we are used to seeing. The Broncos have now given up at least 35 points in back-to-back games for the first time since losing to Hawaii (39-27) and East Carolina (41-38) to close out the 2007 season. It also was the third time in four games Boise State has allowed over 400 yards in total offense. Still, Boise State remains in play for an at-large berth into the BCS. The Broncos are No. 7 in the latest standings, and could be chosen considering the SEC has five teams in the Top 14 and the Big 12 has three. You must be in the Top 14 to be considered for an at-large berth and there is a limit of two teams per conference. If Houston gets the automatic berth into the BCS, that would leave three at-large spots open.

Conference race update. Here is how the conference races are shaking out.

Conference USA: The winner between Houston and Tulsa on Friday wins the West and clinches a spot in the C-USA title game. Southern Miss lost to UAB 34-31 but can still clinch the East Division with a win over Memphis on Saturday or a Marshall loss.

MAC: Ohio won the East and is in the MAC title game. In the West, Northern Illinois clinches a return trip with a win over Eastern Michigan or a Toledo loss at Ball State.

Mountain West: TCU wins the outright league title with a victory over UNLV on Dec. 3.

Sun Belt: Arkansas State can win the league title outright with a win over Troy on Dec. 3 or a Western Kentucky loss to Troy this Saturday. The Red Wolves have already accepted an invitation to the Bowl. ULL also has been invited to the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. FIU and Western Kentucky are also bowl eligible, but the Sun Belt only has two tie-ins. There are backup agreements with the Little Caesars Pizza and BBVA Compass Bowls, but it appears as if there will not be open slots in either of those games.

WAC: If Louisiana Tech and Nevada win out, both would get a share of a conference title.

Game of the week. Louisiana Tech 24, Nevada 20. The Wolf Pack built a comfortable 20-3 lead on the Bulldogs, and appeared set to cruise to a win in their quest to win an outright WAC title. Nevada was the only undefeated team in the league going into the game; Louisiana Tech had one loss. But Colby Cameron engineered an incredible fourth-quarter comeback to lift the Bulldogs to a 24-20 win. Now they have a chance to clinch a share of the WAC title Saturday against New Mexico State. Cameron threw three touchdown passes in the span of nine minutes, hitting Taulib Ikharo with 51 seconds to play to complete the rally. Nevada had two first downs on its final three possessions. Adrien Cole finished with 17 tackles, and Cameron finished 25-of-45 for 355 yards and three touchdowns. The Bulldogs have now won six straight -- the longest winning streak since 1999.

Bowl streak ends. After Navy beat SMU last week, hopes brightened for the Midshipmen to keep its bowl streak alive. Navy had games left with San Jose State and Army -- two teams with losing records. Win out, and go to a bowl game. But the Midshipmen blew several opportunities on offense and could not stop San Jose State running back Brandon Rutley, losing 27-24 to the Spartans. The loss breaks a streak of eight straight bowl appearances. If you were to encapsulate this season for Navy, it would be about an uncharacteristic lack of discipline and missed chances to win. Four of its seven losses have been by three points or less.

"My worst nightmare came true. We were sleepwalking to start the game. We left a ton of points out on the field offensively. We had some uncharacteristic mental lapses that really hurt us," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said after the game. "We didn't deserve to win. We played horribly, and it starts with me. Obviously, I didn't do a good job of getting us ready."

Helmet stickers

Sammy Brown, LB, Houston. Brown had 10 tackles, included 4.5 for a loss and three sacks, in a 37-7 win over SMU. He was selected Walter Camp Football Foundation National Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts.

Chandler Harnish, QB, Northern Illinois. Harnish broke the school record for total offense with 519 total yards in a 31-28 win over Ball State on Tuesday night. His 519 total yards is tied for third most by any player in FBS this season. Harnish passed for 338 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 181 yards and a touchdown.

Bobby Rainey, RB, Western Kentucky. Rainey rushed for a season-high 214 yards and a touchdown against North Texas, helping the Hilltoppers become bowl eligible. He also caught four passes for 48 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown reception. Rainey needs 82 yards to become the school's all-time leading rusher.

Brandon Rutley, RB, San Jose State. Rutley ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns, and caught a career-high eight passes for 101 yards in a 27-24 win over Navy. Rutley is the first San Jose State player to have 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in the same game. The Spartans now have four wins -- one more than 2009 and 2010 combined.

Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming. Smith accounted for 352 of his team's 462 yards of total offense in a 31-10 victory over New Mexico. In addition to rushing for a career-high 140 yards and two touchdowns, Smith completed 23-of-38 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown. Wyoming is now bowl eligible.

Halloween at Notre Dame

October, 31, 2011
Everyone hates Mondays -- except for Halloween. Here, we spice things up with a spooky look at Notre Dame's season and what remains of it as the calendar turns toward November.

Haunted House: We've been calling it the Big House of Horrors here for quite some time, so it has to be Michigan, right? Notre Dame has lost its past three games in Ann Arbor, including a 38-0 defeat in 2007. That may actually be better than losing on last-second touchdowns, the way the Irish have in their previous two trips to Michigan Stadium.

Scary movie: The Irish's opener was straight out of a horror flick. The lights came on, the sun went down and nearly three hours of thunderstorms rained on Notre Dame fans' parade, culminating in a five-hour, 59-minute contest that everyone in South Bend would like to forget. Five turnovers and a quarterback change plagued the Irish in a 23-20 Week 1 loss to South Florida.

Boo: Notre Dame has been relatively lucky injury-wise, except on the defensive line. There, senior end Ethan Johnson (sprained right ankle) hasn't played since the first snap Oct. 1 at Purdue and fellow senior Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee) is gone for the year. The third season-opening starter, nose guard Sean Cwynar, missed two games and has been limited much of the season because of a broken right hand, though he is now at full-strength and no longer has to play with a club on it.

Witchcraft: These were Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo's words following his team's 56-14 loss Saturday: "We tried to mis-direction him, tried to get him lost, tried to do some different things with eyes and that kid was dialed in. Like I said, we tried a lot of different blocking schemes and we couldn't get him blocked." He was talking about Manti Te'o, who has continued to puzzle offenses all season long. His 82 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks all lead the Irish.

Monster Mash: The Irish's Nov. 26 game at Stanford will be, if nothing else, a great chance to see where this team stacks up with the nation's elite. Stanford could be playing for a spot in the BCS title game then. And who knows, given all of the upsets that have happened the past two weeks -- maybe there's a shot, albeit a very slim one, that an 8-3 Notre Dame team is playing for a potential BCS bowl bid as well.

Navy, Army looking for answers

October, 26, 2011
Consider the way Navy has lost this season and you will understand why coach Ken Niumatalolo says he has never been through a season quite so excruciating.
  • Navy could not hold on to a 21-17 third-quarter lead on South Carolina and lost 24-21.
  • A missed extra point in overtime against Air Force cost Navy, as the Falcons won 35-34.
  • Navy had a 34-yard field goal blocked in the fourth quarter against Rutgers that would have given Navy the lead. Instead, Rutgers won 21-20.
  • What appeared to be a touchdown was called an incomplete pass when the ball came loose on the goal line in a 38-35 loss to East Carolina. Navy missed a field goal with no time remaining.

"Fortunately we have resilient kids, but the manner in which we’ve lost all our games -- it’s tough," Niumatalolo said in a phone interview. "I feel like we could easily be 6-1 right now but we’re not. When you lose by a total of eight points, it’s hard to swallow.

"We know we're going to be in close games. We’re not Alabama or LSU. We’re not going to blow people out. We’ve been on the other end of the stick in some of those games, but the ball hasn’t been dropping for us. In every way it matters, we lose. We’ve been a team that’s prided ourselves in not beating ourselves, and we’re just not doing that."

The Midshipmen (2-5) have lost five straight headed into their game at Notre Dame on Saturday and are in danger of missing a bowl game for the first time in nine seasons. After a year in which all the service academies made a bowl game for the first time in history, Army (2-5) also is in danger of missing a postseason game.

Navy is hoping for its third straight win over the Irish, but will have to do it without starting quarterback Kriss Proctor, who has an elbow injury. Trey Miller would make his first career start.

For Navy, the performance this season has been downright surprising. This is a team that generally wins nine games a season and has had incredible success for a service academy.

As Niumatalolo mentioned, Navy usually is involved in it share of close games, but generally wins them. The last time the Midshipmen posted a losing record in games decided by eight points or less was 2003 (1-2). The last time they were winless in games decided by that margin was 2002 (0-3). That was the last time they failed to reach a bowl.

This year, Navy is 0-4 in those games.

Special teams has been a particular area of concern. Navy has missed at least one kick (extra point or field goal) in six of its seven games this year, including four straight contests.

The defense also has struggled, ranking No. 95 in the nation in total defense and No. 119 in third-down conversion defense. The Midshipmen are allowing opponents to convert 57 percent of the time on third down. Red zone offense has been a problem, too. Navy moves the ball just fine but breaks down inside the 20.

Meanwhile, Army is having a tough time getting into close games. The Black Knights are hurting themselves, too. After being one of the best teams in the nation in turnover margin last season, they are one of the worst in 2011, having given the ball away 15 times. Third-down conversion defense ranks No. 115 as well.

Army still has service academy rivals Air Force (3-4) and Navy left on the schedule, along with Rutgers (5-2) and Temple (5-3). Navy has a slightly easier stretch to close the season after its game against Notre Dame: Troy (2-5), SMU (5-2) and San Jose State (3-4). The finale against Army could have bowl eligibility on the line.

“We’ve just got to find a way,” Niumatalolo said. “We need one to bounce off the backboard and go in for us. They’ve been rimming out. I have faith in our coaches and our players. We’re going to keep fighting. We’re not giving up.”

Weekend Rewind: Non-AQs

October, 3, 2011
Taking a look at the week that was in the non-AQs ...

The good: Marshall and Western Michigan pulled upsets on their AQ opponents -- the Thundering Herd beat Louisville 17-13 and the Broncos beat UConn 38-31. ... Boise State got its run game going in a 30-10 win against Nevada as Doug Martin went over 100 yards for the first time this season. ... New Mexico State beat New Mexico 42-28 - the first time in over 40 years that the Aggies have won three straight in the series. ... San Jose State scored the go-ahead touchdown on a pass with 54 seconds remaining to beat Colorado State 38-31. The Spartans have won back-to-back games for the first time in three years. … Louisiana is 4-1 for the first time since 1988 after Brett Baer hit a 26-yard field goal with no time left to lift the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 37-34 win against FAU.

[+] EnlargeDarius Johnson
AP Photo/Matt StrasenReceiver Darius Johnson and SMU ripped TCU's pass defense in a 40-33 overtime victory.
The bad: The TCU pass defense continues to struggle. SMU beat TCU 40-33 in overtime, throwing for 349 yards in the victory. All of its offensive touchdowns came on passes. In all, TCU gave up more than 450 yards for the second time this season, and the Horned Frogs are out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in 47 weeks. ... Temple had a huge win against Maryland in Week 4, but the Owls fell flat at home against Toledo, dropping an important MAC game 36-13. All seven of their drives in the second half ended with a punt or turnover. ... Northern Illinois lost to Central Michigan 48-41 -- the third time this season the Huskies' defense has given up 40 points.

The heartbreak: Utah State is the poster child for broken hearts this season. For the third time, the Aggies lost a game in the closing minutes. This time, it happened against in-state rival BYU. Riley Nelson came off the bench to lead a comeback for the Cougars, engineering a 96-yard game-winnning drive with 11 seconds left for a 27-24 BYU win. His 13-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Matthews was tipped by Utah State defender Will Harris near the goal line. The Aggies blew a 24-13 lead, and were hoping for consecutive wins against BYU for the first time since 1973-74.

Meanwhile in Annapolis, a penalty flag helped decide one of the biggest rivalry games in college football. Navy erased an 18-point fourth quarter deficit behind quarterback Kriss Proctor, who had a 7-yard touchdown run and 5-yard touchdown pass to Gee Gee Greene with 19 seconds left in regulation. Alexander Teich ran in the 2-point conversion and the game went into overtime. Proctor put Navy up first in the extra period on a 1-yard touchdown run, but was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for getting in the face of an Air Force player. The extra point was blocked. Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson answered with a 1-yard touchdown run of his own and the Falcons made their extra point to win 35-34 and get a leg up in the competition for the Commander-In-Chief Trophy. Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo was incredulous after the game, "I would hope the referees would have said something like, 'Settle down,' in that situation," he said. "It's too critical a call to make. I hope those guys can sleep well tonight."

Idaho nearly pulled the upset at Virginia, but the Vandals failed on their 2-point attempt in overtime and lost 21-20. Coach Robb Akey decided to go for the win in the extra period, but Brian Reader had his pass batted down. "My only disappointment was that we didn’t make the play at the end of the game," Akey said.

Case Keenum watch: Keenum threw for 471 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-42 win against UTEP, the 15th time he has reached 400 yards in his career. He now ranks third on the NCAA career pasing list, and needs 1,482 yards to break the mark held by Timmy Chang. Keenum is averaging 401 yards passing a game. If he keeps that pace up, he will break the passing record at UAB on Nov. 5.

Helmet stickers

Alex Carder, QB, Western Michigan. Carder threw for a career-high and program record 479 yards and five touchdowns in a 38-31 win against UConn.

Harry Peoples, WR, Louisiana. Peoples had 12 catches for 176 yards in a win against FAU. His 12 receptions tied the mark Brandon Stokley set against Louisiana Tech in 1995 for most catches by a UL receiver at Cajun Field.

Brady Amack, LB, Air Force. Amack amassed a career-high 23 tackles (11 solo), a sack and two tackles for loss in the Falcons’ 35-34 overtime victory at Navy. Amack’s tackle total ranks as the sixth-highest in school history and tied for the most in Mountain West history.

Matt Christian, QB, New Mexico State. Christian went 16-of-27 for a career-high 296 yards and a career-high four touchdowns in a 42-28 win at New Mexico. Christian also rushed for a career-high 101 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He had 397 yards of total offense and accounted for five of the six Aggie touchdowns in the game.

Navy wants CIC Trophy back

September, 27, 2011
There is a simple story line to follow as Air Force travels to play Navy on Saturday.

The Midshipmen want the Commander In Chief Trophy back.

They owned it for seven straight seasons until 2010, when Air Force beat Navy and Army to take the trophy -- given to the winner of the competition among all three service academies. That 14-6 loss to the Falcons has stuck with the Midshipmen throughout the offseason, not only because it hurt to lose but because they felt they let down all the players who came before them.

[+] EnlargeNavy Midshipmen
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireNavy will try to make up for their loss to Air Force last season that cost them the CIC Trophy.
"You feel like you dropped the ball, you let those guys down," Navy back Alexander Teich said. "In all my years of playing sports, that was the hardest loss I've ever had to take because of the magnitude of it."

The goal every year is to win the trophy, and that has been renewed for the Midshipmen this season. Coach Ken Niumatalolo wants to make sure his team remains focused on the game and not emotionally distracted. He hopes that the bye week his team just had will help, especially with the health of his team.

Niumatalolo hopes to have both starting linebackers Jarrod Shannon (shoulder) and Mason Graham (knee) back on the field. He says his team is in much better physical shape and mental shape, too, after a heartbreaking 24-21 loss to South Carolina a few weeks ago. Navy had the lead three different times on the No. 10 Gamecocks, but Marcus Lattimore wore the Midshipmen down and the offense could not make a play down the stretch.

"You're always down when you lose," Niumatalolo said. "But my son was on the sideline and he gave me an observation. He said, 'Dad, South Carolina played good and we went toe to toe with them.' I've had to take a step back as a coach and look at the big picture that we went to SEC country, played the No. 10 team at their place, and they played well. We couldn't ask for a better situation. We had the ball to end the game with 5 1/2 minutes left and two timeouts. For us and our offense, you couldn't ask for a better scenario. We could stay within who we are with that much time.

"We went down there, we took their best shot and I don't think our kids flinched. I'm very impressed by the mental toughness of our guys. We were crushed in that locker room. We were devastated. As I looked at our guys' eyes, they fully expected to win. I was pleased from the standpoint ... our guys have taken from that game when you play good teams, you have to play it to your best abilities, but mentally you have to be dialed in, too."

Air Force is coming into this game banged up as well. Four starters on defense are going to miss this game -- linebacker Patrick Hennessey (thumb), nose guard Ryan Gardner (knee), cornerback Chris Miller (leg), defensive end Zach Payne (knee) -- leaving what was a strength of the team with some inexperienced players. But Tim Jefferson has been even better on offense for the Falcons, who leads the nation in rushing with 412 yards a game.

Navy has a first-year starter in Kriss Proctor, but he has done a good job running the triple-option. "You can tell he's very comfortable executing the option part of it in what they do," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said.

This game marks the first one on the road for Air Force. The Falcons have won three-straight service academy games dating back to 2009, the longest since Air Force had a 12-game streak from 1997-02. But Navy has won three straight at home against Air Force and is eager to keep that run going. A win would mean it has a leg up in the race for the CIC Trophy.

"Get the trophy back -- that's been a team goal," Teich said. "That's what we work toward and the opportunity to start that journey begins Saturday."

Navy spring wrap

May, 10, 2011
2010 overall record: 9-4

Returning starters

Offense: 8, defense 3, punter/kicker 0

Top returners

FB Alexander Teich, DE Jabaree Tuani, SB Gee Gee Greene

Key losses

QB Ricky Dobbs, S Wyatt Middleton, CB Kevin Edwards

2010 statistical leaders (* denotes returners)

Rushing: Dobbs (967 yards, 14 TDs)

Passing: Dobbs (82-of-150 for 1,527, 13 TDs, 6 INT)

Receiving: Greg Jones (662 yards, 5 TDs)

Tackles: Tyler Simmons (131)

Sacks: Billy Yarborough (6)

Interceptions: Simmons, Max Blue*, Kevin Edwards, De’Von Richardson, Kwesi Mitchell*, Tra’ves Bush*, Emmett Merchant (one each)

Spring Answers

1. Kriss Proctor at quarterback. There was never any doubt that Proctor would succeed Dobbs, but nonetheless coach Ken Niumatalolo wanted to see a good spring out of him and he most certainly got one. Proctor no doubt already has the respect of his teammates, and that is important going into fall practice.

2. Depth in the backfield. Navy is deeper than it has ever been in the offensive backfield under Niumatalolo. Eight deep in fact. Greene and Teich return, along with Aaron Santiago, Bo Snelson and John Howell, giving the Midshipmen plenty of options.

3. Bush steps up. No question Bush has some big shoes to fill in replacing Middleton, the best player on the defense and a team leader. Middleton started all four seasons so Navy loses all his experience. But Bush had a good spring and is penciled in to start.

Fall Questions

1. Linebacker. Navy is going to have new starters on the outside after the graduation of Jerry Hauburger and the abrupt departure of Aaron McCauley. Jarred Shannon and Mason Graham top the depth chart, but there will be more competition in the fall when Brye French (lacrosse) and Craig Veech (baseball) return to football.

2. Youth in the secondary. Cornerback Kwesi Mitchell is the only returning starter in the secondary. Navy took a big hit in leadership and experience after losing Middleton and Edwards. Jordan Fraser is tops on the depth chart at the other safety spot, while David Sperry and Jonathan Wev are competing for the cornerback job opposite Mitchell.

3. Leadership. The departed senior class won 35 games, tied for the second most in school history. Players like Dobbs, Middleton, Edwards and Jeff Battipaglia started many games in their Navy careers. Niumatalolo said this spring was spent emphasizing the Navy culture to the young players whose job it will be to step up and lead.
Navy had one of its most experienced teams last season, a group so stocked with veteran leaders that it became easy to ratchet up expectations.

[+] EnlargeKen Niumatalolo
AP Photo/Rob CarrNavy coach Ken Niumatalolo has only three starters returning on defense.
But now the Midshipmen have to move forward without top players like Ricky Dobbs, Wyatt Middleton, Jeff Battipaglia, Greg Jones, Tyler Simmons and Kevin Edwards, to name a few. That senior class won 35 games, tied for the second-most wins for a class in school history with the groups in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

There obviously is no doubting Navy knows how to get its players ready to become leaders. Already, quarterback Kriss Proctor has taken the reigns on offense. Jabaree Tuani and Kwesi Mitchell have done the same on defense. But what could be a factor is inexperience. Navy has only three starters returning on defense after losing several seniors and two unexpected players. Starting linebacker Aaron McCauley left the academy for personal reasons, while free safety De'Von Richardson was dismissed for academic reasons.

Coach Ken Niumatalolo said his team worked as much as allowed under NCAA rules limiting tackling and 11-on-11 work during the spring so coaches could identify the players ready to start in 2011.

"You can hit a garbage can and walk through cones, but unless you play, it's hard to see who can do what," he said in a recent phone interview. "That's our approach when we have a new group of guys coming in, to set the foundation and then we go from there. There's no way you can simulate your opening game against Delaware or South Carolina, so turn you turn up the heat a little bit and see how you can handle it."

Indeed, stressing the culture of Navy football has been a constant.

"It's a word I've been using a lot just so they know this is how we play," Niumatalolo said. "We run to the ball, play harder than everyone else, we get off our blocks. It's understanding the mind-set of the way we play, especially from a defensive standpoint. If we want to have a remote chance to win, we have to play harder than everybody else."

The defense had to learn without defensive coordinator Buddy Green, who was out the majority of spring because of complications following gall bladder surgery. But Niumatalolo was able to identify some players who have a chance to make plays for the Midshipmen. Among them: linebackers Jarred Shannon and Mason Graham, and rover Tra'ves Bush.

Offensively, the big question is how Proctor will do in replacing Dobbs. So many new faces, but Proctor is confident his teammates have what it takes to have as much success as their predecessors.

"It's always a tight knit group at the Academy, Proctor said. "We call ourselves 'the brotherhood.' The closeness and the bond is always there. In terms of guys stepping up in leadership, we have a whole bunch who have stepped up and put the weight of the team on our shoulders."
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo has signed a long-term contract extension, the academy announced Thursday.

Details of the deal were not released.

[+] EnlargeKen Niumatalolo
AP Photo/Rob CarrKen Niumatalolo is the first coach in school history to lead the Midshipmen to a bowl game in each of his first three seasons.
“A formula for the continued success of our football program has been our commitment to quality continuity,” athletic director Chet Gladchuk said in a statement. “Keeping our excellent staff in place has always been a goal and that begins with our outstanding and accomplished head coach. We now have a road map in place that can allow for Kenny to continue leading our team for years to come. I have always felt strongly that Coach Niumatalolo is the perfect fit for Navy and Navy is the perfect fit for Kenny. Now, on to a continued extraordinary partnership and football success well into our future.”

Niumatalolo has gone 27-14 (.659) in his first three seasons as Navy head coach, including three consecutive bowl games and two Commander-In-Chief trophies.

He is the first coach in school history to lead the Midshipmen to a bowl game in each of his first three seasons and is just the second Service Academy coach to win the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy in each of his first two years.

His 27 wins are the most in school history for a coach in his first three years and he joins Eddie Erdelatz and Wayne Hardin as the only coaches in school history to beat Notre Dame in consecutive years.

“I’m excited that I will be the head football coach at the Naval Academy for a long time,” Niumatalolo said in a statement. “I love the people I work with on a daily basis and it’s truly an honor to coach some of the finest young men in the country.”
Navy could not have planned the transition from record-setting quarterback Ricky Dobbs any better. Well, there is one thing coach Ken Niumatalolo wishes he could have back.

Tape of Kriss Proctor running the offense last season.

That is how confident Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper are in Proctor and what he will bring to the Midshipmen in 2011.

[+] EnlargeKriss Proctor
AP Photo/Rob CarrNavy is confident Kriss Proctor will be able to replace Ricky Dobbs at quarterback.
“Coach Jasper and I have always said this: ‘We are so excited about Kriss. He had the misfortune I guess you could say of playing behind Ricky,” Niumatalolo said in a phone interview. “Part of me wished he didn't play last year so we could spring him on teams who might think, ‘Oh poor Navy they lost Ricky’ and not knowing we had Kriss Proctor behind. We know from an athletic standpoint he's as athletic as any quarterback we’ve ever had here.”

Proctor has not given his coaches any reason for concern as Navy heads into its spring game Friday. He is the ideal quarterback to play the triple option because of his athleticism and ability to run the ball. He has game experience, having started games in 2009 and 2010 when Dobbs was injured.

He has got a backfield as deep and talented as any Niumatalolo has had with Alexander Teich, Gee Gee Greene, Aaron Santiago, Bo Snelson and John Howell to name a few. Plus, Proctor is one of the hardest working players in the weight room, and his example has been an easy one for his teammates to follow.

That should help ease any pressure Proctor might feel in replacing Dobbs, one of the best players in Naval Academy history.

“There's always pressure when a guy comes in when the guy before him has been so successful, but I don't let that bother me. I don't let that get to me,” Proctor said in a phone interview. “I do what I'm told and do what I have to get done, and I let everybody else sort that out.”

While Proctor is a better runner than Dobbs, he is also a weaker passer. That has been a point of emphasis during the spring. But since Navy relies so heavily on running the ball, Proctor is an ideal fit. In his start against Central Michigan last season, Proctor ran for 201 yards and a touchdown in the 38-37 win. He came to Navy from a triple-option style offense, so that certainly has helped him understand what to do.

But even still, Proctor gives Navy more options in the triple option because he is such a dynamic runner. Expect to see some new wrinkles.

“I just think my speed and my option influence in the offense is really going to spark some big things,” Proctor said. "It will still look like the option, but maybe a little faster with a few different quirks."

Proctor is also different in the way he leads the team. Where Dobbs was a quiet leader, Proctor is way more vocal, a cheerleader who has already screamed plenty during practice. He isn’t afraid of head butting linemen, either.

How he responds as the full-time starter will be a story line to watch for Navy this season as the Midshipmen try to regain the Commander-in-Chief Trophy -- a huge source of motivation for the entire team.