The Midshipmen rank No. 47 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2018
Navy has continued its winning ways since joining the American Athletic Conference. There's no secret to Ken Niumatalolo's offense, which could be even more dangerous given the quarterback options. The Midshipmen will have seven new starters on defense and how this unit gels could depend on whether they are a threat in AAC West Division.
Previewing Navy Football's Offense for 2018
Navy is handing the reins to its patented triple-option to Malcolm Perry, who showed in a limited sample size last season that he is an extremely dangerous running threat. Perry rushed for 646 yards and seven touchdowns in three starts at quarterback. "Malcolm is the most dynamic runner we've had during my time here," says Ken Niumatalolo, who has spent 21 years in Annapolis (11 as head coach).
Perry spent the spring focused on improving as a passer. He attempted just two passes last season, and one was intercepted.
Navy has another talented quarterback in Zach Abey, whose 1,413 rushing yards in 2017 were the second most in school history behind Napoleon McCallum (1,587 in 1983). Niumatalolo is planning to play both quarterbacks, with Abey being used primarily in short-yardage situations and at receiver.
Anthony Gargiulo emerged as a battering ram of a fullback late in the season. Keoni-Kordell Makekau was impressive as a freshman and could be the next in a long line of dynamic slot backs for the Mids.
Navy has a pair of talented tackles in Andrew Wood and Jake Hawk but must rebuild the interior of the offensive line after graduating all three starters.
Previewing Navy Football's Defense for 2018
Defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson dialed down the more aggressive approach he implemented in 2016, and Navy improved across the board in 2017. Not bad considering the Midshipmen faced five of the top 30 statistical offenses in the FBS.
The Midshipmen must replace some key leaders from the 2017 defense -- most notably outside linebacker D.J. Palmore, inside linebacker Micah Thomas and cornerback Tyris Wooten. Junior Nizaire Cromartie, who had five tackles for a loss in limited action last season, has been moved from defensive end to replace Palmore. Cromartie is explosive coming off the edge and has potential to be a dangerous pass rusher.
Hudson Sullivan, who recorded 40 tackles in just six games a year ago, figures to succeed Thomas as the top tackler in Navy's 3-4 scheme. Free safety Sean Williams, an honorable mention All-AAC pick in 2017, is the top returning defender. Williams has made 25 starts and recorded 163 tackles in his career.
Previewing Navy Football's Specialists for 2018
Placekicker Bennett Moehring made 7-of-10 field goals from 20 to 29 yards but was just 1-of-5 from farther out. He narrowly missed a 48-yarder on a snow-covered field that would have been the game winner against Army. Owen White was a pleasant surprise in his first season as the punter.
After losing to archrival Army for the second straight year, Navy closed on a positive note by routing Virginia 49-7 in the Military Bowl to post a winning record for the 14th time in the last 15 seasons.
Navy's offense became one-dimensional during the second half of the season since Abey was strictly an inside runner. Perry provides the all-important perimeter element of the triple-option, and Niumatalolo is confident the offense will be more effective with him at the controls.
Navy will travel an incredible 26,496 miles this season due to its six road and two neutral-site games. Niumatalolo is not thrilled about facing defending AAC West Division champ Memphis on the heels of traveling to Hawaii for the season opener. This year's game against Notre Dame is in San Diego.
Perry figures to have a huge season if he stays healthy, and Navy's triple-option attack should continue to confound AAC opponents enough to ensure another winning season.
National Ranking: 47
AAC West Prediction: 2
(Top photo courtesy of www.navysports.com)