As Mike Arresco harped on during the American Athletic Conference’s annual media day, he wants the conference to ascend into what he deemed the “Power Six.” Adding the United States Naval Academy for this season appears to be a good start.
Navy joining the AAC is going to have a much greater impact than simply adding a 12th team and creating a conference championship game. It’s never that simple, really. Conference expansion is mostly about elevating a brand and entering a previously untapped market. Adding the Midshipmen to the mix in the American should certainly help the conference reach new heights, and here’s why.
Building a Stronger National Presence
First and foremost, Navy is sure to bring in an audience that likely was not paying attention to the AAC before. Given its status as a federal service academy, Navy is a national brand with recruits/players, students and fans hailing from all corners of the country. Not to mention head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s Hawaiian heritage, which boosts interest in an already strong island state fan-base.
Outside of its brand and general notoriety, Navy plays in some high-profile games annually.
Its yearly rivalry game with Notre Dame has been played since 1927, and despite the lopsided results (the Fighting Irish are 75-12-1 in the series), the game has the historical appeal that makes college football so great.
As a service academy, Navy participates in the three-way battle for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy with Air Force and Army. The rivalry with Air Force is fairly new, as the tradition of the three teams playing annually for the trophy didn’t start until 1972, but the Army-Navy game is heading into its 116th meeting this season. It’s honestly one of my favorite games of the year to watch between the intensity of the play and the overall atmosphere. It’s a collision of college football pageantry and national pride.
I have to ask: if a service academy isn’t in the American Athletic Conference, is it really American?
Bringing and Creating History
Navy is laden with historical prominence, and even has a chance to make more this season. I’ll start with the past.
The Midshipmen have been playing football for 134 years, which makes it the fifth-oldest NCAA Division I FBS program. That fact also makes Navy the oldest in the American, and the sixth member of the conference that started playing football before 1900 (Cincinnati, Tulane, Temple, Tulsa and UConn). That’s a long and storied history, which includes two Heisman Trophy winners and a national championship, Navy brings to a conference in just its third year.
Now on to the history Navy is chasing this season. For starters, the program could win its first ever conference championship considering this is its first year in one. Heck, this team is going to set the pace for all future Navy team and individual conference records. But at the front of this list is probably Keenan Reynolds and his pursuit of the career rushing touchdown record. Reynolds currently has 64 to his name, which means he would need 14 this season to surpass Montee Ball’s mark of 77. That should be one of the more entertaining story-lines to follow in the entire conference this season.
Providing Something Different
Navy is just different, and that’s a wonderful thing for this conference. It plays a disciplined, ball-control game that is a nice contrast to what you may be used to seeing.
College football as a whole has been moving to spread style offenses that pass almost every down and throw up 40 or 50 on the scoreboard every game, but the AAC specifically seems to be chalk-full of those teams. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing, but am I wrong to say I want to see some teams that play solid defense and pound sand on offense? That’s why I’m excited about Navy.
The Midshipmen run the triple-option on offense, and I love it. The option just feels like college football to me, and it’s an exciting style to watch. Yes, maybe you don’t appreciate a fullback taking the dive and slamming into the backs of his linemen for three or four yards, but when the quarterback pulls it from his belly and sweeps out wide with the ability to pitch it to a wing-back — that my friends is the essence of college football.
I hope you’re ready to see a bunch of 15-play touchdown drives and two-and-a-half hour football games, because Navy is going to rack up the yards on the ground and chew up the clock in this league.