Navy’s expectations in 2010 go beyond beating Army

Gone are the days when Navy’s definition of a successful season

was a victory over Army.

Defeating their longtime military rival is always a priority for

the Midshipmen. But that’s merely one goal for a team coming off a

10-win season and a 35-13 rout of Missouri in the Texas Bowl.

”Top 25, undefeated, BCS bowl game – that’s all that is left.

That’s what the next level is,” senior safety Wyatt Middleton

said. ”As long as we play our game and keep playing hard, our

program is to the point where we can do that.”

A decade ago, such talk would be ridiculous. Navy went 1-10 in

2000 and 0-10 in 2001 before Paul Johnson took over. The results

were not immediately impressive: The Midshipmen won only two games

in a season made memorable only by a 58-12 thrashing of Army.

Johnson’s spread-option offense helped Navy go 8-5 in 2003. That

launched an ongoing run of seven straight seasons in which the

Midshipmen won at least eight games, captured the

Commander-In-Chief’s trophy (beating both Army and Air Force) and

received a bowl bid.

After Johnson left for Georgia Tech in December 2007, Ken

Niumatalolo took over in a seamless transition. Now the Midshipmen

are seeking consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time.

A forgiving schedule won’t be as much of an obstacle as dealing

with the expectations that come with winning. Navy received some

votes in the AP preseason Top 25 poll and expects to receive

national attention on a weekly basis long before the Army-Navy

clash in December.

”There is no question that this team is getting more preseason

recognition than ever before,” Niumatalolo said. ”We have to keep

the blinders on and not let it be a distraction. A lot of this

stuff is new to Navy, and we’re all human.”

The star of the team is Ricky Dobbs, the ringleader of the

spread-option. Despite missing nearly two games with a cracked

right knee cap, Dobbs set an NCAA single-season record for

quarterbacks by scoring 27 touchdowns. He also ran for 1,203 yards

and passed for 1,031.

”It feels good to watch No. 4 cross the goal line. We love it

when Ricky gets the touchdown,” offensive tackle Jeff Battiplagia

said. ”He’s a playmaker and he wins games for us. Watching him

play, and being able to say I blocked for Ricky Dobbs, is a pretty

big thrill.”

If Dobbs can stay healthy, there’s no telling how deceptive and

prolific the option will be this season.

”This is my last football season here at Navy, so that

definitely puts a whole lot of things into perspective,” he said.

”You kind of take it for granted until it’s your last one and you

know you’re almost done. That’s when things start coming into focus

and you start paying attention to all the little details.”

Navy ranked 119th last season in yards passing, and Dobbs

averaged fewer than 10 throws per game. The Midshipmen may pass

more often in 2010, if only to spread out a defense focused on

stopping the option.

”We want to throw more with Ricky, but we’re not going to

become like Texas Tech,” Niumatalolo said. ”We know who we

are.”

Road games against Air Force, Wake Forest and East Carolina

could be challenging, and the Midshipmen also face Notre Dame in

New Jersey. But the home schedule includes Georgia Southern, Duke,

Central Michigan and Arkansas State.

It all begins Sept. 6 in Baltimore against in-state rival

Maryland.

”I’ve got a great feeling about this upcoming season,”

Middleton said. ”Our senior class has always wanted to go out with

a bang and leave our legacy. Whatever they’ve done before, we want

to do a little better. We want to keep the program moving up.”