The long wait is over and it is time for the Mids to finally get their college football season underway. The opponent on opening day 2017 is the Florida Atlantic Owls, a strange choice in some ways given their relative ability and that this is the Mids only true flexible scheduling game of the season.
Navy will be traveling down to Boca Raton, Florida, with high hopes for this matchup and for the season as a whole. Here are the three keys to this one:
Win the turnover battle
This is always going to be a key for Navy, but on opening weekend – when offensive systems are still in their infancy – turnovers are magnified.
Navy wants to use its run-heavy offense to eat clock and give its opponents fewer possessions. That means that the need for each possession to result in a positive outcome (for both teams) is drastically increased. Lane Kiffin has said that the way Navy plays the game, the tempo that the triple-option sets, is going to dictate which quarterback he uses on Friday night. Navy still doesn’t really know what it is going to get from quarterback Zach Abey.
Turnovers are going to be massive against the Owls.
Are the Owls Power Five transfers ready to roll?
There are certain expectations that become immediately clear when you hire a coach like Kiffin at a C-USA school. One is that your recruiting will pick up and that you will be bringing players into a program that have more talent – and more issues – that you have in the past.
Kiffin will be coaching his first game for the Owls on Friday and he has already picked up 11 transfers either directly from Power Five schools or from JuCos after initially signing with some of college football’s top tier programs. Nine of these players will be eligible to start against Navy, but many haven’t had full camps to get acclimatized to their new team. Watch for the likes of WR John Franklin III (FSU) and Jeremiah Taleni (Pittsburgh) to flash their talents here.
Who starts faster?
Navy has not been great when opening on the road under Ken Niumatalolo. The Mids head coach is a miserable 1-4 when Navy starts its season on the road. That mark though does come with an asterisk as the Mids losses have been to perennial top 25 teams Ohio State (twice) and Notre Dame (in Dublin), along with a loss to Maryland. The lone win under Niumatalolo was at Indiana in 2013.
This is one of those situations where a slow start could allow doubt to creep in. There is so much new about this Navy team that it is doubtful the head coach even knows what his best lineup is at this point. The Mids, therefore, need to start fast and get some points racked up against the Owls, both to boost their confidence and to take it away from their opponents.