Posted on: February 18, 2011 12:16 am

Spring Practice Primer: Army, Navy, Air Force

Posted by Adam Jacobi

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice. So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers. Today, we look at the service academies -- Army, Navy, and the Air Force Academy -- who all began spring practice yesterday.

Spring Practice Question: Who's going to take the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy in 2011? 

To say there has usually been a talent disparity among the triumverate of military academy football programs is, to say the least, an understatement. If the outcomes of football games were random events, then the odds of the three teams splitting their series at 1-1 apiece would be one in four. In practice, only four times since the inception of the trophy 39 years ago has that happened. Which program is superior changes, of course -- Air Force leads the series, but with only a plurality of trophy wins instead of a majority -- but rarely is it the case that all three teams are on equal footing coming into a season.

We may be at such a situation, though. 2010 marked the first instance in college football history that Army, Navy, and the Air Force all reached bowl games in the same season. Will the trio repeat the feat in 2011? It's quite possible.

Air Force comes into the 2011 (pardon the expression) flying high, and it's easy to see why: the Falcons beat took the C-i-C trophy for the first time in eight years last season, besting Navy 14-6 and walloping Army 42-22. Better yet, QB Tim Jefferson is back for his senior season after rushing for 15 touchdowns and throwing for 10 more. He's the linchpin of the offense and one of the best option quarterbacks in the nation.

The Air Force offense is hardly a one-man show, of course, and it's no surprise that four different players notched over 100 carries on the season in 2010. Tailback and human/waterbug hybrid Asher Clark is also back; Clark led the Falcons in rushing yardage and added five more rushing TDs.

Still, it'll be interesting to see how Air Force's ground game changes with the addition of Des Kitchings as running backs coach and running game coordinator. Kitchings was most recently at Vanderbilt for three seasons, and he was brought in to replace Jamel Singleton, the longtime Air Force assistant who recently joined the staff of incoming Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson this offseason. There probably won't be sweeping changes or anything -- this is still Troy Calhoun's team, after all -- but this is our first opportunity to see how Kitchings addresses the Falcons' ground game and what changes he might implement.

While the current Commander-in-Chief's Trophy holder is Air Force, this rivalry has belonged to Navy for the majority of the decade; the Midshipmen swept the three-pronged rivalry for the seven prior seasons, and even despite losing to the Falcons in 2010, Navy still went 9-4 and earned a bowl bid. This is still a very strong program, in other words.

Unfortunately for Navy, the impossible task of replacing Ricky Dobbs begins this week. Dobbs was arguably Navy's best quarterback since the days of Roger Staubach ('63), and though Dobbs didn't live up to his preseason Heisman hype as a senior, for crying out loud, the man had Heisman hype. Senior-to-be Kriss Proctor appears to be the best bet to replace Dobbs, but if Navy sees a solid spring from Trey Miller, there could be some drama at the QB position.

Where Navy really needs to excel this spring is on defense, however. The Midshipmen struggled at times in 2010, giving up 23 points and almost 400 yards per game, and now that defense needs to replace six starters. Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo recently restructured some of his defensive assistants' responsibilities; perhaps that will help the Middies' middling D.

As for Army, for once, the Black Knights are no slouch, having reached their first bowl in 13 years last season: a stirring (if sloppy) 16-14 upset of SMU in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Cadets return starting quarterback Trent Steelman... sort of. Steelman will miss spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery last month. It's on his non-throwing shoulder --the left -- so even if rehabilitation goes slowly, it shouldn't drastically affect his throwing motion.

That said, in 2010, Steelman ran the ball 197 times (which isn't even counting the option plays where he pitched the ball and absorbed contact) to 133 pass attempts, so it's not like he can hide a bum shoulder by hanging out in the pocket all afternoon. The Black Knights will look to depend on Steelman in the fall, so it will be extremely interesting to see how the offense handles not having its leader in the saddle during these spring sessions.

The Black Knights' new team captain is linebacker Steven Erzinger, replacing graduating linebacker Stephen Anderson (so many linebackers; so many Steves) who held the title for the last two seasons. Army technically ranked 29th in total defense in 2010, but a closer look at the yards given up per play actually puts Army down at 84th in the nation, so the defense wasn't so much "good" as "not on the field very much." Erzinger's first task, without doubt, is to get his guys into that "good" category if the Cadets want a shot at the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.

Posted on: December 28, 2010 12:09 pm

CBS Bowl Bonanza: Armed Forces Bowl

Posted by Tom Fornelli as part of the blog's Bowl Bonanza series.

The Basics: Army (6-6) vs. SMU (7-6), Dec. 30 Noon EST

Why You Should Watch: You should tun into the Armed Forced Bowl because you generally don't get a lot of chances to see Army and SMU in bowl games these days.  This will be the first time Army has played in a bowl since 1996, and this is only the second time that SMU has been in a bowl game over the last 25 years, or since Eric Dickerson and Craig James were getting paid.  If that's not enough there's also the contrast in styles of both teams, as Army runs the triple option and SMU is a run and shoot team.

Keys to Victory for Army: The strategy for Army to win this game is simple, yet won't be nearly as easy to execute.  It simply needs to keep the SMU offense off the field as much as possible.  While Army should be proud to be back in a bowl game, the fact of the matter is that they just don't have the talent and depth that SMU has, and can't afford to get into any kind of shootout.

Still, there's reason to believe Army can be successful.  SMU's defense had a lot of trouble stopping Navy's offense earlier this season, particularly the pitch on the option as Navy rushed for 253 yards in a 28-21 victory over the Mustangs.

Trent Steelman and the Army offense will have to have a similar game and hold on to the ball to have any chance of winning in this game.  They just simply don't have the depth on defense, particularly in the secondary, to keep the Mustangs passing attack in check.

Keys to Victory for SMU: Stop the option.  SMU has spent a lot of time in practice trying to fix the mistakes of the Navy game and work on their defensive assignments against the option.  If they can keep Army from running all over them, the Mustangs should come away with the victory.

After all, this game will be played in SMU's home stadium.

When SMU has the ball they should look to exploit any Army linebacker forced into coverage as they just don't have the agility to stay with SMU's slot receivers Darius Johnson and Cole Beasley.  Another key will be to pick up the blitz, as odds are that Army will blitz a lot to make up for its secondary.  Kyle Padron has had some trouble when pressured this season, so giving him time to find his open receiver will be key.

The Mustangs should also look to use the run game to slow down the blitz, as they've been more successful on the ground than you'd expect from a June Jones offense.  Zach Line isn't going to break any long runs, but he is a big, bruising back that can be used to soften the Army defense and cause linebackers to hesitate on play action, therefore opening up more lanes in the secondary for receivers.

The Armed Forces Bowl is like: that old t-shirt you found in the back of the closet.  You haven't worn the thing in a long time, and it's no longer in fashion, but it still fits and it's awfully comfortable.
Posted on: December 23, 2010 11:49 pm
Edited on: December 23, 2010 11:50 pm

Bowl Grades: SDCU Poinsettia Bowl

Posted by Tom Fornelli

San Diego State proved to be too much for Navy in a 35-14 victory.

San Diego State

Offense: Aside from the third quarter, the only quarter in which the Aztecs failed to score, there really wasn't much to complain about on offense. The Aztecs used a balanced attack against an overwhelmed Navy defense, and the trio of Ryan Lindley, Ronnie Hillman and Vincent Brown proved to be way too much for Navy to handle.  Brown had 7 catches for 143 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter.  He'd finish the night with 8 catches and 165 yards, though he could have had over 200 yards and another touchdown had he not let a pass slip through his hands in the fourth quarter.  Lindley completed 18 of his 23 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns, and also displayed an excellent ball fake on play-action passes.  Some of the best I've ever seen, to be honest.  Still, the star of the show was Hillman, who rushed for 228 yards and 3 scores, and even caught a touchdown pass that helped put the game away.  All in all it was a very impressive performance. Grade: A

Defense: I had some concerns about how the SDSU defense would hold up against Navy's option attack, but like the offense, the defense was also impressive.  They showed strong discipline all night in stopping Navy, and though they allowed two touchdowns in the second quarter, did not allow a single point in the other three.  Yes, the Aztecs gave up some deep passes, but holding a Navy offense that averaged 31 points a game this season to only 14 points is a remarkable feat.  Grade: A

Coaching: Brady Hoke and his staff came into this game knowing where Navy's weaknesses were and attacked them out of the gate.  Navy simply could not stop Lindley and Brown in the first quarter and became so determined to keep that passing game in check that the Aztecs had no problem opening up big holes for Hillman up front.  It was also obvious that the coaching staff spent a lot of time preparing the defense for Navy's option attack, and while they didn't have a perfect game on defense, the Aztecs played better than expected.  Grade: A


Offense: While you can't really tell by looking at the final score, Navy didn't play all that bad on offense. Ricky Dobbs rushed for over 100 yards and a score, and threw for 147 more and another touchdown.  The sole Navy turnover came late in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach.  The problem was that Navy's offense couldn't sustain its offense long enough on drives, and stalled a few times at midfield and in the red zone.  In fact, Navy's chances of winning basically died when, trailing 21-14 on its first drive after halftime, the Middies failed to convert on a fourth and goal.  it was probably the best drive of the game that Navy had, and it couldn't muster any points out of it.  You don't win a lot of games when that happens.  Grade: C+

Defense: Here is where the problems really came for Navy. As good as this team has been this season, the fact is that talent wise, the Midshipmen just couldn't match up with the Aztecs on defense.  Without a secondary strong enough to line up and play man-to-man on a regular basis, the Aztecs picked apart the zone defenses.  Up front the Aztec offensive line just proved too much for Navy's front four, as the defensive line never pressured Lindley much and were gashed by Hillman.  Grade: D-

Coaching: It's pretty hard to blame Ken Niamutulolo and his coaching staff for anything that happened in this game.  it's not as if Navy played an undisciplined game or had a bad game plan.  The fact of the matter was San Diego State had a better plan and executed it to near perfection on the night.  Some nights you just get beat no matter what you do, and this was one of those nights. Grade: B-

Final Grade: Going into this game I was expecting a bit of a shootout.  I wasn't sure that the Navy defense would be able to stop the Aztecs, and I questioned whether or not SDSU could stop Navy's option.  As we've gone over, San Diego State did stop Navy.  Still, even though the final margin was 21 points, this game wasn't that big of a blowout.  That being said, there wasn't a whole lot of drama in the fourth quarter either, so it's hard to give this game much higher than an average score.  Final Grade: C+
Posted on: December 23, 2010 3:43 pm

Day after flooding, Qualcomm Stadium looks fine

Posted by Adam Jacobi

It wasn't but 24 hours ago that Qualcomm Stadium, the site of tonight's Poinsettia Bowl between Navy and San Diego State , was flooded with what appeared to be several inches of standing water. For a refresher, here's this picture:

Cue the Navy jokes, etc. etc.

Bowl officials were adamant the entire way that today's game would not be postponed, and that the drainage system would work properly. Strongly confident words, considering we're talking about a 43-year-old stadium and less than 24 hours of dry weather.

So? How's the Q looking today?

Well! That's... that's actually looking quite good. Those bowl officials who predicted nothing but green grass and blue skies for tonight's game? They were right. Now, that doesn't mean the field will be perfectly dry; there's a world of difference between "no standing water" and "dry," of course, and the football might still get slick if someone puts it on the ground. But the bottom line is that it's looking very much like Qualcomm will have a perfectly playable field tonight, and that is a major victory considering the conditions yesterday.

Posted on: December 23, 2010 11:12 am

Ricky Dobbs wins Lowe's Senior CLASS Award

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The Lowe's Senior CLASS Award is a bit different from the rest of the honors on the college football postseason, as it specifically takes into account an athlete's off-field activities as well -- to quote the release announcing this year's winner, "a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence – community, classroom, character and competition."

So it makes sense that this year's award went to Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs. Dobbs is arguably the greatest option quarterback of the past decade or so, an honorable mention All-American who totaled more than 2,000 yards of offense this season and set a single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback as a junior with 27.

But Dobbs is also due to graduate this sping with a degree in general science from one of the FBS's most challenging academic programs, and still finds the time to be involved with various community activities (including helping at multiple football camps in the Annapolis area). After graduation, he'll be serving (naturally) in the U.S. Navy. Tonight's the final game of his career as he takes on San Diego State in the waterlogged Poinsettia Bowl; it's your final chance to watch one of college football's best players in action, and we strongly suggest you take advantage of the opportunity. (Need a preview? The blog's got you covered .)

Also making the Lowe's Senior Class Award All-America first team: Northern Illinois defensive end Jake Coffman, Auburn center Ryan Pugh, Penn State guard Stefan Wisnewski, and Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder. Congratulatiosn are in order for all.
Posted on: December 22, 2010 5:16 pm
Edited on: December 22, 2010 5:25 pm

PHOTOS: Qualcomm Stadium flooded day before bowl

Posted by Adam Jacobi

The Poinsettia Bowl is set to take place tomorrow evening between San Diego State and Navy. It has not been postponed. And whenever information as basic as that needs to be explicitly stated 27 hours before kickoff, yes, there's some trouble afoot. Check out these pictures of Qualcomm Stadium, the site of the bowl game, just one day before the game:

Incredible, right? Yeah, I didn't know it rained in San Diego either.

Poinsettia Bowl reps are taking to Twitter to assuage fans' fears that the game might be affected in any way; the official account asserts that "everything will go on as scheduled," and that "it's a lot easier to fix a stadium full of water than a stadium full of snow." It's necessary to take the bowl officials at their word for now, but don't be surprised to see some puddling on the field at kickoff, even though the weather forecast is pretty much dry for Thursday.

So the game's in San Diego ... but the field is underwater. Gotta think Navy gets the homefield advantage after all.

And really, if for some reason the Qualcomm pumps fail and/or get sabotaged by Loki the Norse god of discord, what's the worst that happens if a football game gets played in 6 inches of standing water? Sure, keeping the ball from floating between plays would probably be a hassle and the first-down graphic computer would probably blow up, but you could still play ball. Probably. Maybe.

Photos via SignOnSanDiego.com

Posted on: December 17, 2010 12:52 pm
Edited on: December 17, 2010 12:53 pm

CBS Bowl Bonanza: Independence Bowl

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Why You Should Watch: It's pretty simple really.  While man is yet to perfect, or even invent time travel, the Independence Bowl will provide you a glimpse of what football in the past looked like.  The thing that intrigues me the most about this game is that both teams run the triple option offense.  Generally the only chance college football fans get to see such a matchup is in the Army-Navy game, but this one has better athletes.

Keys to Victory for Air Force: The key for Air Force is pretty simple, actually: do what it does best.  Run the ball, run the ball, and then run the ball some more.  You would think that a Georgia Tech defense that has spent all season practicing against an offense that runs the option would be better against the run, but the truth is that Tech's front seven just isn't very good at stopping the run.

Which the Falcons will have to exploit.  

Quarterback Tim Jefferson is pretty inconsistent throwing the ball, and Georgia Tech's defensive strength is its secondary.  So if Air Force chooses to throw too often in this game, it will be playing its biggest weakness on offense in Tech's greatest strength on defense.  Which doesn't make sense, and will not lead to a victory.

If Asher Clark isn't the player of the game for Air Force, then the Falcons lost.

Keys to Victory for Georgia Tech: The biggest key for Georgia Tech in this game could be the health of quarterback Josh Nesbitt.  Nesbitt suffered a broken forearm on November 4th against Virginia Tech and hasn't played since.  Tevin Washington has been serviceable filling in for Nesbitt since then, but he's not as good when it comes to decisions and timing in the triple option offense.

The good news for Georgia Tech is that Air Force will be a little thin up front on defense in this game as Zach Payne and Bradley Connor will both miss the game thanks to knee injuries.  This means that Georgia Tech will have to try and wear down a defense that has already shown against Navy this season that it can stop an option attack.

The Independence Bowl is like: a time machine.  As I said before, we don't often get the chance to see two option teams face off in college football these days, so we should take advantage when we can.  This may be the only chance you have in your lifetime to actually travel back to a simpler time, and if you miss out you'll regret it.  In fact, your only chance will be that hopefully some day when we have perfected time travel, a friend will go back in time to present day and tell you to watch it.

Posted on: December 15, 2010 3:03 pm

CBS Bowl Bonanza: Poinsettia Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Why You Should Watch: Because one half of the matchup is Navy, the team that continues to defy its service academy constraints with big wins, bowl berths, and the nation's most reliable year-in-year-out running game ... and their opponent might be even more interesting for the diehard college football fan. San Diego State has long been regarded as the sleeping giant of the Mountain West, a program with the resources and metro recruiting base to challenge for league titles if they ever got the right coach in place. Brady Hoke looks like he might be that coach, and after a huge step forward this season, a Poinsettia win would stamp the Aztecs as the up-and-comer in the new-look MWC.

Plus, this is the last chance to watch Navy's indefatigable Ricky Dobbs, arguably the best triple-option quarterback of college football's past decade. His swan song alone makes the game worth the look.

Keys to Victory for Navy: Things have mostly gone well for the Midshipmen this season, as they enter the bowl with their second straight nine-win campaign already under their belt. But when they've gone wrong, there have been two main culprits. One of them has been the pass defense, which ranks 66th despite playing two games against fellow option teams Air Force and Army . Even with the presence of senior star safety Wyatt Middleton couldn't keep the Midshipmen from giving up an incredible 28 completions in 30 attempts (for 314 yards) in a 34-31 loss to Duke, 413 passing yards and 5 touchdowns in the wild win over East Carolina, and 394 yards and 3 scores to Central Michigan in a 38-37 escape from the 3-9 Chippewas ... all without an interception. If a few leaks aren't plugged, SDSU's Ryan Lindley, the Mountain West's leading passer , will have a field day.

The other issue? Red zone execution. Though their numbers for the year aren't bad, the Midshipmen might have tipped 10 or 11 wins if not for zero points on five different red zone trips against Maryland and just six on three trips against Air Force. If Dobbs continues to throw the way he did down the stretch (including a career high 186 yards against Army) and Navy executes in their usual fashion, the Midshipmen will get their yards. The question is whether they'll turn those into points, and if they do, whether those points will be enough if the pass defense collapses.

Keys to Victory for San Diego State: Most schools would cringe at the thought of having to prepare for Navy's option shenanigans, but the Aztecs have to be quietly confident about the matchup. SDSU has already faced and defeated one option school this season, downing Air Force 27-25 while holding the Falcons to 12 points through the first 52 minutes. Defensive coordinator Rocky Long has years of experience with defending the option from his time as New Mexico's head coach, and he's been better at it than most. Between Long's expertise, the extra time to prepare, and the Aztecs' prior encounter with the option, they should be as ready as anyone to deal with Dobbs and Co. Though it's always easier said than done against the Midshipmen, they'll just have to execute. (It'll also help to have players like Miles Burris around; the first-team all-conference junior linebacker led the Mountain West in tackles-for-loss with 17.)

Offensively, if Lindley is on his game, it's hard to see the Midshipmen doing much to slow down the Aztecs. First-team all-MWC senior wideouts Vincent Brown and Demarco Sampson combined for 2,362 receiving yards and present major matchup problems with Sampson's size and Brown's speed. Navy also won't be able to commit extra bodies to pass defense, thanks to the presence of MWC Freshman of the Year Ronnie Hillman, a tough, explosive runner who finished 12th in the nation with 1,304 yards on the ground and averaged a sterling 5.6 yards per-carry. Lindley put up some huge numbers at times, but he also struggled with interceptions, his total of 14 tying for the second-highest in the country. If he can find Brown and Sampson more often than he finds Middleton and the rest of the Navy secondary, the Midshipmen could be in for a long day.

The Poinsettia Bowl is like: a forgotten pulp comic from the 1960s, in which a heroic naval commander, at the end of a long journey, has one final battle to fight when his division is ambushed in San Diego bay by ... a horde of bloodthirsty Aztecs?!?! Like the imaginary tussle out of those comic pages, this one promises to be hard-fought, action-packed (with these two offenses? You bet), and in doubt right up until the final frames.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com