College bowl officials, we’ve been told, are rooting against Navy this weekend. If the Midshipmen beat Temple in Saturday’s American Athletic Conference title game, they’d preserve the possibility of a New Year’s Six bowl berth — pending the result of the Army-Navy game — and thus delay a host of other pressing announcements. For that reason, it would be easier for the sport if the Mids lose on Saturday. Invitations must be mailed.
Sure, these future officers deserve a national sports platform, a blast of recognition for churning out offensive numbers that would make Chip Kelly blush. But who cares about that when there are swag bags in Fort Worth that need labeling and a Potato Bowl to promote?
For an alternate perspective, go to a Navy season ticket holder. Say, Charley Casserly.
“It bothers me, yes,” the former Redskins GM said, when asked about this unrelenting Navy outfit that continues to thrive in near-obscurity. “I know those guys. They love football. They do. You’re not in it for the recognition; you’re in it because you love the competition and the strategy and the game — especially there. That’s why you’re in the thing. But yeah, it bothers me that they don’t get the recognition. I think you can see from the enthusiasm and the emotion in my voice: This is absurd that they don’t get the recognition they deserve.”
What might he mean? Well, try this one on: Navy’s quarterback is a kid named Will Worth, an ocean engineering major with a 3.50 GPA who entered this season with three career carries, plus a single passing attempt. Worth was the holder last year. And with senior Tago Smith set to start, he was told not to expect many snaps in his final season, as the program attempted to groom a future starter.
But an opening-game injury to Smith thrust Worth into the job. The result? A guy who was supposed to be holding a clipboard leads all major-college players with 25 rushing touchdowns, ranks fourth among quarterbacks in rushing yards, and has accounted for 27 touchdowns over his past seven games. His reward, when the all-conference teams were announced this week? Not even an honorable mention.
“For what Will has done this year, he’s deserving of something — I mean, anything,” offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. “And to not even get honorable mention, it’s hard to swallow.”
It isn’t just Worth. Navy is 9-2, beat Houston when the Cougars were ranked sixth in the country, won the AAC’s West division, had the highest-scoring offense in league games — and managed to get one player on the league’s first-team offense, plus two more on the second team.
“I never get angry about it,” Jasper said. “The young men that we have go out and play every week against guys who are better athletes — bigger, stronger, faster — and we find ways to beat those guys. To see the look on our guys’ faces after those games, that’s more than enough for me. I can live with that, regardless of what kind of respect we get from anybody.”
Now take Jasper himself. Not counting kneel-downs, his offense scored touchdowns on 33 of its past 38 possessions. Pro basketball players don’t make free throws at that rate. The Mids closed the season with 66 points against East Carolina and 75 against SMU — their first back-to-back 60-point games in 99 years. They spewed out more than 500 yards in three straight games for the first time in school history. This recent stretch was the most touchdown-efficient offensive outburst in the past decade of college football, according to Football Outsiders. And none of it was enough to make Jasper a finalist for the Broyles Award, given to the top college assistant.
“If anybody did their homework and knew what Coach Jasper’s done this year — I mean, nobody on that list has done anything close to what he’s done with a backup quarterback,” Coach Ken Niumatalolo said this week. “But I guess around here we’re used to that — not getting much respect.”
Then there are those bowl officials, so eager to broadcast their matchups to the world that they’re willing to root against a team that’s both plucky and unfathomably patriotic. If you want to be on the right side of history, find out what result anonymous bowl officials are cheering for, and do the reverse.
“Nearly everyone in the bowl industry, quite frankly, is rooting against Navy,” one anonymously told ESPN.com this week.
“Is this breaking news?” the football team’s Twitter account drolly wondered.
Because the team’s fans are used to such slights: “The offense is a gimmick.” “The success wouldn’t be sustainable in a real conference.” “The numbers are a credit to the system, not the players.”
“It’s just the stigma that this offense has, and there’s not much you can do to shake it,” Jasper said.
Just ask Casserly, who married into Navy fandom. His wife is the daughter of a Navy man; she grew up going to games. They’ve been season ticket holders since the 1980s. Their granddaughter’s first football game will be this year’s Army-Navy game. And he sees a football (and media) industry that reflexively overlooks this team.
“You go out there: There’s a bunch of normal human beings in football uniforms. That does not look like a top 25 football team, physically,” Casserly said. “There’s no NFL prospects there, year in and year out. But that doesn’t mean they’re not good college football players and shouldn’t deserve the recognition.”
Because the numbers are overwhelming. Navy’s senior class is now 37-13. The team is 14-2 since joining the AAC, the same conference that just sent coaching hotshot Tom Herman from Houston to Texas. The Mids have won 15 straight at home, tied for the longest home-winning streak in the country. They haven’t lost a home game in November or December since 2002. A win Saturday would make it back-to-back 10-win seasons, something the academy has never done.
And yet this summer, the Mids were ranked in the bottom half of the country by countless preseason magazines. They defied those projections and followed their backup quarterback into the top 25 — only to learn that the college football aristocracy was rooting against them.
“I’ve been here a long time, had a decent program for a long time,” Niumatalolo said. “I’m sure next year we’ll be ranked 98th again. You just get used to it.”
They’re used, in other words, to getting overlooked. Maybe college football should start looking at things differently.