One week after playing in a game with the stakes crystal clear, the Navy football team’s immediate future is far murkier entering its American Athletic Conference regular season finale Saturday against Southern Methodist.
About all that’s certain for the Midshipmen (8-2, 6-1) is that they will be participating in the AAC championship game next weekend. That much they knew immediately following last Saturday’s 66-31 win against East Carolina that secured Navy’s first West Division title.
The opponent and site for the AAC final won’t be determined until late Saturday night, although Navy’s odds of hosting would increase greatly with a win over SMU (5-6, 3-4). That’s incentive enough for the Midshipmen, who own the longest active home winning streak (15) in major college football.
“Obviously you always want to play at home,” Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “Our home field has been a great venue for us. We have a lot of advantages at home, what the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium means to our program, so that’s a big motivational factor for this week.”
The East Division champion, meanwhile, won’t be determined until the end of the ECU-Temple game that begins at 7:30 p.m. With a victory, the Owls would claim the East and finish with an identical AAC record as Navy.
The Midshipmen, however, would host the championship game based on being ranked 25th in the College Football Playoff poll, which is the second tiebreaker following head-to-head. Navy and Temple (8-3, 6-1) did not play one another in the regular season.
South Florida (9-2, 6-1) also remains in the mix to host the AAC final. The Bulls can do so by beating Central Florida and having Temple lose to the Pirates (3-8, 1-6). South Florida dealt Navy its lone conference loss, 52-45, on Oct. 28 in Tampa.
The Bulls’ only AAC loss this season was to Temple, 46-30, on Oct. 21.
If Navy, Temple and South Florida all lose, the host of the AAC title game would be settled by a composite of four computer rankings between the Midshipmen and Owls. Going into this weekend, Navy has a significant lead over Temple in those rankings.
“Everybody is still focused,” Midshipman quarterback Will Worth said. “We know all our goals are still in front of us.”
Worth was named AAC offensive player of the week following his performance against ECU, which included 159 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 28 carries. The senior shares the national lead for rushing touchdowns (22) and continues an improbable climb from third-stringer to forging one of the most prolific seasons in program history.
His six consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards, for instance, is the second longest streak at Navy. Another 100-yard rushing effort on Saturday would move Worth into a tie for first with quarterback Brian Madden, who set the record in 2001.
Worth needs two more 100-yard rushing games to match the school’s overall single-season record shared by quarterback Keenan Reynolds and running back Napoleon McCallum. He also has a chance to equal Reynolds for most consecutive games at Navy with a rushing touchdown (14).
Worth has rushed for a touchdown in every game this season after taking over for senior Tago Smith, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the opener on Sept. 3 in Annapolis. Last year Worth was third on the depth chart, and his primary duty was as the holder for place kicks.
Thanks in large part to Worth’s 1,074 yards this season, the Midshipmen are third nationally in rushing offense (326.6). He also has completed 66 of 108 pass attempts for 1,259 yards and seven touchdowns to help Navy rank third in yards per completion (19.5) and seventh in team passing efficiency (172.9).
“He’s playing great,” Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. “It’s unfortunate what happened at the beginning of the year and how he became a starter, but at the same time, I’m happy for him. He’s stepped up, and he’s delivered. He needs to deliver for about four more games, and we’ll be all right.”