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Air Force Non-Conference Preview: Navy Midshipmen

Air Force's annual meeting with FBS Independent Navy occurs on the road in early October this season

Ezra Shaw

The Air Force Falcons start October with a non-conference matchup when they face the Navy Midshipmen on the road at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. The game kicks off on Saturday, October 5 at 11:30 a.m. ET and will be aired on CBS.

Coach: Ken Niumatalolo (40-26, five years, plus the 2007 bowl game)

2012 record: (8-5) (0-0)

2012 season in review: Navy played things pretty close to the vest in 2012, winning four different contests (including a 28-21 overtime victory over Air Force) by a touchdown or less. In the Midshipmen's losses, however, things were incredibly ugly; losing three different games by 27 points or more. Navy's strength was once again its rushing attack, which finished sixth nationally in yards per game with 278.5. But passing also showed *some* glimmers of hope, as freshman QB Keenan Reynolds managed to resurrect that part of the offense during his eight-game stint as the starter. Navy went 6-2 with Reynolds under center, while he managed nearly 900 yards through the air on just 108 attempts (they had just 436 pasing yards without him).

Returning Offensive Starters: 5

Returning Defensive Starters: 6

Key Returning Starters: QB Keenan Reynolds, FB Noah Copeland, CB Parrish Gaines

2013 Strengths: As always, it all starts with the running game on offense, where Reynolds will have to find a balance between picking up tough yardage and taking unnecessary hits. He's just a sophomore, so he has plenty of room for growth, but Navy needs him to stay healthy in order to realize all of that potential. As he continues to get the hang of the starting job, he'll have to figure out how to defer to Noah Copeland more often. He's a bruiser who picked up over 700 yards rushing last year, and should play a larger role in 2013. On defense, the secondary should be improved from last year, when the young group let up 190 plays of 10 yards or longer.

2013 Weaknesses: The offensive line lacks the optimal size for the Flexbone (just one player over 288 pounds) and has some work to do replacing the left side of the line as well. Their success will determine Reynolds's ability to make plays and in the early parts of the season, that could cause some problems. The aforementioned secondary should be better, but they'll have to carry the load for a very green linebacker group and a weak defensive line. Navy managed just 18 sacks in 13 games last year, and they'll lose 10.5 of those to graduation. If they can't find a way to pressure the quarterback this year, the Midshipmen could see repeats of last year's dreadful 51-10 (vs. Notre Dame), 34-7 (at Penn State) and 62-28 (vs. Arizona State) blowouts.