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Navy Football Preview: The Midshipmen have a must-win game against SMU

The Navy Midshipmen need to win this weekend against SMU if they want any chance to play for the AAC Championship.

NCAA Football: Navy at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s just say, last week’s game against Notre Dame didn’t exactly go as planned for the Navy Midshipmen. Alright, let’s call it what it what it was - a disaster. The offense turned over the ball way too much, and the defense had no answer for Chase Claypool’s size. The good news is that Navy’s 52-20 loss to the Fighting Irish has absolutely no bearing on the next month of football.

This week, the Midshipmen face the SMU Mustangs at home. SMU enters the game with a 9-1 record and ranked at No. 25 by the College Football Playoff Committee. Additionally, the Mustangs are tied with Navy and Memphis for first place in the AAC West. However, this standing is deceiving since the Memphis Tigers own the tiebreaker, having wins over both Navy and SMU.

For this exact reason, Saturday’s matchup is a must-win game for both Navy and SMU. The loser of this match will be completely eliminated from the possibility of representing the AAC West in the AAC Championship Game. The winner, on the other hand, will need to win their follow-on conference game and need Memphis to lose another conference game for either to make it to the championship. Fortunately for both, Memphis still needs to play Cincinnati, who is the toughest team in the AAC East.

The stakes are as high as they’ve been all season, so we know we’ll need to be strapped to our seats for this game.

SMU Mustangs

SMU started off the season with an impressive 8-0 record. They slowly started to gain national recognition and peaked as high as No. 15 in AP Poll before their loss to Memphis. However, if we break down SMU’s record, you may become less impressed. Five of their nine wins have only been decided by a single score. This includes games against Arkansas State (6-4), TCU (5-5), Tulsa (3-7), Houston (3-7), and ECU (3-7).

To put it in perspective, Navy beat ECU by 32 points and Tulsa by 28.

Conversely, SMU won on the road against a solid TCU team, beat Temple (who gave Memphis its only loss), and only lost to Memphis by 10 points. Navy lost to Memphis by 12; yes, only a two point difference. Although Navy beat common opponents by a larger margin, the Mustangs have a handful of solid victories under their belt.

The Mustang offense is led from under center by Shane Buechele. Buechele is a transfer from Texas and brings a ton of experience to SMU. Prior to even getting to SMU, Buechele had over 4,600 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions while with Texas in basically two years of play. So far this season, he has already tossed 3,195 yards for 28 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.

Buechele has two favorite targets on the outside, James Proche and Reggie Roberson Jr.. Pronche has over twice the amount of receptions as Roberson Jr. with a total of 88, and double the number of touchdowns with 12. Roberson Jr. has only 43 receptions and six touchdowns. After these two, there is a significant drop of in activity from the rest of the wide receiving corps. However, Buechele likes to incorporate his 6-foot-3, 235 pound tight end, Kylen Granson, especially in the redzone. Granson is just ahead of Roberson Jr. in receiving touchdowns with eight.

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Southern Methodist Timothy Flores-USA TODAY Sports

The SMU offense truly is complete and well-rounded, due to the presence of Xavier Jones in the backfield. Jones is averaging 5.4 yards per carry on 196 carries, which is outstanding this late in the season. He has amassed 18 rushing scores and looks to be a significant problem for the Midshipmen.

How To Watch:

Time: 3:30 p.m. (EST) on Saturday, Nov. 23

Watch: CBS Sports Network

Location: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium; Annapolis, MD

Rankings: SMU enters the game at No. 25 in the CFP Ranking and No. 21 in the AP Poll. Navy is unranked.

Betting Lines: Navy is favored by 3 points. The Over/Under is 67

Prediction:

Navy has a few things going for them.

First, the SMU defense hasn’t proven that they are particularly good, let alone have any chance against a dominant triple-option offense. The Mustangs give up an average of 32 points per game to opposing offenses.

Next, the game is being played in Annapolis. Historically, the Midshipmen have played incredibly well at home, especially in close games. Last year, this game was in Dallas and Navy lost a heartbreaker as time expired. Coach Ken Niumatalolo won’t lose that way on his team’s home turf.

Finally, the weather is rolling in. Temperatures are forcasted to be in the low 40s and there is a strong possibility of rain. SMU is coming from Dallas where the temperatures have been in the low 70s to high 60s. The cold, paired with the wetness, will undoubtedly negatively impact the Mustang air attack and team in general. Last year, Navy was able to steal a game away from a very good Memphis team due to a very rainy day in Annapolis.

With all of this, you can’t help but feel the Midshipmen have the upper-hand headed into the game. In the end, Navy wins this close matchup.

Final: Navy 38 - SMU 35