College football bowl season facilitates some of the most heated debates among the sports’ biggest fans and industry members. It’s these games that people reference to anchor their arguments regarding the appropriate size of the College Football Playoff and which conferences are superior (or inferior) to the others.
The Navy Midshipmen will compete against the Kansas State Wildcats on New Year’s Eve in the 2019 AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee. While this game is momentous for the Navy Football program, it’s also incredibly important for the American Athletic Conference as a whole.
The Midshipmen enter the match coming off their biggest win of the season, a 31-7 victory over their rival, the Army Black Knights. This win improved Navy’s record to 10-2, with their two losses coming against No. 17 Memphis and No. 15 Notre Dame. But, what was more meaningful was securing the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, awarded to the winner of the annual round-robin between Navy, Army, and Air Force. This impressive record in an improving conference, paired with winning the CIC Trophy, will undoubtedly benefit Navy’s national recognition and their recruiting efforts.
More than just a bowl game
Despite all that, a strong showing in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl could prove even more valuable for the Midshipmen’s future than what they have already accomplished this season. According to Navy’s official roster, nearly 10 percent of the team’s current players are from Tennessee with four from Memphis itself. The Midshipmen have strong recruiting ties with the state, with the most recent (and notable) Navy player to come from Tennessee being former quarterback, Keenan Reynolds.
While playing well in the local area will attract recruits from the general vicinity, hanging with a Big 12 opponent who beat Oklahoma earlier in the year will result in interest from recruits across the country. Beating Kansas State would only further amplify that attention young athletes may give to Navy Football.
Navy fans won’t be the only ones cheering for the Midshipmen come Tuesday. AAC teams, fans, and Group of 5 supporters will all be invested in the outcome of this AAC vs Big 12 game. As the grasp for relevancy and recognition among the American Athletic Conference continues, the evidence to support the claims must be present. And, what better way to say you are better than someone that to actually win a head-to-head match?
SMU, Temple, and somewhat Memphis, have all let the conference down in terms of building a reputation that the AAC deserves to be in the “Power 6” discussion. UCF is the only AAC team to win their bowl game so far, and that was against an unimpressive, unranked Marshall team who is now 8-5 on the year. The AAC needs Navy to beat Kansas State, but at the very least, not get blown out.
Navy defense has its hands full
Chris Klieman is in his first season taking over the Kansas State program after the legendary Bill Snyder retired last year. Prior to coaching the Wildcats, Klieman led North Dakota State to five consecutive trips to the FCS playoff, winning the National Championship in four of those years. His first year at KSU has been quite the rollercoaster ride. The regular season was highlighted by knocking off an undefeated Oklahoma. However, the Wildcats finished with four total losses, where two of them were decided by less than a single score.
On offense, Kansas State is led by junior quarterback, Skylar Thompson. Thompson has started for the Wildcats since the end of his freshman season. At 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, he is a capable dual-threat quarterback who gives Kansas State tons of options and flexibility in their offensive approach. Thompson has 402 rushing yards on 105 carries and 10 touchdowns on the ground. As a passer, Thompson completes an average of 59 percent of his throws with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions on the season. He is supplemented by James Gilbert in the backfield. Gilbert, a senior, is just short of 700 rushing yards this year with six touchdowns.
Thompson’s primary targets are Dalton Schoen, Malik Knowles, and Phillip Brooks. All three of them have over 22 receptions for over 250 receiving yards. Although, Schoen is, by far, the favorite of the three. Schoen is a smaller receiver at 6-foot-1, but has 35 catches, 567 receiving yards, and four touchdowns, leading the team in all three categories.
The Midshipmen will look to lock-down Schoen, but also prevent Thompson from finding running lanes for big yards on third downs.
The triple-option alone is an incredibly difficult offense to run but also defend. Even Army, who knows the scheme like the back of their hand, couldn’t handle Navy’s execution of the offense during the 2019 Army-Navy Game. But, the Midshipmen found much of their offensive success by non-traditional triple-option means. Navy ran many plays out of a pistol-like formation. They also gained tons of yards by way of star quarterback Malcolm Perry’s tremendous athleticism while scrambling out of the pocket.
Whether or not offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper intended on Perry dropping back to pass multiple times just to attempt absolutely zero passes, he stumbled upon a new dimension of the offense: the very, very disguised quarterback draw.
After watching film, the Kansas State defense has to be overwhelmed with the possibilities of formations, players who could get the ball, and the ways Navy can get it to them. The Big 12 isn’t known for their defense, and if the Wildcats don’t step up their game, Perry could have another 300 yard rushing game like he did against the Black Knights.
How To Watch:
Time: 3:45 p.m. (EST) on Tuesday, Dec. 31
Location: Liberty Bowl Stadium, Memphis, TN
Rankings: Navy enters the game at No. 23 in the CFP Ranking and No. 21 in the AP Poll and Coaches Poll. Kansas State is unranked, but has votes in the AP and Coaches Poll.
Betting Lines: Navy is favored by 2.5 points. The Over/Under is 53
Tickets: Click here
Weather: The forecast calls for a high of 51, a low of 41 and plenty of sunshine.