Navy joins AAC, adding another goal to go with beating Army

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds would rather talk about team goals than individual accomplishments as he prepares to close out a record-setting career.

Reynolds has been asked repeatedly during preseason about his continued assault on the NCAA and Naval Academy record books. The standout senior has been consistent with his response, saying he is more interested in helping the Midshipmen reclaim the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and capture a conference championship.

''I want to get the CIC Trophy back where it belongs and win the conference,'' Reynolds said.

This is an historic season for Navy, which joins the American Athletic Conference as a football-only member after playing as an independent for 134 years. Adding the Midshipmen brings the AAC to 12 teams, allowing it to conduct a conference championship game.

If Navy wins the West Division, it would play in the inaugural AAC championship game on Dec. 5, just one week before meeting archrival Army. While that would cause quite a schedule crunch and eliminate the traditional two weeks of preparation for the most important game of the year, eighth-year head coach Ken Niumatalolo believes that's a good problem to have.

''Beating Army and Air Force and winning the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy is always our No. 1 goal,'' Niumatalolo said. ''This just adds another goal.''

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Some things to look for as the Midshipmen join the AAC:

REYNOLDS IN THE RECORD BOOKS: Reynolds enters the season with 64 rushing touchdowns and needs 14 more to become the NCAA career leader. That should not be a problem for Reynolds, who set an NCAA single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 31 as a sophomore and added 23 more last year despite missing two games with an injury. Former Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball holds the record for career rushing touchdowns with 77.

OFFENSIVE LINE SHUFFLE: Navy's triple-option will be run behind a line that features three new starters, so it may take time to develop the necessary chemistry. Left guard E.K. Binns and right tackle Joey Gaston are the lone returning starters. Senior Ben Tamburello has seized the right guard spot, but it's still uncertain who will join them up front.

YOUNG, INEXPERIENCED LINEBACKERS: Linebackers are key playmakers in Navy's 3-4 defensive alignment, but the team is extremely young and inexperienced at that position. The Midshipmen graduated three standout starters - Jordan Drake, Chris Johnson and Obi Uzoma. Their current replacements are players that were not even starters on special teams last season. Navy endured an unexpected loss when William Tuider, the top backup at both outside linebacker positions, quit the team at the end of the spring semester.

ON SABBATICAL: Buddy Green, Navy's defensive coordinator since 2002, is taking this season off in order to focus on his health. Green underwent neck surgery in May and suffered a setback in his recovery during the first week of practice. Green was trying to fight through severe pain, but Niumatalolo stepped in and ordered the 62-year-old to take a sabbatical. Dale Pehrson, Navy's longest-tenured assistant at 20 years, has been named interim defensive coordinator.

CONSISTENT SUCCESS: Navy has won eight games or more in 11 of the last 12 seasons and made 11 postseason appearances during that span. The Mids have won consecutive bowl games for just the second time in program history (Armed Forces in 2013 and Poinsettia in 2014). Navy has won 13 straight against Army, outscoring its archrival 417-142 during that time.

DISCIPLINED FOOTBALL: Since Niumatalolo took over as head coach in 2008, Navy has never finished lower than second in the nation in both fewest penalties and least penalty yards per game. The Midshipmen ranked No. 1 nationally in both categories in 2014, committing an average of 2.54 penalties for 24.77 yards.

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