Navy vs. Pittsburgh: Military Bowl preview
Navy (10–2) vs. Pittsburgh (8–4)
Dec. 28, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch
The Military Bowl is senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds’s final game at Navy, bringing an end to one of the most decorated collegiate careers in recent memory. Reynolds broke the all-time Division I record with his 85th career rushing touchdown in a 21–17 victory over Army on Dec. 12, and he finished the 2015 regular season with 1,229 rushing yards, 1,077 passing yards and 28 total touchdowns. For the Midshipmen’s triple-option offense to succeed, they need a dynamic playmaker and a skilled decision-maker. No one has filled that role more capably than Reynolds.
Keep an eye on: Pitt’s offense under new leadership
Coordinator Jim Chaney, who came to the Panthers from Arkansas in January, recently left to accept the same position at Georgia under Kirby Smart. Chaney will not call plays for Pitt in the bowl game. Under his guidance, the Panthers ranked 63rd in the nation in yards per play (5.63) and 69th in scoring offense (28.3 points per game), and they did so without star tailback James Conner (who was lost to an ACL injury in the opener) and after transitioning from Chad Voytik to Nate Peterman at starting quarterback in mid-September. Expect Pitt to rely on a heavy dose of Qadree Ollison, the freshman back who replaced Conner and rushed for 1,048 yards with 10 touchdowns this season.
Did you know…?
Navy and Pitt have previously played 39 times, perhaps none more memorable than their Oct. 26, 1963 clash, a 24–12 Midshipmen win. That matchup pitted Navy quarterback Roger Staubach against Panthers two-way All-America lineman Ernie Borghetti, and Navy went on to play for the national championship that season. Another fun fact about that game: One of Navy’s defensive assistants at the time was Steve Belichick, the father of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Pitt already beat one option team, Georgia Tech, on Oct. 17 of this season, and the Panthers should be able to move the ball behind Peterman, Ollison and explosive junior receiver Tyler Boyd (873 yards, six touchdowns in 2015). Still, Navy is more polished than Georgia Tech is, and it should have plenty of motivation to send Reynolds off on a winning note. In a relatively even matchup, this one could come down to the turnover battle, an area in which the Midshipmen appear to have a decided advantage: Navy has the second-best turnover margin in the FBS (+17), while Pitt ranks 52nd in the same category (+2).