Navy football finished seventh in the American Athletic Conference standings last season. Apparently, media members covering the conference think the Midshipmen will fall further toward the cellar in 2021.
Navy was predicted to finish in a tie for eighth place in the 11-team league in the preseason media poll that was released Wednesday morning, as the Midshipmen and East Carolina both received 85 votes.
Cincinnati, which finished the 2020 season ranked No. 8 nationally, has been tabbed as the preseason favorite.
“We’re picked low pretty much every year. I don’t worry too much about what people say,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said during Wednesday’s virtual AAC Football Media Day. “Let people pick us where they want to pick us. We’ll just keep our mouths quiet and grind.”
Since joining the AAC in 2015, Navy has compiled an overall conference record of 30-17. The Midshipmen captured the West Division outright in 2016 and finished in a tie for first in 2015 and 2019.
Navy ranks fourth behind Memphis (34-14), Temple (31-16) and Central Florida (31-17) for most wins over the last six seasons.
“I’m not worried about preseason polls; I’m just worried about our preparation, and I like where we’re at right now,” he said. “We’ll be ready Sept. 4 when the first game comes.”
Navy was never picked lower than fourth in the West Division in its first four seasons in the AAC. After posting a disappointing 3-10 overall record in 2018, the Midshipmen were predicted to place fifth out of six teams in the division.
Navy, led by star quarterback and eventual Miami Dolphins draft pick Malcolm Perry, wound up going 11-2 overall and 7-1 in the West Division with its lone loss coming to eventual conference champion Memphis.
The Mids finished 3-7 overall and 3-4 in the AAC last season as they struggled to replace Perry behind center. Niumatalolo is confident the team is poised for a bounce-back campaign similar to 2019.
“I’m really excited with where we’re at. We’re going to be a completely different team,” the 14th-year head coach said. “I feel really, really good because we are completely back to our culture this year. We have great captains and great leadership.”
Navy faces a tough conference schedule, playing all the programs picked first through sixth in the preseason poll before the end of October.
Cincinnati received 22 of a possible 24 first-place votes in the media poll to finish with 262 points.
Central Florida received the other two first-place votes and was second in the poll with 241 points, ending a streak of three consecutive seasons as the favorite in the AAC.
Southern Methodist edged Houston for the No. 3 spot. The Mustangs return 18 starters from last year’s team that won seven of its first eight games and was ranked as high as No. 16 nationally.
Navy will host all three schools at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium this season.
“This is definitely the toughest schedule we’ve ever played since I’ve been here,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve known about the schedule for a while. It’s been great motivation for everyone in our program. Our guys have embraced this as a tough challenge.
“Our league is as tough as it’s ever been and has only gotten better.”
Kevin Brennan, one of Navy’s four captains this season, said Wednesday the players will remember being picked eighth in the preseason poll.
“I think it definitely motivates us a bit,” Brennan said. “Honestly, we don’t pay much attention to that stuff. It doesn’t matter. We always have a chip on our shoulder.”
AAC preseason media poll
(First place votes in parentheses)
1. Cincinnati (22), 262 points
2. Central Florida (2), 241
3. Southern Methodist, 188
4. Houston, 181
5. Memphis, 168
6. Tulsa, 153
7. Tulane, 132
8. (tie) East Carolina and Navy, 85
10. Temple, 46
11. South Florida, 43