Navy (10-2) has been among the biggest surprises of the 2015 college football season. When the Midshipmen face Pittsburgh (8-4) on their home field at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, on Dec. 28, they will be seeking their first 11-win season in the program's history.
Navy reached as high as No. 15 in the AP poll this season but finished ranked No. 21. Ken Niumatalolo’s squad jumped out to a 4-0 record, which included a 33-11 drubbing over fellow service academy Air Force. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds ran for 488 yards and nine scores over the first four games. But they were quickly humbled by then-No. 15 Notre Dame in South Bend, 41-24, as the Fighting Irish defense limited Navy to just 340 total yards while denying Reynolds both a passing and rushing touchdown for the only time in the season.
The Midshipmen got back on track, climbing up the rankings with five straight wins including a throttling of then-No. 13 Memphis on Nov. 7. The only thing that kept Navy from the AAC title game was a loss to Houston (12-1) on Nov. 27. Navy finished tied with the Cougars for first in the AAC West, boasting a 7-1 conference record.
Reynolds finished the season with 1,077 passing yards, 1,229 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns (21 rush). In the 21-17 win over Army to end the regular season, Reynolds set the Division I record for career rushing touchdowns (85) and capped off a 4-0 career in the rivalry game. Navy ranked No. 3 in the country in rush yards per game (319.2) thanks to their triple-option offense and led the nation in rushing touchdowns (48).
Pittsburgh’s season could be considered a success as well, with three of their four losses coming against stiff competition. They won their first two games before falling to eventual No. 6 Iowa by just a field goal. The Panthers responded with four straight wins, all by one score to jump out to a 6-1 mark.
Back-to-back losses to ACC Coastal champion North Carolina and then-No. 5 Notre Dame put a damper on things but the Panthers responded with two more conference wins over Duke and Louisville. Despite losing the finale to Miami, Pitt finished second in the ACC Coastal and went 5-1 on the road.
The Panthers were led by quarterback Nathan Peterman and ACC receptions leader Tyler Boyd. Peterman completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 2,150 yards and 19 touchdowns, tying him for No. 4 in the ACC. Boyd caught 85 passes, six of them for touchdowns and ranked No. 2 in the conference with 873 yards. Qadree Ollison led the way on the ground ranking No. 4 in the ACC in attempts (204) and yards (1,048) to go with his 10 rushing scores.
Pittsburgh and Navy have met 39 times with the Panthers leading the series, 22-14-3. They last met in Oct. 2013 in Annapolis, where Pittsburgh won, 24-21.
Prediction: Pitt ranked No. 3 in the ACC in rush defense (126.1 yards per game) but it likely won’t be enough to stop Navy’s triple-option, run smoothly by Keenan Reynolds. Reynolds finishes his college career with another win and a few more scores to add to his record. Navy should pull of the win, but Pittsburgh should make things interesting.