Since 2003, the Navy Midshipmen have won at least 8 games in all but one season, a woeful 5-7 in 2011. While that 2011 record gives cause for pause regarding Navy circa 2016, it would have been tied for the Middie’s best season from 1998-2003 when the program had win totals of 3, 1, 2, 5, and 0. What are the keys to Navy’s success? Program discipline, leadership, scheduling, technology, and the flexbone triple option.
When teams like Navy and Georgia Tech have the right QB- that offense is unstoppable. Ask Army the past fourteen or so seasons before breaking the streak in 2016. Ask Notre Dame in 2007. Over the past five seasons Navy has defeated the likes of South Florida, Pittsburgh, East Carolina, Air Force, and Indiana. The triple option has allowed Navy the luxury of being something “new” to game plan for and because it’s their offense they are really great at recruiting for it and implementing the system for success.
Perennial cellar dwellers in FBS football have ignored this trend and it’s almost mind boggling. More teams should be using this offense, and I will break those teams into three tiers.
The three tiers of triple option teams
1- STUDENT-athlete schools. The schools that actually believe in the student in student athlete should run the Flexbone. You don’t need superior athletes to run the triple, but it does take quick decision making and the right kind of smart-tough kid. That’s why a strong academic school like Georgia Tech and an extremely selective Navy have had success in the Flexbone* (and Air Force has succeeded in the triple option as well). This makes you wonder why academic teams with typically poor football like Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Rice, and Tulane haven’t adopted this offense. It’s not like you’re afraid to lose a recruiting stronghold or hurt your “we send them to the pro’s” approach. Wake, for example, is sharing recruits with Virginia Tech, Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, NC State, Maryland, South Carolina, Clemson and the list goes on.
*Since 2016, Army West Point has defeated Navy in back to back seasons. Jeff Monken, the Army head football coach, returned the triple option back to upstate New York. But Army hasn’t just sat in the Flexbone formation. They’ve employed a variety of looks involved with different options. Army has won 18 games over the past two seasons under Monken who was also the head coach at Georgia Southern. Down at Southern Monken won 38 games over four seasons with the Eagles. Paul Johnson was also a Georgia Southern head coach from 1997-2001 where he won 62 games.
Sharing recruits in a football-heavy region takes us to tier 2- teams that are surrounded by national powers or too many really good regional powers. Think North Texas, Texas State, South Alabama, Alabama-Birmingham, Florida Atlantic*, Florida International*, Tulane, Rice, Charlotte, San Jose State, Kent State, and Central Michigan to name a few. Those teams are in locations where they’re getting 5th tier in-state talent, and that’s not even considering Notre Dame, Clemson, etc that can cherry pick 1-2 top players and West Virginia that has picked up the academic casualties from Florida for years. Why not recruit players that are to a specific mold to avoid going after the 10th best ‘dual threat’ spread QB in your state? I think this really goes back to how Nebraska found so much success in the 90’s-early 2000’s. Not only are they the only D1 football school in Nebraska, but they ran a specific system they could teach to all of their high school coaches. This brings us to tier 3.
*Florida Atlantic won ten games under Lane Kiffin, while FIU won 8 games under Butch Davis in 2017.
Tier 3 are teams on an island (literally and figuratively). I’m thinking about Idaho, Wyoming, Hawaii, Buffalo, Illinois, Kansas and Colorado. Those teams are either the only D1 team in the state or one of two teams. If you’re struggling to win games, a system offense might be the best fit for your program. You can take the Husker approach and utilize a state or half of a state coaching program to get your high school coaches on board and then keep that system going. I can eventually see Paul Johnson at a Colorado or even back at Hawaii.
Think about Idaho trying to compete with Boise State who has already found success. You can’t run their type of Stanford/Pro-Style offense. Instead, Idaho should go Flexbone to recruit an entirely different style of player. Or how about Hawaii? You could teach the entire island chain, which has some amazing talent, the Flexbone and get a system going for generations.
Since I first wrote this in the pre-season of the 2016 a few of these programs have had turn arounds. Lane Kiffin has pumped life into FAU, Butch Davis into FIU, Scott Frost drove the UCF Knights from 0-12 to 13-0, and Army has won 18 games. Only one of those programs was running the Flexbone but it’s safe to say there are many programs like Hawaii, Idaho, and others that could benefit from a scheme offense individual to their program like Nevada found success with in the pistol under Chris Ault.