Liberty Bowl Football

Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo watches a replay in the first half of the Liberty Bowl NCAA college football game between Navy and Kansas State Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo has an opinion on what he’s heard is happening within Air Force’s football team, but he’s not going to share it.

“I better stop saying my opinion or I’ll be getting in trouble,” said Niumatalolo, who last week apologized after blasting the Pentagon for allowing Air Force to play a two-game schedule against Navy and Army. “Let everybody do their own deal and we’ll do ours.

“I’d like to say I don’t want any black SUV’s parked outside my house.”

The issue at hand as Navy turns its attention to Air Force after defeating Tulane 27-24 on Saturday is the number of administrative turnbacks granted by the Air Force Academy to football players. Multiple sources have told The Gazette that 40 players were permitted to take this semester off under a provision that allows cadets to separate from the academy because of personal hardships. The academy has refused to answer any questions about the number of turnbacks granted and has not released an updated football roster or depth chart.

With the Falcons forging ahead with at least the two service academy games this fall — and potentially a delayed Mountain West season — the makeup of the roster figures to be markedly different. But Navy doesn’t know where the specific changes will be found, complicating its preparation as it enters a bye week before the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy series.

“Whoever it is going to be, it’s still Air Force,” Niumatalolo said. “I know the type of kids they have, it’s the same type of young men we have — they’re going to fight to the bitter end. We always know a lot of their players because we recruit a lot of them. So we’re familiar with a lot of their guys even if they haven’t played. But I don’t know. We’re trying to figure out who’s going to play. We don’t know any of that besides all of the reports, so there’s some uncertainty about who’s going to play. But I’ve played these guys too many times ever to think, ‘Oh they’ll be down,’ because there’s somebody else behind who’s a good football player. And coach (Troy) Calhoun’s a good coach.”

The Midshipmen (1-1) opened with a 55-3 loss to BYU on Sept. 7, then had an open week before the come-from-behind victory over Tulane in which they climbed out of a 24-0 hole to win.

They’ll spend the next two weeks preparing to visit Falcon Stadium in a series where the home team has won the past seven meetings.

“We’re going to practice Navy football,” Midshipmen quarterback Dalen Morris said. “Whoever they have on the field in two weeks, we’re going to be ready to play them.”

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