ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — First-year Florida Atlantic coach Carl Pelinia views Navy's football program as a model for what he wants to build in Boca Raton.
"Navy embodies so much of what I believe in," Pelini said. "The discipline, structure, character, leadership — those all the type of traits I am trying to instill in our players."
Pelini and the Owls will get a firsthand look at the Midshipmen on Saturday when the teams meet for the first time. Navy (5-3) has won four in a row and can become bowl eligible with a win over Florida Atlantic (2-6).
Pelini wants to turn Florida Atlantic's program around the way Navy has been able to do.
Navy underwent a culture change in 2002.
Paul Johnson took over as head coach of a program that had compiled a 1-20 record the previous two seasons. One year later, the Midshipmen went 8-5 and made their first bowl appearance since 1996. That began a string of eight straight winning seasons capped by bowl berths.
Johnson left Navy for Georgia Tech and turned the head coaching reins over to top assistant Ken Niumatalolo, who directed the Midshipmen to three winning seasons before the streak ended last year.
"I have a lot of respect for what Navy has been able to accomplish. That has been one of the most consistent programs in the country," said Pelini, who came to Florida Atlantic after serving as defensive coordinator at Nebraska under younger brother Bo Pelini.
To pull off an upset, Florida Atlantic must stop Navy's triple-option offense. Freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds has been outstanding since taking control of an attack that ranks sixth nationally in rushing offense (271.1 yards per game).
Senior slotback Gee Gee Greene has been the most dangerous weapon for Navy with team-highs of 511 yards rushing and 203 yards receiving. Reynolds, who can become the first Navy quarterback since Bob Powers (1979) to win his first four career starts, has completed 64 percent of passes for 413 yards and six touchdowns.