Ten days ago, Navy coach George Chaump was asked whether his team might be looking past James Madison to today's game against second-ranked Notre Dame.
"It we don't beat James Madison," Chaump said at that news conference before last Saturday's game against the Division I-AA foe, "it would be ridiculous to talk about Notre Dame."
Navy lost to James Madison, 16-7. Now Chaump faces the task of getting the Midshipmen ready to play what may be the best college football team in the country.
Aside from its lone loss to Stanford, Notre Dame (6-1) has defeated three ranked teams while playing the nation's toughest schedule. Navy (3-4) has dropped three of its past four.
"How do you face up to such a challenge? You go out with everything you have," Chaump said. "We'll try to get every man to maximize his efforts and have a good game. And if we do that, we'll have a chance.
"I've seen bigger upsets in athletics. Anything can happen."
Such was the case two years ago, when Notre Dame entered the Navy game at Memorial Stadium ranked second in the country, undefeated and a 34-point favorite. The Fighting Irish, behind a strong defense and a questionable call in their favor late in the game, escaped with a 22-7 win on their way to the national championship.
But, in the Lou Holtz years, that game was an aberration. Since he arrived in 1986, Notre Dame has outscored Navy, 151-34, and has not given up more than 14 points in any of the four games.
Notre Dame's win over Navy last year came mostly without Raghib "Rocket" Ismail, who left the game with an injury in the middle of the first quarter.
Ismail, who averages 63.5 yards on his 15 career touchdowns, may play long enough today to boost his Heisman candidacy; he has 1,075 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.
"We don't want Ismail to get the ball -- he's a great football player and a real threat," Chaump said. "No telling what he would do if he touched the ball 40 times a game. He's amazing."
Not so amazing is Navy's offensive line, which hasn't provided much protection for its quarterback this year and now faces its toughest test against a defense that -- until Chris Zorich got hurt -- boasted three All-Americans (linebacker Michael Stonebreaker and cornerback Todd Lyght are the others).
"We're going to have to make adjustments and do things different than we have," Chaump said of his offensive line. "Or it will be a rather sad day."
Navy can find some hope in the fact that Notre Dame let an unheralded Stanford team (2-6) beat them, 36-31, in South Bend, Ind., four weeks ago.
"Stanford had some breaks -- Notre Dame fumbled three kicks in that game," Chaump said. "That's what it takes to beat Notre Dame."
Holtz complains that his team has yet to prove to be worthy of its ranking.
"I think we're approaching the top 15, but I don't think we're up there yet," Holtz said. "We're not a consistent team, and we haven't played as a complete team."
The most Chaump can hope for is an extraordinary effort from Navy -- and even that could result in a lopsided loss.
"Our kids await the challenge with a lot of eagerness," Chaump said. "Navy men will not give up. They'll give a good account of themselves."