Don't tell Navy coach Paul Johnson that the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame are ripe for a rare takedown by the Midshipmen.
At a glance, this looks like the year Navy (6-3) finally could break through, following four decades of futility in the nation's longest running intersectional rivalry that spans 77 seasons. After 39 consecutive losses since 1963 - an NCAA record against one opponent - this looks like Navy's year, right?
After all, the Mids are rolling toward their first winning season in six years. At 2-6, Notre Dame is off to its worst start since 1963. With Saturday's 37-0 loss to Florida State, the Fighting Irish suffered their first shutout at home in 25 years and their second-most lopsided loss ever in South Bend, Ind.
Johnson dismissed such hype, then pointed to Notre Dame's traditionally nasty schedule and quality of its players. The Irish have lost to Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, USC and Florida State - all Top 20 schools. Notre Dame also has beaten Washington State and Pittsburgh, both ranked in the Top 25.
Navy has beaten one opponent that nearly cracked the Top 25 in Air Force, and has defeated four other Division I-A teams with losing records.
"Notre Dame probably has got 15 or 16 Parade All-Americans in the two-deep [depth chart]. They've got great players and great football tradition," Johnson said. "We understand how good they are. Their record is not going to deceive anybody. For us to win, we have to go in there and play as well as we can play and get some breaks."
"You can debate whether they've got the hardest schedule in the country," Navy center Shane Todd said. "We're learning more and more all the time about what it takes to win. We're going to be ready to go. You don't ever have to worry about that when Navy comes to play Notre Dame."
Navy has suffered some close calls lately against Notre Dame, most recently last year's 30-23 defeat in Baltimore. The Mids blew a 23-15 lead with a little over four minutes remaining. Navy also dropped a 28-24 decision in South Bend in 1999 and lost there in 1997, 21-17.
Mids and bowls
Do the Midshipmen need to win seven or eight games to become bowl-eligible? There is confusion about the matter, and Navy is awaiting clarification from the NCAA.
According to NCAA bylaws, Navy would qualify for a bowl bid if it won one more game, thus achieving a winning record (minimum 7-5), and beat at least six Division I-A opponents. Under that scenario, the Mids would make the grade with a victory over either Notre Dame, Central Michigan or Army over their last three games.
But since Navy has no conference affiliation, the NCAA has told officials at the academy that the Mids must beat a minimum of seven I-A opponents to be considered eligible for the postseason. That means Navy, one of four independent I-A football programs, would have to win two of its last three games and finish 8-4 to be bowl-eligible.
"The portion of the [bowl certification] bylaws was set up with conferences in mind," said Kay Hawes, an NCAA assistant director of media relations.
Regardless of the NCAA's ruling on the matter, Navy, partly because of its lack of conference affiliation and its shortage of quality wins, most likely must finish 8-4 to garner serious bowl consideration.
Next for Navy
Matchup: Navy (6-3) vs. Notre Dame (2-6)
Site: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
When: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: Chs. 11, 4/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)
Line: Notre Dame by 8