No longer at a loss, Navy has everything to gain against Notre Dame

October 11, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

OK, SO MAYBE "We're No. 29" doesn't exactly float your boat, but Navy's football program is back on the map, and the undefeated Midshipmen are finally getting some recognition as they prepare for Saturday's game against Notre Dame at the Meadowlands.

Navy received votes in both major college polls this week, and its 41 points in the latest Associated Press poll would rank it 29th, if the rankings did not stop at 25. The Mids' point total in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll would rank them 34th, but let's not split hairs. They are on the march, and they've got a major opportunity ahead of them this week.

They actually got more points in the AP poll than the Fighting Irish, but Notre Dame is still bigger, stronger and faster - along with every other major college program that doesn't require a five-year military commitment from all students. And there is the small matter of a 40-game losing streak against the Irish that dates back to the Roger Staubach era (1963).

If I had to bet the house, I'd still have to go with the Irish, but Navy has played better Notre Dame teams very tough in years when it probably shouldn't have been on the same field.

With a victory, Navy (5-0) might crack the Top 25 for the first time since the Mids were ranked 17th in the AP poll in October 1979. They also would put themselves in excellent position to run the table and earn a quality bowl bid.

Coach Paul Johnson is starting to get the credit he deserves for reviving a beleaguered program. His name just showed up on the "watch list" for the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award along with Pete Carroll of USC, Mark Richt of Georgia, Larry Coker of Miami, Joe Tiller of Purdue, Urban Meyer of Utah and Dan Hawkins of surprising Boise State. Nice company.

More signs of the college football apocalypse: Army scored 48 points on Saturday, and Nebraska gave up 70. Not in the same game, of course.

The Philadelphia Phillies will interview Grady Little, Charlie Manuel and Don Baylor for their vacant managerial position this week. Manuel, the in-house candidate, appears to be the favorite, but I think the Phillies need to go with a stronger personality.

Little probably is the best nuts-and-bolts manager of the three (if those are the only candidates), but Baylor may be the best combination of interpersonal skills and managerial acumen. He has the credibility of a solid former player, a strong personality and a reputation as a players' manager.

He hasn't had great success in two previous managerial incarnations - and he has his critics - but he might be the right man for that job.

Whoever gets the job will inherit a pretty good team with a chance to improve over the offseason.

"We still have to get over the hump," Phillies president David Montgomery told The Philadelphia Inquirer, "but the hill we have to climb isn't Mount Everest."

Everyone talks about the Curse of the Bambino, but the Red Sox will get no sympathy from the Houston Astros, who yesterday lost for the sixth straight time when they have been in a position to close out a playoff series.

The Red Sox haven't won a World Series since 1918, but they've been in a few and won their share of playoff series, including this year's overwhelming sweep of the Angels.

The Astros have appeared in eight postseason series and have yet to advance, which doesn't bode well for the rubber game of the Division Series today in Atlanta, because they have won just three of 15 postseason games played on the road.

Talk about instant non-gratification. Baseball analyst Joe Morgan was weighing the possibility that Astros pinch runner Adam Everett might break for second on a 3-2 pitch to Lance Berkman in the ninth inning of yesterday's game against the Braves.

"I wouldn't do it," said Morgan, "because you've got Jeff Kent coming up next and he has the ability to tie this ballgame."

Everett broke on the pitch and Berkman poked a single right through the hole left open when Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal went to cover second base. Kent, however, followed with a double-play grounder to end the game and Morgan packed up his slightly smudged crystal ball.

Contact Peter Schmuck at peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

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