This game has always been my favorite game to attend. Notre Dame is all but guaranteed to win, but the game is always hard-fought for 60 minutes and no matter the outcome, game day is imbued with a higher level of respect between opponents than any other games the Irish play.
The service academies always demand a certain level of respect, considering that the men that take that field are first soldiers, then students, and finally athletes.
But Notre Dame - Navy is more. For Notre Dame and Navy, this game has a much deeper historic meaning than other games.
From Navy's game notes for this week:
"Notre Dame and Navy first met on the football field in 1927, while Knute Rockne was the Irish head coach. But to truly understand the Notre Dame-Navy series requires a trip back to the 1940s, when Frank Leahy had the Irish on top of the football world.
"Leahy coached the Irish to a national championship in 1943, his third year as head coach, just before enlisting with the Navy to serve in World War II. Following the war, Leahy and the Irish picked up right where they had left off, going four entire seasons without a loss and claiming national championships in 1946, 1947 and 1949.
"But World War II cost Notre Dame a lot more than its talented head coach and a slew of players (including 1943 Heisman Trophy winner Angelo Bertelli). It virtually wiped out the small, all-male school. The University was having terrible financial problems, and as an all-male school with so many young men being drafted and going off to war, there was almost nobody left to attend the University.
"As part of the war effort, the Navy needed more officers than the Naval Academy was able to produce in a short period of time. So a decision was made to utilize a number of institutions across the nation in which young men would attend college and receive training to become officers. Notre Dame became the site for one such program. Not only did Notre Dame now have a much-needed influx of students preparing to become Naval officers, but the Navy also built a number of facilities on campus that served Notre Dame for years. It's safe to say that if it wasn't for the Navy and the Naval Academy, Notre Dame may not exist today."
Legend has it that, pursuant to the Naval Academy's assistance during World War II, Coach Frank Leahy and President John Cavanaugh agreed to play Navy in football any time they wanted, and sealed the deal with a handshake.
Prior to that agreement, Notre Dame had played Navy every year since 1927, and have continued ever since. The agreement is not legally binding, but the integrity of both schools is in many ways a more enduring bond than any contract.
The stark reality on the football field, however, is that Navy cannot compete with Notre Dame in the current college football landscape. The last time Navy beat the Irish was also the last time Navy fielded a Heisman trophy winner in Roger Staubach. The Naval Academy is simply not equipped to compete with the upper level competition in Division I-A, especially with the height/weight limits placed on the service academies. For example, Navy is starting the smallest offensive lineman in Div. I-A: 249-pound offensive guard Antron Harper.
However, it is worth noting that the Midshipmen are second in the country in rushing, and they operate an unconventional wishbone option attack which is difficult to prepare for. They'll fight hard all game, and the last several victories in Notre Dame Stadium have come by 2 or fewer scores, and the last visit was decided by 3 points.
Notre Dame 56
Notre Dame Defensive Line v. Navy Offensive Line
Navy: 270.4 lbs. per player
Notre Dame: 277.7 lbs. per player
At a position where defensive lineman are usually outclassed by nearly 50 lbs., this week Notre Dame's D-line will have the advantage of weight in addition to speed and power. Look for the D-line to attempt to get quick pressure up the field to disprupt Navy's timing on their option attack.
Notre Dame Skill Positions (WRs/TEs/RBs)
Calrson, TE: 6' 6"
Samardzija, WR: 6' 5"
Stovall, WR: 6' 5"
Fasano, TE: 6' 4"
Shelton, WR: 6' 0"
Thomas, RB" 6' 0"
Walker, RB: 5'11"
Navy Secondary and Linebackers
Tyler Tidwell, OLB, 6' 2"
Rob Caldwell, ILB, 6' 0"
Jake Biles, ILB, 5' 11"
Keenan Little, CB, 5' 11"
Jeremy McGown, S, 5' 11"
DuJuan Price, S, 5' 11"
David Mahoney, OLB, 5' 9"
Greg Thrasher, CB, 5' 8"
Jump ball, anyone?
Notre Dame Defense v. Navy Offense
ND rush defense rank: 25th Navy rush offense rank: 2nd
ND pass defense rank: 110th Navy pass offense rank: 114th
There strengths play into our strengths, they do not play to our weaknesses; this means our better athletes will win these matchups. Finally, Notre Dame's pass defense will look good statistically.
68-9-1: the series record. There is no dominance in college football like Notre Dame's over Navy. If Notre Dame ever loses this game, I guarantee the Midshipmen will bring down the goalposts no matter where the game takes place. To put this in perspective, however, even Ty Willie, Kuharich, and Faust went undefeated against Navy. I don't expect this series to have close games again for a long, long time. Notre Dame wins big.