Fortunately, I think Navy is due to upset someone. As we have discussed before, Navy has yet to really pull a significant upset since Paul Johnson's second season in 2003, when Navy more or less upset every team they beat to finish 8-5. Since that time, Navy has defeated only two teams that finished the year with record better than .500, and beaten no ranked teams. However, because of the unique design of the offense, the will of the players, and the coaching genius which is Paul Johnson, I don't think ti's unreasonable to say that the Mids could catch someone sleeping this season. As I stated earlier, there are at least four games which Navy will more than likely be underdogs in, those being the games against Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Wake Forest, and Notre Dame. Depending on the strength of some the opponent once the season rolls around, Navy could also be 'dogs against the likes of Ball St. and Northern Illinois. And even though, at this point, the Mids will certainly be favorites against the Temples, Dukes, and North Texas' of the schedule, even those games are by no means "sure wins."
For arguments sake I've decided to take into account only the four teams which Navy is sure to be the underdog against, and have ranked them in order of the likelihood of an upset occurring. Keep in mind I'm not predicted any of these upsets will occur, but rather rating the likelihood of them occurring in relation to each other. As usual, comments are welcomed and encouraged.
Pittsburgh- This is the obvious first choice because despite being a "name" program with national prominence, the Pitt Panthers have stumbled into mediocrity the past two years and underachieved in the "New Big East" that they were, ironically enough, supposed to dominate. Coach Wannstedt is a solid recruiter who has been able to up the talent level of this team but despite the presence of several highly touted prospects this figures to be something of a rebuilding year for the Panthers. They lose their starting QB of three seasons in Tyler Palko as well as the majority of their linebacker corps, including First Team All-Big East performer H.B. Blades. There is still good experience and great talent at the skill positions, but one has to think that the breaking in of a new quarterback should set the offense back at least over the opening half of the season. Pitt meanwhile does not have the luxury of having game planned for the triple option in the past like fellow BE member Rutgers, and doesn't get as big of a home-field boost because the game will be played on a Wednesday night. The obvious losses at linebacker make the Panthers susceptible to an offense like the triple option, while the offense could still be going through some growing pains at QB by the time the two teams square off. This looks like the classic "upset" that pundits circle on their calender and is almost deterministically willed to be so. Just to be clear, that's not by any means a prediction of an upset on my part.
Wake Forest- I'm a big admirer of how Jim Grobe has built that program and an even bigger fan of the "gimmick" offense that Steed Lobotzke has implemented there. Most pundits have Wake down a few notches this year, and I won't completely disagree with that statement, but do warn that this team finds a way to win. Phil Steele readers and enthusiasts like myself may have noticed that Wake had the best fortune of any team in the country in close win game situations last season, and according to Mr. Steele's formula (pg 299) teams with six or more net close wins (touchdown or less) have been weaker or the same the next year 100% of the time over the last five seasons. I should point out that this is inclusive of only two teams, but over that same period teams with three or more net close wins have had over an 80% rate of having the same or weaker record the next season. Not to bludgeon people with formulas, but Mr. Steele's Turnover=Turnaround feature (which you can read about on pg 312) also sees Wake having less success this year than next year. Navy will have the benefit not having played Wake since a close loss in 2002, but Wake's defense should be more adept to playing assignment football against an option team because of their own offensive design. They get an extra day to prepare for Navy, but it does come after a home game against a Florida St. team which everyone swears should be much improved. The point of all of this is fairly simple; Wake Forest is a fabulous team and should go to a bowl game against next season but it isn't likely to run the table with 10+ wins again. Most reasonable people realize Wake got all the breaks last season (except against Clemson) and it isn't likely to happen again this year. The Deamon Deacons seldom blow anyone out which should give Navy a chance to be at least competative in this game. What worries me most however is that this team now expects to win, and gets back a loaded offense which should be much more explosive than last year's.
Notre Dame- It was tough putting the Irish here because it inevitably makes Rutgers look better than the Irish, and longtime readers will know that I'm not sold on the Scarlet Knights being that good and neither am I sold on the Irish being that bad. Still, this gives me a convenient excuse to break out the most prophetical post ever written by opposing bloggers, one which I still defend over a year after writing it. The Irish have never played lights out against the triple option and if not for some offensive miscues by Navy the past couple of seasons would not have blown the Midshipmen clearly out of the water (pardon the cheesy Naval pun) to the extent they did. The arrival of new DC Corwin Brown may do more bad than good against the Midshipmen, as he comes from an NFL background coaching defensive backs and thus doesn't have the experience coaching against the triple option and like offenses. Furthermore, ND will be switching to a variable 3-4 defense that could give Navy more options within the offensive game plan, notably establishing the fullback dive which has been absent in recent meetings. As everyone knows the Irish lose more or less their entire offense (at least the people you know by name anyways) including QB Brady Quinn, RB Darius Walker, WRs Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight, and three starting offense linemen. The losses at QB and WR are the most important, especially because the dreaded "jump ball scenario" figures to be much less in play than in over the past few seasons (Obligatory statement reaffirming Keenan Little was nowhere near as bad as the highlights against McKnight and Stovall made him look). 6'5 Jeff Samardzija and 6'2 Rhema McKnight are now being replaced by 5'8 George West and 5'10 David Grimes, while whoever ends up being quarterback will have had zero experience prior to this season. One thing the Irish do have going for them will be a renewed commitment to the running game and a very talented backfield which has the potential to more or less run over an undersized and inexperienced Navy front seven. This game will be played after what figures to be a physically and emotionally draining game against Southern California, but then again Notre Dame will get two weeks to prepare for the triple option. I believe that whatever the outcome of the game the Irish defense will struggle against Navy's offense and despite the size and inexperience of Navy's defense, Notre Dame should find it harder to score points en mass and at will like they have the past two seasons. That in and of itself should give Navy at least a chance in this game.
Rutgers- I hate putting the Scarlet Knights here because for the last two seasons I've truly believed they've been beatable, and think that a Navy team with nothing to lose and a little bit of trickery and a whole lot of luck can upset the Scarlet Knights. Nevertheless going into Piscataway against a team which schedules us between Buffalo and Norfolk St. (giving the team a good part of the late summer to prepare for the TO) is not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination, while game planning against a leading contender for the Heisman trophy may be even harder. Rutgers returns most of its offense including a dominate O-line and an improving QB in Mike Teel, although one has to wonder if the veteran presences of Brian Leonard and Clark Harris will have that big of an effect in the first couple games of '07. I fully expect coach Johnson to have the team fired up beyond belief for this game, and for him to pull out all the stops against a team that has suddenly become a darkhorse for the national title. I don't expect Navy to win this game but for it to be as competitive if not more than the first half of last year's game and for the Mids to at least have a chance at halftime.
Think I'm off the mark? Let me know!