Thursday, November 10, 2005

Navy To Sink Streak in South Bend

Ending long sports droughts has been in vogue since last October, with the Red Sox and White Sox capturing World Series titles and Roy Williams getting the monkey off his back with a national championship.  College football has continued the trend this fall.  Two weeks ago, Rutgers won its sixth game, qualifying for its first bowl appearance since 1978.  Last Saturday, Kansas snapped a 36–game losing streak to Nebraska with a 40–15 rout of the Cornhuskers.  With no end in sight for this drought-busting momentum, Notre Dame is doomed against Navy this Saturday.


The Fighting Irish have beaten the Midshipmen a record 41 consecutive times.  Navy’s last victory came in 1963, as Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach quarterbacked a 35–14 triumph.  Back then, the famed Touchdown Jesus outside Notre Dame Stadium was still in a manger.  John Huarte turned the tables in 1964, leading Notre Dame to victory and winning a Heisman of his own.  Navy players vowed that the next time the prestigious trophy went to a Midshipman, they would dominate against the Irish.  They’re still waiting.


Notre Dame’s resurgence under first-year head coach Charlie Weis has been well-documented.  As an alumnus of the school and offensive coordinator of three Super Bowl champions in New England, Weis seems a perfect fit to wake up the echoes in South Bend.  The Irish are 6–2, with a certain BCS bowl bid awaiting them if they defeat Navy, Syracuse, and Stanford as expected.


However, all the odds are against the Fighting Irish this Saturday (if you ignore the actual odds, making them 23 1/2 point favorites).  First, having an alumnus coach them against Navy is just asking for a loss.  The last season in which a Notre Dame graduate led the Irish was 1963 – the very same year of their last setback to the Midshipmen.  After that season, Hugh Devore was replaced by Ara Parseghian, who began a 41–year trend of non-Golden Domers coaching the Irish to wins over Navy.  The administration in South Bend not only tempted fate by hiring Weis, but they recently ensured future defeats in the series by granting the new coach a contract extension.


Another reason that an upset looks inevitable can be found by observing the famous “USC-Navy Effect.”  In each of the past three years, by taking Notre Dame’s composite scores against USC and Navy, the Irish wind up with a deficit.  Due in small part to the Trojans’ 31–point victories in 2002, 2003, and 2004, Notre Dame’s composite scores against USC and Navy in those seasons were 43–67, 41–69, and 37–50, respectively.  Assuming the trend holds, given USC’s narrow 34–31 win in South Bend, the Irish can do no better than a 2–point victory on Saturday.  Or more likely, taste bitter defeat.


Finally, while Weis is widely regarded as an offensive genius, the Naval Academy was created for the purpose of – lest we forget – defense!  Midshipmen are trained to protect the nation against dangerous threats abroad, terrorism on our soil, and all threats to the American way of life.  Will defending against Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija really intimidate them?


If Notre Dame does somehow defy reason and extend the streak, Navy can still become bowl-eligible next week by defeating Temple, known as “a bye week in shoulder pads.”  However, don’t count on that scenario to be necessary.  The Fighting Irish are still holding onto those BCS dreams  for dear life.  But after Saturday, it’s likely “Gator Bowl or bust!”