Raising the Roof Against Duke

The Navy football team's 2004 season-opener is a time to raise the roof on so many levels. First of all, it's the lid-lifter, another way of expressing the need to let the genie out of the bottle and get going on an autumn filled with a particular sense of urgency.

Secondly, Duke head coach Ted Roof has substantially elevated (you could say "raised") the Blue Devil program in the short time he's been the head man in Durham. Many in the college football world might not have noticed, but Duke won two of its last three ACC games last year, spanking Georgia Tech and whipping North Carolina. Roof has--yes--raised the bar so high on Tobacco Road that he almost went .500 in the five games he coached Duke last season. That's almost unheard of at the school whose total summer focus was devoted to Mike Krzyzewski's mulling of the LA Lakers' contract offer. Roof might exist in near-total obscurity, but his football program is a lot better this year than it was at the beginning of the 2003 campaign.

Third, Navy will want to raise Roof's recruits and throw them onto the mat in a severe September smackdown, serving notice that the Midshipmen aren't about to be rendered a fluke by Duke.

And fourth, in order to accomplish that dearly desired drubbing of the Blue Devils, the Middies will want to raise the roof in the most contemporary sense of the term. Yes, Navy will need to raise its hands, pushing upward, get some good mental mojo going, and jack up the intensity from the very outset if it wants to make the decisive statement Paul Johnson would love to see.

You could look at matchups and personnel, with the Middies needing to establish fullback Kyle Eckel (to take the heat off quarterback Aaron Polanco) on offense, while bottling up Duke tight end Andy Roland on defense, and you could explore a lot of Xs and Os as well, but this game boils down to the mental stuff, as early-season non-conference games almost always do in college football.

USC was a bunch of nervous nellies going up against Virginia Tech last weekend. Whether it was Matt Leinart's tendonitis or Mike Williams' absence or the pressure of being a preseason No. 1, the Trojans didn't bring their A-game. One hopes that the members of the Naval Academy football team were watching, because on their own level and in their own way, the Midshipmen will be hunted throughout this season. They, like USC, will be expected to follow up on a big 2003 and prove their worth to the college football community. Right out of the box, the Middies get a chance to show the nation if they're mature enough to take Duke seriously while being sound and strong enough to outclass Duke in pure football terms, on the merits of the two teams' levels of talent and quality.

If Navy wants to make a strong opening statement in 2004, they'll need to take note of Duke's ascendancy under Ted Roof. If Navy wants to execute the big throwdown it's looking for, the Middies will need to display superior intensity.

Everything about this game is raised and elevated, compared to any previous occasion when Navy's and Duke's football teams have met on the gridiron. Both teams are on an upward swing, both teams have raised the bar in terms of expectations and the extent to which each program can grow and thrive. Both teams are desperately in need of raised intensity, and both teams seem to be guided by coaches who are extremely effective at raising young men to be good football players.

Ted Roof, by bringing Duke football to a higher plateau, has raised the stakes for this game. Navy's job is to raise the roof and set the right tone for a huge season that is finally, at long last, upon us.

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