Last week, Navy played at Duke in a half-full stadium that had metal bleachers--except for a shaded enclave with comfortable seats at the top of the stadium for some Duke bigwigs (it was reminiscent of a Roman Emperor's box at "Il Coloseo").
The visitors locker room as Wallace Wade Stadium--such as it was--was so cramped that there was not enough room for Navy's entire team to change inside. They spent halftime sitting outside, a la a high school setup. All that were missing were a few parents passing out orange slices.
Saturday marks another game in an NFL stadium, but it is against a team Navy has played only once before. There should be a good few Navy fans in the stands at Ford Field on Saturday, but only thanks to relatively affordable airfare by Northwest and Southwest airlines.
This is life as Navy knows it, and the main reason being an Independent works is because of behind-the-scenes work of Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk and his staff. It is early November and Navy already has a bowl bid for this season. It sounds like Gladchuk may have a similar agreement in place for a bowl bid before next season starts; he said on Monday that they are negotiating with several bowls, including one in San Diego (presumably the Poinsettia Bowl).
The only downside to being an independent is the lack of consistent referees at home games, but that's a topic for another column.
Navy has clinched its bowl bid; now it is up to Coach Johnson and his staff to make sure the players are not complacent entering a game against a one-win opponent from a non-major conference.
My guess is Navy will be ready to play. One of the great things about Navy's recent success is the competition that now exists among the players for playing time. The slotback rotation means that every slot will be ready to perform when it is his turn. The guys in the rotation now--Singleton, White, Hines and McCoy--see the younger players like Shinego, Doyle and Oswald in practice. They hear that Forbes will be back for spring practice. (Campbell is not mentioned in the rotation because he does not usually rotate out of the game; this is the topic of the story in Saturday's Washington Post.)
Same with the quarterbacks--Kaipo is the starter, but he knows how good Jarod Bryant is. Bryant has looked very good throwing the ball in practice over the past few weeks. Johnson mentioned Bryant by name after the Duke game because he ran the option well (he kept the ball on inside runs, which was the right read, and wasn't scared to take some hits from the defense).
Also don't expect senior Matt Hall to take his playing time lightly; remember, it was he, not Ballard, who was Kyle Eckel's original successor. Kettani will be hungry to prove he deserves more playing time as well.
This is not to say Navy is using the Eastern Michigan game as a chance to use its subs. Quite the opposite: Navy knows the Eagles have a good defensive line and an NFL-caliber wide receiver (Deslauriers) and tight end (Bohnet).
This is the situation Navy finds itself in its brave new world under Paul Johnson: Rather than getting complacent, the players are working even harder, because they have to if they want to play.