Could losing to Maryland be good for Navy?

Sorry Navy fans but it's time to bring that hype meter, which has gotten way out of control this pre-season, down a few notches. With less than a week until the Mids take on Maryland I thought it would be prudent to add a little reality check in regards to what to expect on Labor Day at Ravens Stadium. Navy could very easily lose to Maryland and I'm going to give you ten reasons why.

But before I get to the list of reasons let me tell you what motivated me to put it together. As a self-admitted diehard Navy fan who was indoctrinated into Midshipmen football in the George Chaump era in the mid 1990s, I approach every game the same way: Expect to lose; Be Happy if it is close; and Get silly if we win. After four years of losing to Army by a combined seven points in my four years at USNA, I carried that mentality with me through the next several years.

However, with all of the success Navy football has enjoyed in the past few years, my approach changed a bit. In other words, I got spoiled. Now, when I look at the opponents on the 4-4-4 schedule, I immediately assume we will beat the lower tiered teams. This year I believe those should-win games are Georgia Southern, Louisiana Tech, Arkansas State, and a Central Michigan team in rebuilding mode. In the toss-up tier games I will always put Air Force and Army. And this year, they are joined by SMU and Duke…two home games against winnable opponents. In the top tier will always be Notre Dame.  Joining them, in my mind, are the remaining road games against Wake Forest and East Carolina, as well as next Monday's game against Maryland.

Sure, at the end of the season, East Carolina could be looked at in the rearview mirror as a toss-up game and SMU as one of the four toughest games, but my point is that Maryland will always remain in the ‘oh, it would be nice to win' category.  Therefore, to me, I can rationalize that not everything is on the line for this game.

As Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo likes to remind everyone, on the field each season is different. Well the same is true about the off-season. Expectations are at an all-time high in Annapolis and if Navy loses to Maryland there will be plenty of disgruntled fans for sure. But if Navy does lose (of course, I'm hoping for a different outcome), it won't be the end of the world. Not only for the above mentioned breakdown of the schedule that put the Terps in the ‘would be nice to win' category, but for the following 10 reasons as well:

10. Maryland is bigger, stronger and faster:  This will always be the case until Navy allows the NFL to take part in service selection night. I'm sure you will hear this during the telecast but the average Maryland offensive lineman is 6'5" and 300 lbs. The average Navy defensive lineman is 6'3" and 250 lbs. I have no idea how anyone on Navy is going to be able to get past Maryland right tackle R.J. Dill – he's 6'7". He will be one of the lineman blocking for former all-ACC running back Da'Rel Scott. Scott has been on the Doak Walker Watchlist for three consecutive seasons…take that Ricky Dobbs.

9. Jeff Sagarin knows all: According to the USA Today computer ranking guru, Air Force is rated six slots higher than Navy in his preseason index. And since this rating "is the numerical measure of a team's strength" – even though nobody has played a game yet, the Mids must be in for a long year. Sure, Maryland is ranked 12 spots below Navy, but the Mids are lower than Air Force. That alone should take care of the hype. And I don't want to hear how Sagarin's list has Lamar (?) rated higher than Army. Computers know all – especially in the pre-season.

8. Fear the Turtle: I had the unique displeasure of seeing a snapping turtle up close this summer and those things are scary – way more scary than the meanest goat I have ever seen. If the battle for the state of Maryland comes down to mascots, Bill could be in trouble. (Ok, this list isn't entirely serious.)

7. Slots of production in openers: In the last three season openers for Navy, slot backs had big games in the two victories (Towson and Temple) and one loss (Ohio State). Is Gee Gee Greene ready to be the next Shun White or Marcus Curry? Will a slot by committee approach work for Navy? Can Andre Byrd emerge and have a breakout year? I have none of these answers of course. But what I do know is that if any one of the slots have ball security issues, they won't see the field much going forward.

6. Fridge on the Hot Seat: It's win or go home time for embattled Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen. The mere fact that he is on the hot seat should be good enough for an extra score or two against the Mids. I mean the last time Navy played a team at Ravens Stadium whose coach was on the hot seat, they rallied around him.

5. Navy as a favorite: In the past 58 games as a road underdog, Navy is 42-16 against the spread. When I think of Navy as a favorite, I get visions of Hawaii and Temple in my head. When I think of Navy as an underdog, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Missouri come to mind. Here's hoping the point spread does a 180 before kick-off.

4. 10 wins and 10 losses: A lot of people are looking at Maryland's 10-loss season and Navy's 10-win season in 2009 as a barometer for this game. However if the Terps played the Mids schedule in 2009 they probably would have gone to a bowl game. And if Navy played the Terps schedule, they may have not gone bowling. So read into those records at your own risk.

3. Stop the run: If I'm Friedgen and I see that Navy has four new starters at linebacker and are giving up 50 lbs per lineman, I just run Scott and Davin Meggett all day long. If Navy can't stop the running game, they will not win. (How long until GoMids.com posters start pleading with Navy to get a pass rush?)

2. He's no Charlie Brown: Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown knows how to attack Navy's triple option. His teams also have had a knack for causing turnovers against Paul Johnson's offense, whether it was being run in Annapolis or Statesboro. I'm sure he will have his players prepared for even the Mids' current no-huddle version that they debuted against Missouri. I expect there will be a lot of pre-snap shuffling to confuse Dobbs to counter that tactic.

1. Losing this game could be good for Navy: From Ricky Dobbs winning the Heisman to the Mids playing in the Rose Bowl, the pre-season hype is in complete overdrive. The "Expect to Win" motto has taken on a whole new meaning at Navy. In the past the slogan was a way to help build confidence for an under-sized team that was being told they couldn't win. Now, the experts are expecting Navy to win. However, Navy fans all know that the Mids are notoriously slow starters who usually take a few games before they are humming. (Ok, it took about a half of football last season.) And Navy is also known for having a game or two each season that just somehow manages to get away from them. Maybe if the Mids get a little dose of humble pie by the Terps in the opener it will serve them well for the remainder of the season.

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To repeat - because I'm sure there will be plenty of fans who will think I am predicting disaster for the Mids on Labor Day - this is how I am able to mentally prepare for a game…and a season full of hype. I expect very little and am thrilled for anything over 6-6. For some, an 8-4 record for Navy will be a disappointing season. I'll take that right now. And if you are a Navy fan with any perspective, you would too. So as you sit down next Monday to watch the Crab Bowl, remember that beating Maryland would be a great start to the season for Navy, but it's not the end of the world if they don't.

Ok, I lied…after looking at the schedule again, I think I'd take a 9-3 season and be happy. Man, but Dobbs is so good…and Murray is a bruiser…Tuani is a beast…Middleton is a star…maybe 10 wins…ah never mind…is it Monday yet?

 


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