Trouble Spot 7: Navy

A bye week preceding Notre Dame's matchup vs. the Naval Academy is a blessing, but extra preparations for the Midshipmen may be the only unique element that favors Brian Kelly's Irish in this neutral site contest.

Game Day Situation

Notre Dame's marquee game of the 2014 season, a matchup against likely undefeated Florida State, precedes the Irish contest against the Naval Academy, November 1.

Win or lose, an ensuing contest vs. a lesser team is normally a recipe for letdown disaster in college football, but fortuitous scheduling in this case favors the Irish -- a bye week, No. 2 for Brian Kelly's squad this fall -- is sandwiched between.

Navy's schedule softens before taking on the Irish at FedEx Field (Washington, D.C.), facing San Jose State on October 25 one week prior, and the Mid's will be a full month removed from a matchup at rival Air Force (October 4).

Navy enjoys a bye week after their meeting with the Irish while Notre Dame must travel to Arizona State (more on that later in our countdown).

Navy can prepare for Notre Dame in a unique, one-game scenario, as their October 11 through November 8 slate shows: Virginia Military Institute, Bye, San Jose State, Notre Dame, Bye -- before a November 15 matchup against Georgia Southern. The Mid's open at Ohio State and will also play at Temple and host Rutgers in September -- a top-heavy schedule to be sure.

Why #7 Could Be Too Low…

It's not, in fact, it's more than likely a slot too high (ahead of Louisville at No. 8), as the Cardinals are a better team and Northwestern, slotted at No. 9 in our countdown, as well as Syracuse (No. 10), could be better than the Naval Academy as well.

But we're not measuring each team's overall strength or their projected end-season win totals, we're measuring what Notre Dame will face on each individual Saturday, and a Navy team equipped with a talented triggerman, in this case, returning junior Keenan Reynolds (pictured), has recently given the Irish defense fits.

Navy belongs at #8 because...

As noted above, it's basically a one-game season for Navy following its matchup at Air Force on October 4 through, well, early December. They'll be ready, and after last fall's 38-34 heartbreaking loss in South Bend, confident.

With Florida State in the rearview for Notre Dame and a brutal November for the Irish ahead, Navy is in a good spot to upset Kelly's crew on a neutral field.

In Summation

Vegas oddsmakers are in complete agreement with my assessment, rating the Irish as favorites of just three points vs. their recent Academy foil. Purdue (+21), Rice (spread not yet available), Louisville and Northwestern (both +8), and Syracuse (+5.5) are each bigger underdogs to the Irish this fall, though those lines will change between now and game day.

In fact, Michigan (+3) is ranked as an identical underdog to Navy in their matchup vs. Notre Dame.

After the 2010 debacle in The New Meadowlands (a game won easily by Navy, 35-17 -- and the Midshipmen took mercy at the end), Kelly's Irish have proven they can score in bunches (38 last season, 50 in 2012, 56 in 2011 -- the latter against a terrible Navy team).

They'll need at least 30 points on November 1 as well.

At present, I believe Notre Dame will be upset by either North Carolina (October 11) or Navy (November 1), thought not both, due in large part to the marquee games that precede and follow each. The Irish face 11 capable teams (Rice won 10 games last season) plus a one-way rival (Purdue) that has played Notre Dame tough in two straight -- that's a recipe for an unforeseen upset along the way.

Up Next: Trouble Spot #6 and a score that will be settled...

Trouble Spot #8: Louisville

Trouble Spot #9: Northwestern

Trouble Spot #10: Syracuse

Trouble Spot #11: Rice

Trouble Spot #12: Purdue


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