Is Navy the fifth best foe on Notre Dame’s 2015 slate?
I doubt it.
Do they have more offensive weapons than Pittsburgh, a better head coach than Texas, or a larger Irish-sized chip on their collective shoulders than does Boston College?
But they have heart, focus, and the triple-option. And Notre Dame has not proven often it can handle its defensive business against that time-tested method of ball advancement.
Due to that reality – not to mention a train wreck slotting on the 2015 schedule – the Midshipmen come in at an all-time high during our six seasons of the Trouble Spot series, #5 on our annual list.
Now members of the American Athletic Conference, the Midshipmen’s new challenge will be navigating a more challenging slate with league play on tap.
But it’s a safe bet the AAC will be forced to adjust to Navy far more than vice versa in the Mid’s debut campaign.
When and Where? Game 6, Week 6, Oct. 10 at Notre Dame Stadium.
In Review: Notre Dame needed more than 58 game minutes to subdue the Midshipmen last fall and the full boat one season prior, a 38-34 escape in South Bend.
Common to those contests and to this season’s as well is the presence of triple-option-triggerman-supreme, Keenan Reynolds, he of the 68 total touchdowns (rushing/passing) over the last two seasons including a whopping six (three rushing/three passing) against the Irish.
Actual Ranking Among ND’s 12 Foes: I’d settle on #7 with reasonable arguments allowed for a spot in either direction. The Mid’s are a consistent bowl team, 8-plus win program, and one few foes want to face, to boot.
To play Devil’s Advocate, a more taxing schedule is necessary to measure the Mid’s in comparison to Irish schedule peers Pittsburgh, Boston College, and Texas, and Temple. But it’s undeniable they’ve proven able to rise to the occasion when faced with superior talent.
Game Situation (Super Foe Sandwich): Who scheduled this one?
Notre Dame’s matchup with the Mid’s follows the season’s most anticipated (and difficult) road trip, an Oct. 3 date at Clemson, and falls prior to the arrival of USC.
Navy set between the toughest road and toughest home game? Navy?
What, the Seahawks weren’t available?
One factor in Notre Dame’s favor: Navy’s option attack is likely to be the second-best the Irish defense will face over a four-week, four-game span, as Georgia Tech visits South Bend on Sept. 19.
At worst, the Irish will be better schooled and able to adjust to the warp-speed change between their own scout team’s efforts and an efficient triple-option offense.
Why No. 5 could be too high: To be blunt, Navy’s not necessarily that good, at least not on every given Saturday. But they tend to be at their collective athletic peaks when they face the Irish and other top tier foes (hello Ohio State 2014 and 2009), and that’s all that matters for our purposes.
Previous No. 5s in the Trouble Spots series include: Pittsburgh 2009, Stanford 2010, Air Force 2011, Stanford 2012, Michigan State 2013, North Carolina 2014.
-- Most were aptly rated with the glaring extension of Stanford 2010 (perhaps the second-best team faced during the Brian Kelly era behind Alabama) and Air Force 2011 – the lone “trap game” of the Trouble Spots series that was misidentified.
As noted last summer, North Carolina was higher in our Trouble Spots ranking than one that focuses on each team’s strengths because of the unfortunate schedule slot – between Stanford and Florida State.
Navy 2015 follows suit.
Prediction: Other than frustration?
Four quarters with points aplenty, because Navy will fight for 60 minutes and the 2015 Notre Dame offense could score 30 rolling out of bed against Navy, a program that’s been deficient defensively since the decorated class of 2010 graduated.
Since that stunning 35-17 loss to the Mid’s in Kelly’s debut season, the Irish have pumped out 56, 50, 38, and 49 points, respectively. They’ll need at least five touchdowns to offset Navy’s potent triple-option output again this fall.
It’s a contest Notre Dame is unlikely to lose but equally unlikely to feel victory is secured until close to the final gun.
-- Overall opponent’s strength: Between No. 6 and No. 10
-- Game situation: Between a trip to Clemson and the arrival of USC, it’s the ultimate Sandwich Game. It’s as if Navy was allowed to pick the date and Notre Dame was forced to accept.
-- Determining factor: Notre Dame will struggle to stop Navy’s offense as long as the Mid’s boast a triple-option quarterback such as Keenan Reynolds (present) or Ricky Dobbs (2008-2010).