EAST RUTHERFORD NJ - OCTOBER 23: Gee Gee Greene #21 of the Navy Midshipmen dives for a touchdown against Robert Blanton #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at New Meadowlands Stadium on October 23 2010 in East Rutherford New Jersey. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Of course, Navy wasn't beating many teams in those days. From 1983 through 2002, the Midshipmen finished with a losing record in 18 of 20 seasons. Thanks to an excellent turnaround job executed by current Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, the Midshipmen then had eight losing seasons in a row before falling to 5-7 last season. Navy now has won 10 in a row in the famous, season-ending Army-Navy game (perhaps it should now be called Navy-Army), the longest winning streak by either academy in the history of the series. Despite the losing record last season, coach Ken Niumatalolo, entering his fifth season as head coach after serving on Johnson's staff, has done a nice job, athough I suppose the pressure will be heightened after the first losing season in a decade. During the Johnson/Niumatalolo era, Navy has been a thorn in the side of major programs. Navy finally ended its decades-long losing streak against Notre Dame in 2007 and then beat the Irish again in 2009 and 2010. Navy also has wins over Wake Forest (2008, 2009, 2010), Missouri (2009 Texas Bowl), Rutgers (2004, 2008), Duke (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007), Pitt (2007), Stanford (2006), Vanderbilt (2003, 2004). That's 16 wins in the last decade over Notre Dame or programs from major conferences. IU has 14 such wins (13 Big Ten wins plus the 2004 win at Oregon) in the last decade. This is a tough game for IU.
As has become standard, Navy was among the nation's rushing leaders in 2011, averaging 312 yards per game (#4 nationally) but 119 of 120 teams in passing offense (85 yards per game). What appears to have contributed to Navy's decline, to some extent, is defense. In 2011, Navy allowed 413 yards per game, compared to 390 in 2010 and 335 in 2009. Combine that with a number of really close losses (by 3 to South Carolina, in OT against Air Force, by 1 to Rutgers, by 3 to East Carolina, and by 3 to San Jose State) and the 2011 Midshipmen don't look all that different from prior editions.
Navy will be breaking in a new quarterback. Kriss Proctor, who led navy with 914 rushing yards, is gone, and Trey Miller who played some last season (169 yards rushing, 12-29 yards passing) is expected to be the starter. Gee Gee Greene, who ran for 501 yards and 7.8 per carry last season, should be the main threat out of the backfield. The passing game rarely is a huge part of Navy's offense, but leading receiver Brandon Turner (300 yards, 3 TDs) is back, as is Matt Aiken (200 yards), although the latter is currently injured. Navy must replace three offensive line starters. Punter Pablo Beltran is back, but the Midshipmen will be replacing their placekicker, and apparently are having a time of it. On defense, leading tackler LB Matt Warrick returns, as does safety Tra'ves Bush (2 interceptions). Beyond that, only safety Chris Ferguson and linebacker Brye French jump out as having significant experience.
Although this is a non-conference game, it will be played beyond the midpoint of the season, so by then, we will know much more about both Navy and IU. On paper, based on last year for IU and any year for Navy, this one looks troublesome. Navy was among the four best rushing offenses in FBS, and IU's was the third-worst in rushing defense. Clearly, IU will have to get better to stop Navy, but that applies pretty much every team IU plays, even Indiana State. As always, Navy will have a well-prepared and extremely aggressive team. It will be an interesting test, but this is a team that lost to East Carolina and San Jose State last year, so it's not unthinkable that an improved IU team (emphasis on improved, and we'll know whether that's the case by then) could have a chance in Annapolis.
Finally, if you are even remotely considering taking a trip to this game, do it. The campus of the Naval Academy and the town of Annapolis, which is Maryland's state capital and is on the shores of the Chesapeake, is well worth the trip. I've never been there for a football game, but the town and campus are beautiful.