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A Storied History

Oct 31, 2013, 9:45 PM EDT

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Craig Chval, the official 2013 football beat writer for the Strong & True blog, is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Over the course of the year Craig will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and previews of each game. You can follow Craig (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.

As a Notre Dame fan growing up, I often got snarky comments about games like this weekend. (Especially when the Irish lost them.) “Oh, does Notre Dame play Coast Guard next week?”

I was always amazed when I heard comments like these because they typically came from Missouri fans. And their game against South Carolina last week was pretty emblematic of the program. The Tigers haven’t won a conference championship since 1969, when their greatest coach ever – a certain Dan Devine – led them to a Big Eight title.

That’s right, as my dad likes to say, Missouri’s best coach got run out of Notre Dame for only winning one national championship.

But more importantly, Mizzou routinely schedules teams like Murray State, Arkansas State, and Toledo (all on the slate this year). I couldn’t fathom the gall these fans had to call me out for playing a team like Navy.

Sadly, it speaks to the ignorance the casual football fan has about the history of the service academies. Friday is the 100-year anniversary of the 1913 Notre Dame-Army game, in which Gus Dorais and Knute Rockne revolutionized the game with the forward pass. Besides passes, the biggest shock of the game was that an upstart school like Notre Dame could beat such a powerhouse.

Army and Navy have four national titles between them and were often among college football’s elite in the first half of the century.

Obviously, working with physical and scholarship limitations, the service academies no longer pose such a threat. But when it comes to scheduling teams at the lower end of the spectrum, give me the history of the service academies over a Sun Belt school any day – let alone an FCS team.

Of course, as most Irish fans know, Notre Dame’s relationship with the service academies, especially Navy, goes much deeper. The Navy’s creation of a training program on campus during World War II kept the university afloat. As long as the Midshipmen want to play us, we’ll keep them on the schedule. The two programs have played every year since 1927.

Notre Dame likes to honor the service academies, and rightfully so. These games are a remembrance of our past, Navy’s past, and all who have sacrificed for this country. College football is rarely so poignant.

When the Irish joined the ACC, athletic director Jack Swarbrick knew scheduling would come at a premium. Not counting the emphasis on keeping Stanford, he named two untouchable schools: USC and Navy.

With the physical advantage for the Irish, this game is typically an easy win now. But after winning 43 straight (an NCAA record), Notre Dame fell to the Midshipmen in 2007, 2009, and 2010. I’m not sure this game is taken so lightly anymore.

Navy poses a similar challenge for the Irish defense as Air Force, but it should be greater. The Midshipmen beat the Falcons 28-10 on October 5th and have recorded wins against Indiana and Pittsburgh. Like last week, defenders will have to stay disciplined and make tackles, especially players on the outside – defensive ends, outside linebackers, and cornerbacks.

Notre Dame aired it out against Air Force, so Brian Kelly will probably go that route again, as per usual. But while the Falcons were 107th in pass defense, Navy is a lot stouter. In fact, they have given up the 21st-fewest passing yards in the country.

However, they have the 89th-ranked rush defense, a little better than Air Force (ranked 107 again). Given Navy’s strength to defend the pass, I’d like to see what Atkinson and McDaniel can do against the undersized Midshipmen front.

Like last week, I expect the Irish to cruise against a physically overmatched opponent. Even if these games don’t pose the same level of excitement as they used to, Irish fans can certainly appreciate the history. And back-to-back double-digit wins for the first time since last November wouldn’t suck either.

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