It is probably the most important football game Navy has played since it went to the Cotton Bowl in 1963, but all concerned seem to be trying to treat it as just another contest.

Obviously, it isn't just another game. When the 7-0 and 11th-ranked Mids take on 15th-ranked Notre Dame at Municipal Stadium at 1:50 p.m. today, there will be a great deal more at stake than mere prestige and bragging rights.

Representatives from at least eight bowl games - the Orange, Sugar, Gator, Fiesta, Holiday, Garden State, Hall of Fame and peach - will be present and today's winner is almost assured of getting an invitation to at least one of them. That means money and exposure. Notre Dame is used to both, but Navy could use a little more of either.

The game will not be televised, but ABC will cut away periodically from the Maryland/Penn State game for reports on Navy/Notre Dame on WJLA-TV-7. Radio broadcasts will be carried by WINK-1600, WEAM-1930, WXRA-FM-105.9 and WNAV-1430.

The Irish, who lost their first two games before winning five straight, are seven-point favorites and have beaten the Mids 14 straight years.

The last time Navy won was in the '63 season when a Heisman Tropohy winner named Roger Staubach was its quarter-back. That also was the last time Navy went to a bowl game and the last time it won more than seven games in a season.

From 1964 through 1978. Navy has had two winning seasons, 11 losing records and one break-even record.

A victory today likely would vault the Mids into the top 10 and onto center stage for the rest of the season.

"I don't like to put so much emphasis on one game, because you can lose and then where does that leave you?" said Navy Coach George Welsh. "It's a big game, sure, but it won't be the end of the world if we lose. We'll still have three more games to play.

"There is a lot of spirit and enthusiasim at the school over this game though, an I think that's good for the team. I think we've helped the school, too."

"This is definitely an important game for us," said Navy Athletic Director J.O. Coppedge. "But either way, win or lose, we'll survive. It sure is flattering to have so much attention paid to us, though.

"We haven't had any discussions with any of the bowl people other than to say hello, but I think we'd want to go if any of them asked us. I can't think of any disadvantage of going to a bowl."

A lot of questions about Navy were answered last week when the Mids held Pittsburgh to minus 28 yards rushing and defeated the Panthers, 21-11. The only other game Pitt has lost this season was to Notre Dame, 26-17.

Navy is No. 1 in the nation in total defense, yielding 158.1 yards a game, No. 1 in scoring defense, giving up only five points a game, and second in rushing defense, giving up only 57 yards a game.

"There's no question about the validity of this Navy team," said Notre Dame Coach Dan Devine, "and I guarantee you that our players understand this. Navy is scrappy and disciplined and you just never count on them (the Mids) quitting or being overawed by an opponent."

Even though Navy is ranked higher than Notre Dame and is undefeated, it is easy to see why the Irish are favored. They have played as well as any team in the nation the last five weeks and, according to NCAA statistics, have played the toughest schedule in the country so far. Going into today's game, teams Notre Dame has played have won 70 percent of their games. Navy opponents have won 45 percent of their games.

The Mid's strentgh - stopping the run - will be tested by Notre Dame's strength - the run. Irish running backs Jerome Heavens and Vagas Ferguson average 164 yards a game between them.

"Running is their strength, but (quarterback Joe) Montana can beat you with his passing, too," Welsh said. "We also haven't played a team with as big backs, linebacker or line as Notre Dame has either. Their team is a lot like it was last year. They started slow and then came on to be unbeatable at the end. They're much more consistent now then they were those first two games. They aren't turning the ball over and beating themselves.

Montana sticks in Welsh's mind because he remembers watching him beat Pitt almost single-handedly earlier this season. With 11:30 left in that game, Notre Dame was trailing, 17-7, when Montana went into action. He completed seven straight passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another in those last 11 1/2 minutes to lead the Irish to victory.

Heavens, the Notre Dame fullback who already has broken George Gipp's career rushing record, said, "I know Navy will really come at us. There is a lot at stake. A lot more than is usual for a Notre Dame-Navy game. I think we can prove ourselves more to the country if we can come up with a win. I'm sure Navy is thinking the same thing about themselves. Navy is rough. They've proven themselves. They completely shut down Pitt and made them throw the ball every time. I give them their respect, but our game plan will be a little different than Pitts."

The Mids whom Devine said he is most concerned about offensively are quarterback Bob Leszcynski, tailback Steve Callahan and wide receiver Phil McConkey.

Defensively?

"Everyone of them is all over the field on every play," Devine said. "You can't single one of them out because they never stay still long enough for you to get their numbers or where they came from."