It never fails. Get two opposing coaches to talk about the upcoming game and the other's team sounds like a national champion.

Notre Dame's Dan Devine and George Welsh of Navy voiced mutual respect today as they looked ahead to Saturday's football game at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Welsh could be excused. Notre Dame is 6-0 and ranked third nationally. Navy is 5-2 but hasn't beaten the Fighting Irish in 16 tries since 1963.

Devine, who has said he will resign at the end of the season, low-keyed it. "We've always been concerned about Navy," he said via telephone. "They've got great tradition, great coaching and excellent personnel."

Devine drew some hearty chuckles from those assembled in the Naval Academy boat house when he noted that a scouting report "compared Navy's personnel favorably with that of UCLA and Southern Cal."

But wait. Devine said the rave notices came from a coach at Washington, the team that was upset by the Mids Saturday. And therein lies the spot of credibility in all the happy talk. Nav y will not be taken lightly.

"I think that if I was the Notre Dame coach, I'd be glad Navy beat Washington," Welsh said. "We'd be better off."

But Navy also is better off. The Mids' 24-10 victory in Seattle added a jolt of confidence that might help against the Irish, Welsh said. Before Saturday, the Mids had beaten some non-powers, such as Villanova and Boston College, and had lost to Virginia and Air Force.

"We had been in awe of Notre Dame a couple of years," Welsh said, "But I don't think we are this year. Most of our players have played against them, and that should help."

Then Welsh faced the facts, or , at t least, acknowledged that he has studied the form charts. "If Notre Dame plays to its capabilities and we play up to our," he said, "we probably won't win."

Welsh was asked whether the Mids would have to exceed last week's performance, when everything seemed to go right.

"I'm not sure we're capable of a better game," he said. "I hope we don't have to play better. We did a lot of things pretty well. But we can improve our passing game, which wasn't the best."

Notre Dame has injuries and a freshman quaterback.The injuries -- among others, stellar running back Phil Carter is out -- are a problem, Devine said. The freshman quarterback, Blair Kiel, is not.

"He's thrown only one interception in five games," marveled Devine. "You think back to (Ohio State's) Art Schlichter: he threw five interceptions in one game when he was a freshman."

One reason Kiel has been able to lead the Irish. Welsh observed, is that he isn't obligated to pass much. Indeed, Kiel has completed 29 passes in only 70 attempts. Notre Dame has run the ball 348 times, compared with 111 passing plays.

"They're doing it with the running game," Welsh said: "That, and intercepted passes and runbacks, blocked punts and field goals."

Kiel, a 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Columbus, Ind., stepped into the game with 41 seconds to play against Michigan in his team's second contest, and moved the offense, Devine said.

He played the final seconds of the first half the following week against Michigan State and had "phenomenal success in moving the team. He had to start the second half," said Devine. Kiel's been "the man" ever since.

Now known as a quipster, Devine went for the funnybone in describing how Kiel came to Notre Dame.

"He was real easy to recruit," Devine said. "Both his parents went to Purdue and he's a Southern Baptist."