If the last six seasons are any indication, Navy's 1:30 game against Air Force this afternoon in Annapolis will be decided by Fewer than five points, probably by a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Navy and Maryland, which plays Florida in Gainesville, need victories this afternoon to sustain postseason bowl hopes.
Navy (2-2) and Air Force (1-3) have met 14 times in this relatively new rivalry, with four of the last six games being decided by no more than four points. Air Force defeated Navy last year with a 34-yard touchdown pass with 1:02 remaining. Navy leads the series seven games to six.
Navy officials are selling standing room tickets and say they expect more than 30,000 in Memorial Stadium. If any further incentive is needed, round-robin competition for the Commander-in-Chief's trophy (among Navy, Army and Air Force) begins today. Navy has won the trophy three straight years.
Air Force Coach Ken Hatfield said last night that Navy seemed uninspired last year, but should be more intense today because of successive losses to Michigan and Yale. "Last year, I didn't think Navy was ready," Hatfield said. "They were off to a good start and we were 0-4. It was understandable they would be kind of flat. Navy was so much better than us in the past, we had to play the perfect game to win. But now we're much more equal."
Both teams will rely on running and getting solid defensive performances from their front lines.
The Midshipmen expect their best running back, Eddie Meyers, and Napoleon McCallum to play effectively today. Meyers has been slow to recover from a bruised right thigh he suffered more than two weeks ago and McCallum has been slowed by a bruised chip.
Hatfield said the key to stopping Navy's rushing game will be defensive ends Konda Sullivan and Chris Reymann, who have a combined 60 tackles already this season. Air Force has held opponents to 3.8 yards per carry this season.
The Midshipmen will be facing a running game that has been wishbone-oriented for several years, but now switches to the I-formation when necessary. Air Force, against a strong Colorado State linebacking unit, switched to the "I" last week and gained 304 yards rushing in its only victory of the season.
Maryland's primary task against the Gaters is stopping the Florida passing attack. Florida Coach Charley Pell, who has used four receivers -- two on each side -- several times this season, said he would not hesitate to have quarterback Wayne Peace throw 35 times or more if the maligned Terrapin secondary can be exploited.
Terrapin tailback Charlie Wysocki needs only 94 yards rushing to surpass Steve Atkins' career high of 2,971 yards. The Gaters are 3-2; Maryland, 1-2-1.
Howard (1-3)), in past seasons, could usually count on a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference victory over Delaware State. But State has a decent defense this season and both teams have been poor offensively.