The cannon on the knoll will go off all too regularly, gold braid will be torn off in unseemly despair and Bill the Goat and the Air Force Falcon will get cranky.

When it's over they'll honk the horns and holler, and no one will remember the final score, which isn't really the point anyway. The point is just to give them a chance to throw all those nifty caps in the air.

That's usually the way with these service academy rivalries, mostly color and pageantry. Except that this time Air Force has won five straight and ranks 12th in the nation and Navy, although 1-3, upset Virginia two weeks ago.

So it seems that about 34,000 -- plus standing room on the knoll if you don't mind the cannon fire -- will be at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium today at 2 p.m. to watch the Falcons and Midshipmen with the sneaking suspicion that no matter what the records, the game is likely to be interesting.

"We're 1-3 and they're 5-0, but I don't know that that has a whole lot to do with it," Navy Coach Gary Tranquill said.

In other games involving area teams today, Virginia is favored to win for the first time ever against Clemson, in a 12:15 p.m. regionally televised Atlantic Coast Conference game at Clemson (WJLA-TV-7), and Howard seeks its first victory of the season in a 7 p.m. game at Winston-Salem State, a Division II opponent with a 3-1 record. Maryland has the week off.

Navy has not beaten Air Force in the last three years, despite close scores like last year's 29-22 loss in Colorado Springs. Air Force, the defending Independence Bowl champion, is ranked second in the country in scoring, averaging 45.2 points, and fourth in rushing, averaging 310.2 yards.

The proficiency of the Falcons' wishbone offense is not surprising, but this time they have added a defense ranked eighth nationally in points allowed, giving up 11.4 per game. That statistic gives a new dimension to Air Force, making it a team that could very well take the Western Athletic Conference title from Brigham Young.

"The biggest difference is the defense," Tranquill said. "They've always scored points. Now the defense is allowing them to stay on the field longer, and the totals are higher than ever."

If Navy has any advantage, it is that the Midshipmen have had a week off, whereas the Falcons are still somewhat beat up from last week's 21-15 victory over Notre Dame, a considerably larger team. It was also an emotional affair, with A.J. Scott returning a blocked field goal for a touchdown with five minutes remaining to win a game that Notre Dame had led for most of three quarters, and there is the risk of a letdown.

"If we had to go out and play teams like that every Saturday we'd spend the week in the tub," Air Force Coach Fisher DeBerry said. "But any time service academies get together there isn't going to be a letdown. I would be very surprised if we weren't more ready to play Navy than we were Notre Dame."

Navy got a badly needed lift with its 17-13 upset of Virginia in Charlottesville. It came after three trying weeks that included an upset loss to Division I-AA Delaware.

"We weren't down after the first three losses," Tranquill said. "We weren't ready to cash it in, and beating a good Virginia team can't do anything but help. We never thought we were an 0-3 team."

Navy officials and Maryland State Police are advising spectators to arrive as early as possible for the game and use alternate routes to avoid traffic problems. A capacity crowd is expected, and 4,000 seats have been added in addition to the standing room. Although kickoff is not until 2 p.m., the annual Power Boat Show also is expected to draw traffic at Annapolis Harbor, and the march-on of the Navy Midshipmen and Air Force Cadets will begin at noon, tying up traffic between campus and the stadium.

Virginia's loss to Navy is looking more and more like a temporary lapse. The Cavaliers have gotten just slightly better each game, and what it adds up to is a 3-1 record, 2-0 in the ACC. They appear to have an excellent chance to end their 0-24 streak in the series against a Clemson team that has lost three straight and had a disastrous run of turnovers.

The Tigers (1-3, 0-1) have given the ball up 18 times on turnovers, including seven in last week's 26-7 loss to Kentucky. Their normally dependable backfield has averaged just 131.8 yards rushing, and they have averaged only 10.8 points a game. In contrast, the Cavaliers have turned the ball over just four times and averaged just less than 29 points per game.

Virginia Coach George Welsh, however, suspects this may be the week Clemson finds itself. A respectable defense has allowed 19.8 points a game to opponents despite the turnovers and gave up only one legitimate touchdown to Kentucky. Running back Kenny Flowers can be a threat, with 259 yards on 51 carries.

"They have the best personnel of any team we've faced," Welsh said. "What's hurt them is the turnovers. When you turn it over 18 times that has a psychological effect on the defense and the offense. That's why they've been losing."