ANNAPOLIS, OCT. 7 -- At this time last year, Navy running back Chuck Smith had 627 yards rushing, 904 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns. Everybody wanted to know all about this unheralded junior from Strongsville, Ohio, who was suddenly leading the nation in almost everything Vinny Testaverde wasn't.

Not coincidentally, the Midshipmen had a 3-1 record and were heading for a showdown at Air Force. That they had had a losing record in each of the three previous seasons suddenly didn't seem to matter.

Then, just as suddenly, everything came to a crashing halt. On a bitterly cold day in Colorado Springs, a fierce wind howled through the Rocky Mountains and blew Navy's football fortunes into oblivion.

In a game some people at the Academy say the Midshipmen still haven't overcome, Smith rushed for just 40 yards on 17 carries, caught just one pass for minus 6 yards and had just 73 all-purpose yards and zero touchdowns as the Falcons routed Navy, 40-6.

In the 11 games since then, Smith, who missed two full games and parts of two others last season with a pulled hamstring, has gained 626 yards rushing, 789 all-purpose yards, scored four touchdowns and the Midshipmen are 0-11 -- the longest current losing streak among Division I-A teams.

"I was a lot happier last year," Smith said yesterday before practice. "Classes went a lot faster, the days went a lot faster, the weeks went a lot faster. The motivation is still there, but it's frustrating knowing that this is my final year playing ball and things aren't going so well."

Last week, against Virginia Tech, things went better for Smith and the Midshipmen than they had the previous three weeks. Navy gained 345 yards rushing -- its highest total since it gained 422 in the 45-0 victory against Dartmouth last season that made its record 3-1. Smith, in his first game at fullback since he was a sophomore, rushed for 143 of those yards -- his first 100-yard performance since he ran for 123 against Penn last year the week after the Air Force debacle.

But Navy still lost, 31-11, to the Hokies.

"I think putting Chuck at fullback was one of the few things we did right last Saturday," Coach Elliot Uzelac said. "It certainly improved our position as an offensive team. There's no question Chuck Smith's our most talented offensive weapon. Putting him {at fullback} gave us the opportunity to use him more and I think it showed.

"Chuck's every bit as good now as he was last year. He just has a different role and he's got a different line in front of him. Those are the things that are totally different, not Chuck. I hope people think {that Smith has gotten worse}. If they do, he'll probably get 150 yards {rushing} a game."

Which would be fine with Smith -- as long as it meant a Navy victory.

"I don't miss getting the headlines and the articles," said Smith, who is fifth on Navy's all-time career rushing list with 1,689 yards. "I got all of that last year. The attention was fun because it was new, but then it got be almost more of a pain than anything. What I miss is the winning. That's what's frustrating.

"I mean you play with the same bunch of guys for five years {Smith, along with several other seniors, attended the Naval Academy Prep School before coming here} and you want to go out as winners. None of us are planning to make our future careers in the pros -- we're just out here for the fun and the camaraderie. Of course, it's a lot more fun when you win, but we're still having fun now.

"We were kind of hoping that we would have more success with the wishbone," Smith said, "but I think we're improving every week and I think we can still salvage a good season."

Navy Notes:

With Saturday's 2 p.m. game against Air Force expected to draw a standing room crowd of over 35,000 to Navy-Marine Corps Stadium while the annual sailboat show is being held at the Annapolis City Dock, the Maryland State Police, the Annapolis Police and the Naval Academy Athletic Association released a joint advisory yesterday concerning expected traffic problems on eastbound Route 50. People attending the game are being urged to arrive as early as possible and consider using either of two alternate routes: taking Route 214 (Central Avenue) east to Route 2 and then taking Route 2 north to the Rowe Boulevard exit or taking Route 450 east to Annapolis, following West Street and then turning left on Glenn Avenue or Taylor Avenue. The Brigade of Midshipmen and Air Force Corps of Cadets will begin their march-on at 12 noon, tying up College Avenue and Rowe Boulevard for a half hour . . .

Ray Worthington, who has started the first four games at outside linebacker, has an injured knee and may not play Saturday.