Pressed to assess the importance of nearly any game, Navy Coach Charlie Weatherbie remains steadfast in his coach-speak view that the most critical game of the season always is the next one.
For once, even though Army isn't the next opponent, that may be the case this week. And as Navy (1-1) prepares to play Boston College on Saturday before a near-capacity crowd in Annapolis, its players are less restrained than Weatherbie in speaking about the import of this game.
"You try to take it one game at a time," said wide receiver Travis Williams, "but you also really have to look down at the schedule and say, `Hey, this is a big, big game.' "
The Midshipmen started the season with a 49-14 loss to then-No. 10 Georgia Tech in a game they were expected to lose. They came back to defeat Kent 48-28, in a game they were expected to win.
Boston College has a team with ability roughly equal to Navy's. The Midshipmen face more daunting challenges in four of their next five games. They visit Rice and West Virginia, then play Air Force at home. After a more manageable-looking home game against Akron, they play at Notre Dame.
"By winning this game," tackle Hoot Stahl said, "we go into a really tough part of our schedule with some momentum and a positive attitude."
At the same time, however, Stahl and Williams said they don't want to look too far ahead. They say that's what happened in 1997, when the team talked of winning all 11 games. An opening-game loss to San Diego State derailed those dreams and set the stage for a 7-4 record.
"I think we put a lot of pressures on ourselves that season, and when we lost the first game we were just deflated," Williams said.
Last season, Navy defeated Boston College, 32-31, by outscoring the Eagles 22-3 in the fourth quarter. This time, the Eagles (1-0) will have had two weeks to prepare for Navy after defeating Baylor, 30-29, in overtime.
"You could look at [Navy and Boston College] and call it a toss-up," Stahl said. "We're just going to have to do what we do, see what they do and hope for the best."
No Passing Fancy
Through their first two games, the Midshipmen have shown more of a willingness to pass the ball than they have in recent years. They have averaged 18 passes a game, compared to just over 14 last season and nearly 13 in 1997.
Weatherbie said it's an intentional change in philosophy. He wants to keep defenses more off-balance and utilize junior quarterback Brian Broadwater's strong arm.
"We've got to be able to throw the football and we've got to be able to throw play-action to have an opportunity to be successful," said Weatherbie, who added that he would like to stay under 22 passes a game. "We want to throw when we want to throw -- not throw when we have to throw."
Consequently, Navy has passed more on first and second downs so far this season. Against Kent, Broadwater completed 14 of 18 passes, including 10 of 13 on first or second down.
For wide receivers like Williams, who had five catches for 74 yards against the Golden Flashes, it's a welcome change.
"I definitely love that," said Williams. "We've opened up our offense a little bit more this year, and it helps everything."
Saturday will be a homecoming for several members of the Boston College staff, including Coach Tom O'Brien, who was a three-year starter at defensive end for the Midshipmen from 1968 to 1970 and returned to coach the offensive line for seven years under George Welsh.
Two Eagles assistants, offensive line coach Dave Magazu and defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, also had coaching stints in Annapolis.
Perhaps the closest connection of all is with Phil Monahan, Boston College's director of football operations, who was the starting fullback and team captain on Navy's storied "Team Named Desire" that defeated Mississippi, 21-0, in the 1955 Sugar Bowl.