Navy vs. Delaware
Not-so-happy homecomings: Navy has lost its last five homecoming games, including a 21-17 loss to Division I-AA Delaware last season. The other four losses came against some of the worst teams in Division I-A: 35-29 to Akron in 1999, 28-21 to Rutgers in 2000, 21-13 to Rice in 2001 and 43-17 to Duke in 2002. The Midshipmen haven't won a homecoming game since 1998, when they rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat Division I-AA Colgate, 42-35.
Seventh heaven: Navy is aiming for its first 7-1 start since 1978, when the Midshipmen finished 9-3 and beat Brigham Young, 23-16, in the Holiday Bowl. Navy won its first seven games that season under George Welsh, lost three in a row and then beat Army, 28-0, to end the regular season.
Navy's 12th man: Mike McLaughlin, a senior from Deer Park, N.Y., and a member of the 7th company, will cover today's opening kickoff as Navy's "12th man." Midshipmen Coach Paul Johnson selected McLaughlin and senior John Reuland from among 18 would-be walk-ons during tryouts earlier this month. McLaughlin, co-captain of the academy's lacrosse team, will wear 1963 Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach's retired No. 12 jersey. Reuland, from East Orleans, Mass., will cover the opening kickoff against Rutgers on Nov. 20.
Grounded offense: Navy has failed to run for 300 yards in each of its past four games, the longest drought during Johnson's three seasons at the academy. The Midshipmen still won three of those contests, beating Vanderbilt, Air Force and Rice and losing to Notre Dame. Delaware ranks No. 7 in Division I-AA against the run, allowing 87.7 yards per game. Navy runs for 259.4 yards per game, seventh-best in Division I-A, and its 19 rushing touchdowns are eighth-most in the nation.
Key matchup: Missouri transfer Sonny Riccio has given the Blue Hens an efficient passing game, and Delaware has two receivers who transferred from Division I-A schools -- David Boler from Southern California and Joe Bleymaier from Arizona State. But it's a homegrown Hen that Navy cornerbacks Vaughn Kelley and Hunter Reddick will have to worry about the most. David Long, a junior from Pennsauken, N.J., leads Delaware with 43 catches for 557 yards and four touchdowns. He caught a school-record 16 passes for 236 yards and one touchdown in the Hens' 43-38 win over Maine on Oct. 2.
-- Mark Schlabach