With its best nine-game record in eight years, Navy already has caught the attention of several bowl game officials and hopes a strong performance against Rutgers on Saturday will cement its chances of postseason play.
The Midshipmen (7-2), who lost to Texas Tech in the Houston Bowl last year, could receive a bowl invitation with a victory over the Scarlet Knights (4-5) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Navy closes the regular season against Army on Dec. 4 in Philadelphia.
"I could see extending Navy an invitation to play in the Emerald Bowl in the time frame of Sunday or Monday," said Gary Cavalli, executive director of the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco on Dec. 30. "I think if Navy can win at least one more of its games and goes 8-3, they will be very attractive because they are a popular team, but if they drop their last two games, I think that could dampen a lot of people's enthusiasm."
Navy has earned the NCAA-required six victories to become bowl eligible but is not guaranteed an invitation. Navy and Notre Dame are the only Division I-A teams that do not play in a conference, and all 28 bowl games have conference tie-ins and must give priority to bowl-eligible teams from their conference.
Still, bids often become available when conferences don't have enough eligible teams. Navy received a bid last year because the Southeastern Conference lacked enough eligible teams.
"I've spent the past few weeks talking to officials from the Tangerine Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, Motor City Bowl, Emerald Bowl and pretty much any bowl that may have an open spot," Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk said. "We haven't been invited anywhere, but I'm very, very confident that we will be playing in a bowl game this year. It's just a matter of which one."
Where Navy ends up will be determined by what happens to several teams. Clemson and North Carolina of the ACC each need one more victory to become bowl eligible, as do Northwestern and Michigan State of the Big Ten, Syracuse and Connecticut of the Big East and Southern Mississippi and Cincinnati of Conference USA.
"I don't worry about what's going on with other teams in the country," Navy Coach Paul Johnson said. "I'm concerned with us. We're 7-2 right now, and I'm just happy we're bowl eligible right now and of course we wish we didn't lose two games. But if you asked me at the start of the season that we'd be 7-2, I'd take it."
Navy, which last played in consecutive bowl games in 1980 and 1981, appears to be in position for three of the seven bowls slotted for teams from the Pac-10: the Emerald Bowl, the Silicon Valley Bowl on Dec. 30 in San Jose and the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 23.
Other possibilities are a return to the Houston Bowl on Dec. 29, the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24 or the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31 in Memphis. The Liberty Bowl normally hosts the champions of the Mountain West and Conference USA, but if Utah (10-0) earns a spot in the BCS, Liberty Bowl officials can invite a team from outside the Mountain West Conference.
"Navy is one of the teams we are looking at," said Steve Ehrhart, the executive director of the Liberty Bowl. "But right now it's still too early to say anything definitive because Navy is just one of several teams that have some big games coming up."
Navy hasn't played since a 42-10 loss to Tulane on Nov. 13, when it allowed 538 yards of total offense.
"This game against Rutgers is a very big deal after what happened to us against Tulane," said senior fullback Kyle Eckel. "It's very important because Rutgers needs to win out to be able to go to a bowl game and we want to make sure we can go to a bowl game because that's one of our goals."