TOLEDO, Ohio -- Navy's road to its first winning season since 1982 will begin today at the University of Toledo, where the Midshipmen hope to play the role of a party crasher.
It's "Dedication Day" for Toledo's Glass Bowl Stadium, which underwent an $18 million renovation during the off-season, and a capacity crowd of 26,000 is expected. The Rockets (8-1) will be attempting to cap the dedication ceremony with a victory that would extend their 14-game home winning streak.
"You know they'll be emotional, and you know they will be high with the winning streak and the dedication," said Navy coach George Chaump, whose team needs to win its last three games to finish 6-5. "All odds will be in their favor. They have every reason to play sky-high football."
The Rockets have been playing sky-high all season, with their only loss a 13-12 defeat at Central Michigan on Oct. 20. They hold a share of the Mid-American Conference title -- the school's first since 1984. And the Rockets have achieved this success in the first year under coach Nick Saban, who was Navy's secondary coach in 1982.
"It's a little surprising, but I thought that if we had our team playing together, we would be playing in this position," Saban said. "Our team has come together very well, and we've been fortunate to avoid a lot of injuries."
The Rockets, 6-5 last season, were preseason favorites to win the MAC title and have played up to those expectations. Toledo has dominated games from both sides of the line of scrimmage, combining a rushing offense ranked 17th in the nation (227.2 yards per game) and a defense ranked 13th (282.2 yards).
Toledo is coming off a 37-9 victory over Western Michigan -- a game in which sophomore quarterback Kevin Meger earned MAC Offensive Player of the Week honors by completing 15 of 23 passes for 254 yards.
"There have been times he hasn't thrown as consistently as we would like, but Meger has done a fine job," Saban said. "He's an option quarterback with tremendous quickness. He's a runner trying to develop into a passer."
According to Chaump, Meger benefits from playing behind a veteran offensive line -- three seniors, two juniors and a sophomore.
"Their whole offensive team has been together as a unit for a long time, and they're very experienced," Chaump said. "Their ,, size is impressive. They are like Akron, but they have a little more skill then Akron."
It's not often a team enters a game upbeat after a 21-point loss, but that's just what Navy will do today. The Midshipmen got their offense on track last week in a 52-31 loss to Notre Dame.
The key for Navy was running its pass-oriented offense out of a wishbone formation -- a move that left Notre Dame confused.
"Call it the 'Arctic zone offense,' " Chaump said. "They had too much talent, and they were going to move the ball. We took a lesson from basketball and tried to freeze the ball. We worked it to perfection -- they only had the ball two drives during the first half."
It worked so well that Navy may run it again against Toledo. But the element of surprise will be gone.