Navy has been picked by every 1993 preseason football publication including The Sporting News and ESPN analyst Lee Corso to finish last again among Division I-A independent schools.
So one naturally would assume that expectations at the Naval Academy would be less than positive, particularly after two consecutive 1-10 seasons. Wrong.
From coach George Chaump down to the lowest freshman, the football atmosphere around The Yard is distinctly upbeat.
And, after a closer look of this year's Navy squad, it becomes clearer why everyone can hardly wait for the opening kickoff, even though the opponent Sept. 12 in Charlottesville will be the Atlantic Coast Conference's Virginia Cavaliers. They shellacked the Midshipmen in 1992, 53-0.
Why so upbeat? For the first time in memory, 27 seniors and 30 juniors have survived the academy's academic demands and will form the team's nucleus.
In addition, the skill positions such as quarterback and receiver appear to have depth, barring the injuries that slowed the Midshipmen last year. Even the defensive secondary, a trouble spot last year, returns experienced players.
Yet it will be a long way back against a schedule tougher than those faced by the other two service academies. So much will depend upon how Navy comes out of the opening game, physically and otherwise.
Coming up later will be the ambitious Louisville Cardinals, who have Navy scheduled between Texas, Tennessee, Texas A&M; and Pitt. The rebounding Southwest Conference SMU Mustangs also call, and visits will be made to Southeast Conference Vanderbilt and independent Tulane. The Midshipmen will play Notre Dame at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.
The homecoming game this year is again no pushover. Some locals still like to downgrade Bowling Green, but the fact is the Falcons have won two consecutive Mid-American Conference titles and Las Vegas Bowl games. They are loaded again.
The Air Force comes to Annapolis and Army will be met at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands. Bringing Colgate to Annapolis adds to the luster of Navy's attempt to play as many respected academic institutions as possible, which at the same time have national football reputations.
Coach Chaump emphasized his eagerness to face this challenge and stated that "it will require the best coaching job in the nation."
He is proud of the fact that so many of the players successfully made it through the academy curriculum and the demanding daily routine.
Their disciplined off-season weight training has been exemplary, and this unit is close-knit. All this is well and good. But the reality is that Navy will not tolerate another catastrophic season. Changes already have been made on the coaching staff, and a new offensive coordinator, Greg Briner, is on board. He coached Marshall College's offense to the 1992 Division I-AA national title.
More than 100 players have been working out daily with 39 returning lettermen on hand, including 13 starters -- seven on offense and six on defense.
With this encouraging outlook, Chaump said that "we can now employ the balanced offense I want, starting with the ball-control passing complemented by a strong running attack."
Navy supporters hope that Chaump's basic 4-2-5 defensive alignment, with some refinements, will solve the serious problems experienced last year.
Could Navy be the sleeper in the East?