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Previewing Navy vs. Notre Dame: Q&A with One Foot Down

Patrick Sullivan of SB Nation’s One Foot Down joins us for Q&A shenanigans ahead of Navy vs. Notre Dame.

NCAA Football: Navy at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of Navy rekindling its rivalry with Notre Dame this weekend, we asked some questions to Patrick Sullivan of SB Nation’s One Foot Down.

Oh, and read my answers to his questions here.

1. Notre Dame is one of the most successful programs in the history of college football. However, in the college football playoff era, the Irish have only made two appearances and have lost both games by a decent margin. When is Notre Dame’s next playoff showing? What is it going to take for a championship?

Really quickly to start, I’d like to challenge the word “only” in the second sentence of this question. In the 7 completed seasons in the CFP era, there have only been 11 teams who have made the College Football Playoff at all. Of those 11, only 5 have made it more than once — Notre Dame is one of them. So, of course I’d prefer if ND were on the same level as Alabama (6 appearances) or Clemson (6) or Ohio State (4) or Oklahoma (4) here, but to say they’ve “only” made 2 appearances is pretty unfair wording considering they’re in the top 4% there.

With that said, I will obviously grant you that the Irish have been completely, embarrassingly over-matched in both of their appearances in the CFP. Clemson absolutely crushed them 30-3 in 2018, and Alabama’s 31-14 victory last New Year’s Day may not have been a COMPLETE beatdown, but ND was never really in it. The Irish have yet to show up for one of their CFP appearances, so to answer your last question: I think it will take a new coach and some incremental elite recruiting at several key positions — QB, WR, and CB especially — for the Irish to have a chance to actually even win a semifinal game, let alone the title game. Brian Kelly has brought the program back to prominence, but appears unable to take them that last step or two in order to be the best team in college football.

ND’s next playoff appearance, though, will probably come in the next few years. Just based on how good the freshman class has looked this season and how recruiting is shaping up in the 2022 and 2023 classes, I would guess 2023 or 2024 will give us the next CFP bid for the Irish. The big question will be whether they actually can look like they belong when they get there.

2. The Navy-Notre Dame annual match was broken last year. COVID obviously played a large role in that. However, finding a way to play each other was possible. Thoughts? Maybe it strengthened the Irish schedule leading to a playoff appearance? I don’t think many Navy fans were happy about it.

So, is there still a desire to eliminate Navy completely from the Irish’s schedule?

I’m not sure it was really that possible. Everyone was doing conference-only schedules last season, including ND with their temporary membership in the ACC. I doubt the ACC and AAC would have allowed the two teams to schedule a match-up at all, considering all the risks and complexities associated with COVID last season.

With that said, it probably did slightly strengthen ND’s schedule that led to a playoff appearance. Navy was not good last year and even when they are good, a win over the Midshipmen doesn’t seem to matter much to the CFP committee or the national media — replacing them with some mediocre ACC team probably didn’t necessarily make it that much harder on ND to get a win, but it did add a P5 win to the resume instead of a win over Navy. That helps, unfortunately.

In terms of eliminating Navy from the schedule, my take is that I’d like it to stop being an annual game. I think the ties between these two schools are strong and traditional and cool and I don’t want to remove that completely from the equation, but just like other traditional opponents (Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, etc.), I think ND can afford to schedule periodic two-year series against the Midshipmen and that will suffice. Obviously, ND owed the Navy for their help during WWII with the V-7 program, etc., but that debt has absolutely since been paid, and at this point all the Irish get is a lose-lose game on the schedule that involves a completely unique offense to prepare for and lots of cut-blocking Midshipmen diving at ND defenders’ legs. I don’t want to completely eliminate the series, but count me as someone who thinks it can be played a lot less often and still honor the long standing relationship between the two schools.

3. The Irish team is stacked with talent. Who are the future NFL Hall of Famers? What is the true opinion of/faith in Jack Coan?

Kyle Hamilton, if he stays healthy, is the clear No. 1 answer here. I truly believe he can be one of the best safeties the NFL has ever seen — he’s the total package, and I’m sad he’s missed the last couple games and will also miss this one.

Aside from him, there are plenty of other guys who will have solid NFL careers, but I’m not sure if any of them are future HOFers or not. If I had to pick a few with the best chance to do so, though, I’d go with TE Michael Mayer, RB Kyren “Bellyman” Williams, DE Isaiah Foskey, and then maybe a couple linemen like DT Jayson Ademilola and C Jarrett Patterson. I will add that there are some true freshmen that I think could be great NFLers someday based on what they’ve already shown, including OTs Joe Alt and Blake Fisher and WR Lorenzo Styles Jr.

RE: Jack Coan: I like him. He’s nowhere close to being the best player on the offense and has some key flaws that hindered the team early in the season in conjunction with some horrible offensive line play, but he’s a tough, resilient QB who, when given good protection, is very good at accurately finding his receivers and driving the team down the field for points, no matter the game situation (he seems to thrive in the final 2 minutes of close games). I don’t have faith in him to win any games on his own, but at this point I trust him with this offense (assuming he gets protection) and think he’s proven he can lead this team under most circumstances. He’s a nice bridge between Ian Book and the likely 2022 and 2023 starter, current freshman Tyler Buchner.

4. Rough loss against a Group of 5, AAC opponent in Cincinnati… Is the Notre Dame season already considered a failure? Under-performance? Can we write-off a playoff spot?

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a failure, but “under-performance” seems fair considering Cincinnati was clearly the only actually-good opponent on the schedule, and the Irish lost somewhat convincingly at home. There’s no shame in losing to the Bearcats right now, but the manner in which it happened was disappointing, and the fact there are no other opportunities for redemptive wins makes the rest of the season quite “mehhh” in terms of excitement.

And yes, we can write off a playoff spot for the Irish. I’m sure there’s some wild, chaotic scenario that gets them in, but I don’t believe that will happen and also don’t think this ND team deserves that kind of divine providence anyway. They’re destined to finish as an decent ND team that could maybe break the program’s NY6 bowl game losing streak, which would be a nice little consolation prize. I would be pretty happy with 12-1 and a NY6 win, assuming it’s setting up the team for better things in the next couple seasons.

5. Do Notre Dame fans like the idea of playing Navy in Ireland? Or is that just a travel headache to support the team?

There might be some people who think it’s not worth the travel or jet lag before coming back and playing a week two opponent, but I would say I’m very much FOR it and so are most Notre Dame fans.

If we’re going to play Navy, playing them in the season opener in Ireland is an awesome way to do it — cool location, it’s fun to have a game starting early in the morning if you’re in the U.S. watching it, and it’s a super fun excuse to travel to Ireland. A bunch of my college friends and I had planned to go see the game in 2020 and then travel around Ireland and Scotland for like 10 days, so it was a major bummer when that fell through. I love the destination matchup for these two teams, especially if it only happens every 8-10 years.

6. Did you know: the Notre Dame fight song is the same as the Milton High School fight song? Funny story: *pause* this isn’t really a question, just my side bar that any Navy/Marine Corps/Coast Guard aviator would understand. Paul Levins is a former Army survivalist and now teaches survival training during a very early phase of flight school. Pretty much every Navy/Marine Corps/Coast Guard aviator has encountered Paul Levins and remember his colorful and unique comments. He can be hilarious, yet very politically incorrect and offensive. Ultimately, he’s unforgettable. After Paul’s career in the Army, he moved back to his hometown in Milton, Florida (just Google that place… crazy). Milton is a city over from Pensacola, Florida, where the initial phases of flight school are conducted. Paul is an alumni of Milton High School. Part of survival training is becoming CPR certified. When Paul grades the CPR tests as they are turned in, he sings the Milton HS fight song when students received 100% on the test. About halfway through grading, one student asked “Sir, what song do you keeping singing?” Paul answers, “The Milton High School fight song!” And I said, from the back of the classroom, “I’ve personally been scored on by Notre Dame enough to know that’s the Notre Dame fight song”. Naturally, he told me Milton High School had it first.

LOL that’s awesome, and I had no idea about any of it.

I’m gonna go ahead and challenge Levins on his timeline here, though — Wikipedia tells me the Notre Dame Victory March was written in 1908 and first performed at ND in 1909. Milton High School wasn’t founded until 1915.

Of course, ND revised the lyrics in 1920 and didn’t copyright the song until 1928, so I suppose there’s time in there for Milton to have taken the tune and made it into their own fight song prior to the copyright kicking in — so maybe Milton officially had it first but ND then legalese-d it away from them (similar to my alma mater, Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, having the Leprechaun logo before ND but then later having to give it up because ND copyrighted it first).

7. Festive Question: It’s officially November, which means it’s officially time for the time-honored tradition of the way-too-early playing of Christmas/holiday MOVIES. What are your five favorite Christmas/holiday movies? Feel free to explain.

Let me just preface these rankings by saying I have weird taste in movies, my preferences very much skew toward comedies, and when it comes to holiday movies, hokey/cheesy oftentimes beats true quality. So don’t be expecting It’s A Wonderful Life here, folks.

My rankings:

5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: I’m a big Yukon Cornelius fan.

4. Elf: it’s overplayed and overquoted, but for a very good reason — that’s an excellent holiday film with parts that still make me chuckle out loud to myself.

3. Home Alone: very cool how they made this prequel/origin story for Jigsaw from the Saw franchise.

2. The Santa Clause: classic Christmas movie vibes but with Tim Allen sarcasm/humor. Making fun of Neil’s sweaters never gets old.

1. Jingle All the Way: Arnold, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, the kid from Phantom Menace. Need I say more? This is the perfect Christmas movie.

8. Final score? Game predictions?

I think this one will go somewhat similar to 2018 and 2019, where the Irish pretty much handle their business and use their superior size/speed to string together some big plays, get some stops, and end up winning by a few scores. I’m a little worried about the ND defense tackling well enough to get the Midshipmen offense off the field at times, and could see that keeping the Midshipmen in it for a half or so, but overall I think the Irish will bring their A-game down the stretch and pull away in the second half.

I’ll say Notre Dame 38, Navy 16