As Notre Dame heaves itself into the second week of the new College Football Playoff ranking scheme, it does so in the wake of its annual battle with the United States Naval Academy. For the Midshipmen, Notre Dame is one of three annual rivals and the only non-service academy it schedules every year. Notre Dame is also the only one that brings a ranking into the game with any consistency, if at all. But that’s not to say that the Mids haven’t played other “high-profile” teams in recent years. For example, did you know, or do you remember, that Navy played, and beat, Stanford in 2006? That they beat a ranked Wake Forest team in 2008? Or that they hung with a Top Ten S.E.C. team in 2011?
With the flotsam from last night’s 49-39 victory dissipating, I wanted to conduct a sort of battle-damage assessment of the ranked squads Navy either defeated or lost to by ten points or less. Specifically, I wanted to see what effect a loss or “close win” had on a ranked team. To do so, I used the NCAA Football Schedules maintained by ESPN, which go back to 2002. In those twelve seasons, I identified six games in which Navy played and either beat or suffered a “close loss” to a ranked team. In none of the seasons was Navy ranked at the time of the subject-matter game. To determine a team’s ranking, I used either its AP rank, BCS rank, or Playoff Committee (PC) rank. Here’s a table showing what I found:[table “” not found /]
Setting aside the 2002 Notre Dame game, it’s pretty clear what happens when you play Navy and don’t beat them by more than ten points: you suffer a negative consequence. This season, Ohio State dropped two AP spots following its 34-17 win, just as it did 2009 when it beat Navy 31-27. South Carolina fell two AP spots in 2011 after skating by the Midshipmen, 24-21. The only team, that I found, not to take a hit was Notre Dame in 2002, whose AP ranking was unchanged following its 30-24 win.
A loss to Navy, though, can sink a team’s ranking. Wake Forest came into its September 27 game against Navy ranked 16th in the AP poll. Following its 24-17 loss, it fell nine spots. In 2009, the Fighting Irish were ranked 22nd in the BCS poll and lost 23-21 on November 7. The next week, the Irish fell out of the Top Twenty-Five.
What happens on November 4 when the new Playoff Committee rankings come out is anyone’s guess, but I think you’ll see the Irish pay the price for not beating up on Navy. The “SEC is AWESOME” theory will be in for a real test, too, as #1 Mississippi State only managed to beat unranked Arkansas, 17-10. Elsewhere, TCU, at #7, narrowly defeated #20 West Virginia, 31-30, while unranked Florida took Georgia apart and UCLA beat Arizona. So, all things considered, I think you’ll see the next ranking shake out thusly: FSU, Auburn, Mississippi State, Oregon, Alabama, Ole Miss, Michigan State, Kansas State, TCU, Baylor, Notre Dame.
I hope I’m wrong, but teams that don’t boat-race Navy usually find their rankings scuppered.