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Navy not taking Maryland lightly

It's not often Navy is the favorite against an ACC school, but that's exactly the situation in which the Midshipmen find themselves heading into Monday's in-state showdown against Maryland. That hardly means Navy is approaching this game with anything other than the utmost respect for its opponent, even though the Terrapins are coming off a season in which they lost 10 games for the first time.

"We'd be foolish if we even thought that way," Midshipmen Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "They're still an ACC team. You still look at them, and they're still twice our size. I was looking at those guys list their 40 times. We don't have anybody in 4.3s. They're bigger and faster than us. If we think anything differently, we're foolish as a program."

It would be difficult, however, to blame Navy for being anything other than confident heading into the season opener at M&T Bank Stadium. The Midshipmen went 10-4 last season, including thumping Missouri, 35-13, in the Texas Bowl. It was the third time in program history Navy won 10 games and the seventh straight season in which it won at least eight.

Navy has back 14 starters, most notably senior co-captain Ricky Dobbs, who set an NCAA single-season record with 27 rushing touchdowns, the most ever by a quarterback. In the Midshipmen's season opener last year, Dobbs had 239 yards of offense and was responsible for all four of his team's touchdowns in a 31-27 loss to Ohio State. It was just the second start of Dobbs's career.

"It's a different team now," senior co-captain and safety Wyatt Middleton said of the Terrapins, who were 2-10 last season. "They have great recruits, great offense, great weapons. . . . They definitely have the potential to be a great team, and that's how we're going to look at them. I mean, who cares about their record last year? Who cares about our record last year? We're 0-0. This is a new season."

Navy's cautious approach to the start of the season is in line with how the coaches and players have handled every game on their schedule since Paul Johnson, now the head coach at Georgia Tech, took over a struggling program in 2002. That's also when Niumatalolo came back to Annapolis to join Johnson's staff after a stint as an assistant at Navy from 1995 to '98. When Johnson accepted the job with the Yellow Jackets, Niumatalolo took over, coaching his first game in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2007.

The Midshipmen also are not overlooking Maryland because the Terrapins, like virtually every opponent on Navy's schedule, are bigger and faster. Navy has grown accustomed to that size and speed disparity, but those disadvantages still keep players on full alert during practices.

"Every team plays bigger, faster and better than us athletically," senior left tackle Jeff Battapaglia said. "It really doesn't make any difference. We practice against Maryland as we will against Georgia Southern, as we will against Air Force, as we will against Army, as we will against every other team this year."

By Gene Wang  |  September 4, 2010; 2:09 PM ET
Categories:  Jeff Battapaglia , Ken Niumatalolo , Ricky Dobbs , Wyatt Middleton  
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