ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Navy and Holy Cross have each been playing football since the 19th century but, somewhat surprisingly, the schools have never faced one another. That will change on Saturday afternoon when Navy, coming off a disappointing three-win campaign that marked its second losing record since 2003, hosts the Crusaders in the season opener for both squads.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network. LINE: Navy -20.5.
The Midshipmen had posted a winning record in six straight seasons and 14 of 15 before the 10-loss debacle of a year ago, but coach Ken Niumatalolo was impressed with the approach of his team coming into camp. "I really like where we are culturally," Niumatalolo told the Capital Gazette of Annapolis. "Our guys have been very no-nonsense, just keeping their mouths shut and grinding away." While Navy may be looking to erase the memory of a disappointing season, the Crusaders will like to build on a strong finish to 2018. Holy Cross, picked to finish second in the Patriot League preseason poll, won its final four games last season to wind up 5-6 and will be looking to finish above .500 for only the second time in eight years.
ABOUT HOLY CROSS (2018: 5-6)
All five starters on the offensive line return, which bodes well for senior running back Domenic Cozier, a second-team All-Patriot selection last season after rushing for 643 yards and eight touchdowns on 130 carries. The biggest question mark on offense is at quarterback, where junior Connor Degenhardt has the inside track after a four-player battle during training camp. Holy Cross must replace seven starters on the other side of the ball, but among the returnees are defensive backs Alex Johnson and Joe Lang, who combined for 139 tackles in 2018.
ABOUT NAVY (2018: 3-10)
The Midshipmen have an edge at quarterback with the return of senior Malcolm Perry, who ran for 1,087 yards and seven touchdowns last season while directing the triple-option attack that ranked No. 5 nationally with an average of 276.5 yards rushing. He'll be joined in the backfield by Nelson Smith, who averaged 5.3 yards on 78 carries, and C.J. Williams, the leading returning receiver with only nine catches. Navy struggled defensively last season but switching from a 3-4 alignment should help a unit led by tackles Jackson Pittman and Marcus Edwards.
1. Navy is 10-1 in home openers during Niumatalolo's tenure and has won its last three versus Patriot foes by an average of 34 points.
2. Holy Cross set a school record with six blocked punts last season, returning four for touchdowns.
3. Crusaders WR/PR/KR Jon Jon Roberts transferred from Navy after his freshman year.
PREDICTION: Navy 34, Holy Cross 17