The computer's (about the computer) forecast for the Independent triumvirate of Army, Navy and Notre Dame won't please anyone, but it's indicative of the question marks that surround each of those teams.
It begins with the head coach.
None of the three schools have a head coach with more than three years on the job. Army's Stan Brock (3-9) is entering his second season, and Navy begins the Ken Niumatalolo (0-1) era after a successful 6-year reign for Paul Johnson. Even Charlie Weis (22-15) is drawing his fair share of criticism after last year's 3-9 debacle at Notre Dame.
The computer was called every name in the book by Irish faithful when last season's forecast projected their team to go 7-5. In retrospect, they would have been happy with that result. Perhaps, Notre Dame fans can take some comfort with the knowledge that the Irish turned in a 9-2 regular season in 2005 when Weis' first team was projected by the computer to go 4-7. (For what it's worth, the computer pegged the teams' 10-2 regular season mark in 2006).
Notre Dame's glaring problem on the field has been team speed and a lack of offensive weapons. It was evident in 2006 when its three losses to Michigan, USC, and LSU were blowouts by 20 points or more. Last season, the Irish were outscored 102-13 in their first three games against Georgia Tech, Penn State and Michigan while failing to score a single offensive touchdown.
The 2008 forecast calls for double-digit wins at home against San Diego State and Syracuse, but the projected defeats of Stanford (-1.19) and Navy (-3.95) are slim enough to be called "swing" games. On the plus side, the computer's forecasted Notre Dame losses to Purdue, North Carolina, Washington and Pitt are all by fewer than 6 points and could certainly swing in favor of the Irish.
The final analysis is that a friendlier schedule and a modest improvement could turn the 4-8 forecast into an 8-4 reality. But if this team mirrors last year's squad, 4 wins could be a struggle.
Meanwhile, Navy is also forecasted to endure a 4-8 season for its first losing campaign since 2002. The only projected wins are over lightweights Towson (FCS), Duke, SMU and Army. There's room for improving the final record in November where forecasted losses to Temple, Notre Dame and Northern Illinois are all by less than 5 points.
Niumatalolo actually has one game under his belt as the head coach of the Midshipmen. He was promoted from assistant head coach prior to Navy's 35-32 loss to Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Navy enters the season having claimed five straight Commander-In-Chief's trophies, awarded for winning the annual round-robin competition among the three military academies - Air Force, Army and Navy. Their long hold on that trophy, however, is expected to come to an end with Air Force projected to defeat the Middies by 7.02, and Army by 12.96.
Still, Navy has a solid 11.95-point advantage over Army.
Army has not won more than four games since 1996 when the Black Knights turned in a 10-1 performance. Over the last five seasons, 3 of Army's 11 victories are over Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as 1-AA) schools, and overtime was needed to defeat Rhode Island last year. No wonder the only projected win is over FCS member New Hampshire, and 8 of the forecasted losses are by deficits ranging from 11.95 to 28.66 points.
Last year's preseason computer forecast was correct on every Army game.