Sean Meyers/Icon SMI
Navy (8-4) vs. Wake Forest (7-5)
Dec. 20, 11 a.m. ET, ESPN
Reason To Watch: Because once, apparently, is never enough. These two teams met back on Sept. 27 in Winston-Salem, with the Midshipmen defeating the 16th-ranked Demon Deacons 24-17 on a slick, soggy field. This game could only be more redundant if it was the Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game (or the BCSNCG, if you prefer, brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department). Fortunately for us all, that's not the case.
Fans of option football will be in heaven. Navy, of course, runs the best triple-option offense of any school not named Georgia Tech, leading the country in rushing with 298.3 yards per game. Wake Forest, on the other hand, has struggled to establish a running game this season while tinkering with a spread-option attack. Under head coach Jim Grobe, the Deacs have traditionally been one of the stronger running outfits in the ACC, but this year's ground game, which averages just 111.6 yards per game, ranks 10th in the conference and 100th in all of Division I-A. Wake's struggles have forced Grobe to switch at times to a power-I look. Back in September, the Demon Deacons rushed for just 43 yards in the loss to Navy.
And that's kind of why I think this game might turn out to be all about defense. Not only is the Deacons' offense anemic, ranking 97th in the nation in scoring and 103rd overall, but the Middies have the most improved scoring D in college football, surrendering 21.4 points per game (a 15-point improvement from 2007) -- a number that is, coincidentally, almost exactly Wake's scoring average this season (20.3). Navy also picked off Deacs' quarterback Riley Skinner four times last September. On the other side of the ball, Wake is much stronger, boasting standout linebacker Aaron Curry and cornerback Alphonso Smith. Curry is a stud, and Navy didn't bother trying to run at him much back in September.
Keep An Eye On: Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada. Until he injured his hamstring in the first half of last September's game, he was one of the best players on the field, and the Wake Forest defense had no answer for him (the Mids led 17-0 at halftime). The Midshipmen's offense isn't the same when he's out of the lineup. It will be very hard for Curry and the Deacons defense to take control of the game if Kaheaku-Enhada is running the option.
Wake Forest's Skinner also bears watching. He has vowed to atone for his nightmare performance in the first meeting between these two teams. A superior game from him could make the difference for an offense that, outside of wideout D.J. Boldin, lacks depth and quality at the skill positions.
Did You Know?: This is the first time Navy has played an opponent twice in the same season since the Mids swept St. Johns College (26-0, 12-0) in 1907. The last time Wake tried to double-dip, the results were mixed (though they bode well for the rematch with Navy). The Deacs followed up a 13-13 tie against South Carolina in 1945 with a 26-14 victory in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day 1946.
Final Analysis: Fittingly for a game between two of college football's better-than-average programs, this one could go either way. I can't see Wake turning the ball over six times in one game again; it doesn't seem like the Deacs could possibly do any worse on offense. That may be worth an extra touchdown. And if Navy doesn't feast on turnovers as it did back in September, that may be worth one less touchdown to them. Maybe the best reason to watch is to see if the Demon Deacons can win 24-17, which would leave both teams with 8-5 records. In an utterly unnecessary game, that would be the ultimate superfluity.
The Pick: Wake Forest 24 Navy 17