The Gator Bowl and Jacksonville have been trying to bring a Navy game to town for years. In 2005 they tried to put a game together with Florida State, and when that didn’t work out, they set their sights on Navy-Notre Dame. It appears that the latter is finally going to happen, with a press conference reportedly scheduled for Wednesday. If so, it’s a big win for Jacksonville. When the Jaguars were trying to convince the Jacksonville city council to approve a renovation of EverBank Field, college football was a big part of the sales pitch. A more modern stadium, it was argued, would allow Jacksonville to bid for the national championship game, help return the profile of the Gator Bowl to its historical levels, and would help to attract more neutral-site regular season games. On that last point, Navy-Notre Dame was the one game specifically mentioned in the presentation. It took a couple of years to finalize, but it appears that it’s finally going to happen.
Paul Johnson made a couple of trips to Jacksonville when he was Navy’s head coach, doing the usual alumni wine-and-cheese tour as well as talking to the Jacksonville Quarterback Club. In each visit, he stressed the importance of scheduling games in Florida. Maybe that was just a way to throw a bone to the locals, but I don’t think so. One of the biggest reasons why Navy wanted to be placed in the American’s West division was to maintain a presence in Texas for recruiting. The Mids have tried to schedule a game or two with a Texas or Oklahoma team almost every year, and Texas players have been the cornerstone of Navy rosters for years. Navy recruits Florida just as hard, but it’s a tougher sell when recruits aren’t as familiar with your program. The Mids have played in Florida only 3 times in the last 40 years, with the most recent game being the 2000 Notre Dame game at the Citrus Bowl. That will quickly change thanks to Navy’s membership in the American, with future schedules now including regular games against USF and UCF. Playing Notre Dame in Jacksonville will only serve to make Navy’s Florida presence even better. The Mids will play games in Florida 4 times in the next 4 years, not including the potential of playing in one of the American’s several Florida bowl games.
Jacksonville isn’t as big as San Diego, but it takes just as much pride in being a Navy town. The large Navy presence combined with Notre Dame’s ability to draw anywhere should make this game a success. Most importantly, I live in Jacksonville, so neener neener I win.