CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Navy coach Paul Johnson is concerned about the size of Boston College’s linemen. He isn’t worried about fan support.

The underdog and undersized Midshipmen will be the crowd favorite when they face the 23rd-ranked Eagles in the Meineke Bowl on Saturday.

Downtown Charlotte was a sea of blue and gold Friday, with Navy flags flying from cars and fans dressed in their school colors as they roamed the streets and attended a street festival and pep rally.

“The alumni stay engaged and stay in touch,” Johnson said. “When we run out on the field on Saturday and BC runs out, it won’t be hard to see the difference.”

But Johnson, a North Carolina native, thinks local fans will also get behind Navy (9-3).

“We’ll have a 215-pound defensive end going up against a 365-pound offensive tackle,” Johnson said. “Not many people will be pulling for the guy who is 365, even though he might be a great kid.”

The Eagles (9-3) don’t really have a lineman that big, but the starters on the offensive line do average 306 pounds. Navy’s left defensive end Tye Adams is listed at 225.

The same discrepancy exists on the other side of the ball, a big problem for the Midshipmen’s running game, which averages a nation-best 327.4 yards per game.

“I have tremendous respect for what (Johnson) does on offense. He’ll have something for our big guys,” BC interim coach Frank Spaziani said. “We better be ready.”

Being in a hostile environment is nothing new to the Eagles, who played Boise State on its home field in a bowl game last season and faced North Carolina in Charlotte two years ago.

Boston College won both, part of a six-game bowl winning streak that ties it with Utah for the longest in the nation.

“It seems like every bowl game we go to we’re the away team,” said quarterback Matt Ryan, who was MVP of last year’s MPC Computers Bowl and leads the Atlantic Coast Conference with 2,700 yards passing this season.

But preparation for this bowl has been unlike any other. BC hasn’t completely recovered from coach Tom O’Brien’s decision early this month to leave for ACC rival North Carolina State.

“Nobody saw that coming at all. It was a shock, to be honest,” linebacker Brian Toal said Friday. “I don’t think any of the coaches knew. I don’t think anyone knew. It was a big surprise.”

Toal acknowledges it was tough to focus during the search for a new coach. But Green Bay Packers assistant Jeff Jagodzinski was quickly hired to replace O’Brien, and Spaziani, the defensive coordinator, was named interim coach for the bowl game.

Spaziani has tried to keep BC on a similar schedule and things have gone smoothly – with a few hiccups.

“I’ve let a couple of things slip through the cracks that I’ve forgotten about, but nothing that will affect the outcome of the game,” Spaziani said.

You can forgive Spaziani, as not only is he taking care of the head coach’s duties, he’s also had to design a way to try to stop Navy’s triple-option offense.

Navy didn’t miss a beat despite losing quarterback Brian Hampton in October to a season-ending knee injury. Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada has started the past six games and has led Navy to four straight wins.

Navy has rushed for nearly 4,000 yards, but is without leading rusher Adam Ballard (792 yards), who broke his right leg against Army on Dec. 2.

BC, which lost its three games by a total of 12 points, was upset at being passed over by higher-tier bowls for the second straight year. But the Eagles do have a chance to win 10 games for the first time since 1984, the year Doug Flutie won the Heisman Trophy.

“Everyone always talks about the Flutie era and they still sell his jerseys in the bookstore,” Toal said. “To go out there and have 10 wins just like they did it would be impressive.”


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