Week 15 is reserved for Army vs. Navy. Even though there is always a lot of college football news and the fallout from the College Football Playoff Selection Show, all eyes descend on Philadelphia for the Army/Navy game on Saturday. This year’s version is rare in terms of the series history because of the current standing of both programs. Army is a touchdown favorite across the market and the total sits at 40.5 for this year’s matchup.
Things have certainly changed in this rivalry. Navy won 14 in a row from 2002-15, but Army has won each of the last two games and can repeat as the undisputed Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy winner for the second consecutive year for the first time since the trophy was introduced in 1972. If the teams split, then the trophy goes back to the team that had it the previous season. That would be Army in this case, but they would love to have it outright once again.
After all, Army won the CiC Trophy for the first time since 1996 last season. Coincidentally, that’s roughly the last time Army was this big of a favorite against Navy. You have to go back to 1998 to find the last time that Army was favored by more than two points. You have to go all the way back to 1991 to find the last time that Army was favored by a touchdown or more. If this line holds, we’re certainly in some rare air. Even if it goes down, this is the first time since 2001 that Army has been favored over Navy.
When you look at where the two teams are, it makes perfect sense. Navy will fall short of a bowl game for the first time since 2011. Army is slated to play Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl on December 22. We’re accustomed to seeing Navy going for nine or 10 wins in this game, but not Army. The Black Knights are 9-2 with a shot at 11 wins for the first time ever. Army won 10 games last season and also in 1996.
Navy is just 3-9 on the season. A miserable travel schedule and a slew of injuries turned this into the worst season since 2002 for the Middies. Ironically, that was Paul Johnson’s first year and Johnson has announced that he will retire after Georgia Tech’s bowl game. This is the first losing season for Navy since 2011 and just the second of Ken Niumatalolo’s career.
Amazingly, Navy still averages more yards per carry than Army, as the Middies have five yards per pop and the Knights have 4.66 yards per pop. The difference has been on defense. Army is 18th in scoring defense with just 18.7 points per game allowed. Navy, as a triple-option team built to eat up chunks of clock, is 109th in scoring defense with 34.9 points per game allowed. That includes a 35-7 loss to Air Force in which first-time starter DJ Hammond and the Falcons offense outgained Navy 399-178. The Middies only had 3.1 yards per carry.
This has been a rough schedule for Navy and maybe the bye week during conference championships will help. Navy played at Hawaii to open the season and gave up 59 points. They came home and beat Memphis and Lehigh before going to Dallas (SMU) and Colorado Springs (Air Force). Three straight road games in San Diego, Cincinnati, and Orlando represented another tough stretch. Army, meanwhile, played at Duke, at Oklahoma, at Buffalo, and in Ypsilanti, Michigan against Eastern Michigan. The Knights had a much easier schedule, especially without a conference affiliation. They also played two FCS teams and a transitioning FBS team in Liberty.
Obviously these two schools know each other intimately. These defenses face the triple-option in practice every day and these offenses face undersized, but disciplined defenses every day. Navy has owned the series this century, but rarely have the games been blowouts in recent years. Army’s wins the last two years are by five combined points. Navy won by four in 2015, seven in 2014, four in 2012, and six in 2011. As you would expect with two option teams that move slow and eat up clock, this is generally a low scoring affair. The under has hit in 12 straight games in this head-to-head series. This is the lowest total since 2009, a game that ended 17-3.
Free Pick: Navy Midshipmen +7
Oddsmakers finally extracted all of the value from the total, so we can’t just make it easy and go with the under. This is the last game for the Midshipmen. They’ve had some weird spots in this game recently, with bowl games on shorter rest coming up or their lone appearance in the AAC Title Game. Here, the Knights are in a role that they are not accustomed to and this is the last hurrah for the Navy seniors. This will be it. Army is very clearly the better team, but this is the Super Bowl for Navy and they should respond.