The 2016 college football season was not a good one for Navy in the battle for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy as the Midshipmen lost to both Army and Air Force in the same year for the first time since 2001. This year, after jumping out to a nice start to the season in September, Navy looks to score some revenge against their rivals from the Air Force Academy.
When the service academies collide, the triple options will be all over the place. This week pits two of the nation’s top option offenses against each other, but can Navy or Air Force manage to pull a surprise or well-timed pass into the mix successfully to lead their team to victory?
Air Force at Navy
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 7 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Navy -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Air Force is struggling coming into Annapolis
In Week 2 of the season, Air Force traveled to Ann Arbor to play against one of the best defenses in the country, Michigan. And for the most part, Air Force played admirably well and gave the Wolverines a good run until the overall talent advantage eventually led Michigan to pull away for a win in a game that was much closer than the final score would suggest. Since then, Air Force has taken two additional losses in Mountain West Conference play — at home to San Diego State and a 56-38 drubbing at New Mexico last week.
2. Zach Abey commands your attention
It is no secret that the quarterback running Navy’s offense is going to gobble up a good amount of yardage, and Abey has been doing just that. Abey leads Navy with 656 rushing yards and seven touchdowns through the first four games of the year, including three touchdowns last week in a big road win at Tulsa. When it is not Abey running the ball, watch out for Malcolm Perry, who averaged 10.4 yards per rush on 10 carries last week.
3. Air Force finishes drives better than Navy
The key to any win in an otherwise close matchup is how do you finish drives. Air Force, despite being 1-3, has been finishing its drives better than Navy so far. Air Force has scored 12 red zone touchdowns on 15 red zone trips this season, while Navy has 10 touchdowns inside the 20-yard line on 16 trips. Navy’s red zone scoring percentage of 68.75 ranks 119th in the nation. It hasn’t come back to hurt the Midshipmen yet, but it could any week now.
Playing at home gives Navy a bit of a boost, and the way the Midshipmen have been playing suggests this is a team not to be overlooked just yet in the Group of 5 picture. From a strategic standpoint, this one looks like a stalemate, as we know exactly what both teams will want to do. Navy gets the slight edge here playing at home and wins a close one to move toward reclaiming the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
Prediction: Navy 26, Air Force 23
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.