Before the college football season officially closes the books on the regular season and shifts to the bowl season, Army and Navy continue their storied rivalry in Philadelphia this weekend for America's Game, the Army-Navy Game. Army has shifted the series in their favor with two straight wins and looks to be ready to pick up a third straight win over their rivals from Annapolis, but can Ken Niumatalolo find a way to get Navy the chance to sing second once again?
The 2018 season has not been kind to Navy (3-9, 2-6 AAC) as the Midshipmen continue to trend in the wrong direction over the past few years. Meanwhile, Jeff Monken has Army (9-2) rolling as a program looking to make some school history. The Black Knights haven't beaten the Midshipmen three times in a row since winning five straight from 1992-96. Despite the success of Army and the struggles of Navy, however, all bets are off once these two service academies meet in Lincoln Financial Field Saturday afternoon.
Army vs. Navy (Philadelphia)
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 8 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia)
Spread: Army -7.0
Three Things to Watch
1. Navy's third-down success trending the wrong way
The Midshipmen have tended to do fairly well for themselves on third down over the course of the Ken Niumatalolo era, but the success rate has been going in the wrong direction since leading the nation in this situation just two years ago. A success rate of 54.49 percent on third down in 2016 dipped to 45.45 percent in 2017 and just 39.18 percent this season. That drop falls in line with the drop in Navy's success in the win column as well. Army leads the nation in third-down success for a second straight season and the Black Knights held Navy to just two third-down conversions out of 11 tries in last year's game.
2. Zach Abey looks to close out Navy career by lifting offense
Abey has been a total team player during his time at Navy. Once the starting quarterback, Abey was benched in favor of Malcolm Perry. He was moved to a different position, wide receiver, and now he is back to playing QB for Navy. On Saturday, the senior will hope to provide some sparks on offense to help Navy snap a losing streak to Army.
3. Army playing for a second-straight 10-win season
History could be made on Saturday in Philadelphia. Army has never won 10 games in back-to-back seasons, but that milestone could be reached this week with a win over Navy. Consider that last season was just the second 10-win season in program history at Army, and you can see what an incredible job Jeff Monken has done with the Black Knights since taking over as head coach in 2014. Even if Army loses, the Black Knights will get another crack at 10 wins a trip to the Armed Forces Bowl to play Houston upcoming. But a win against Navy gives Army a shot to set a new season high for wins in a season with a victory over the Cougars in Fort Worth, Texas, on Dec. 22.
As is usually the case when Army and Navy play, expect a game that is heavy on the running games with both teams relying on the option to keep the ball moving and the clock ticking. Statistically, Army and Navy have an even playing field running the ball on offense. Defensively is another story. Army is much better against the run, allowing 4.15 yards per rushing attempt this season while Navy is giving up 5.15 yards per attempt. That could spell disaster for Navy once again this season. This game will fly by, and Army will once again have the edge with Darnell Woolfolk and Kelvin Hopkins leading the ground attack.
Prediction: Army 20, Navy 13
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. 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.