One of college football’s best traditional rivalries is renewed this weekend in Baltimore with the annual Army-Navy Game. A rivalry game that offers a blend of the best atmosphere college football has to offer that would make some bowl games jealous, the Army-Navy Game is simply not just another regular season game.
Navy has won 14 straight in this storied rivalry, but playing a conference championship game last week may put Navy to the test in this game like never before, especially with Army having one of the best teams it has fielded in a while. For the first time since 2010 (and just the second since 1996) both teams will have one more game to play after Saturday. In December, both Army and Navy will go bowling in Texas matched up against a team from Conference USA.
Army will have a rematch with North Texas in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Dec. 27. The Mean Green beat the Black Nights back on Oct. 22. Navy will make its fifth straight bowl appearance (and 13th out of the last 14 seasons) when the Midshipmen take on Louisiana Tech in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 23 in Fort Worth.
Army vs. Navy (Baltimore)
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 10 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Navy -11.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Navy’s injury issues
The Midshipmen played in their first conference championship game in program history last week at home against Temple, and it may have cost them. Not only did Navy lose the American Athletic Conference Championship Game 34-10, but quarterback Will Worth and starting slotback and team captain Toneo Gulley each went down with season-ending injuries (broken foot), on the same play. Worth leads the team in rushing (1,198 yards) and the nation in touchdowns on the ground (25). Gulley is third with 427 rushing yards while averaging nearly 10 yards per carry. Neither will play against Army or in the bowl game.
Worth’s loss means Navy is down to third-string quarterback Zach Abey because original starter Tago Smith tore the ACL in his right knee in the first half of the season opener against Fordham. In three games this season Abey has run for 197 yards (7.6 ypc) and two touchdowns and has thrown for 104 (7-of-13) with no scores and two interceptions. Both picks came against Temple last Saturday.
2. Does Army finally have an edge?
Despite the key injuries for Navy, you should expect the basic offensive formula from head coach Ken Niumatalolo. The triple-option offensive attack is not going anywhere, but will injuries allow Army to create an advantage for Jeff Monken’s Black Knights? Army’s Andy Davidson (818 rushing yards, 9 TD) and Ahmad Bradshaw (646, 6) give Army a powerful 1-2 punch on the ground. Both Army and Navy play a similar style of offense, but it will be a matter of which team executes its attack more effectively.
3. The all-important turnover battle
If Army is going to break its losing streak against Navy, it must avoid turning the football over. Army enters the game with a minus-3 turnover margin this season, and the Black Knights actually posted a minus-2 in their last game against Morgan State. Earlier this season Army had a dreadful minus-6 against North Texas, a 35-18 loss. Losing control of the football will not bode well for Army against Navy, who can work the clock as well as any.
Navy uncharacteristically turned the ball over three times (two interceptions, fumble) last week against Temple, and the Owls capitalized on those opportunities. Half of Temple’s 34 points were scored on the drives following a Navy giveaway.
It would seem Army has as good a chance to beat their rivals and sing second for the first time in a long time. Navy losing a couple of key players on offense seems to give Army a stronger chance, but don’t count on the Midshipmen to not be prepared for this one. Both teams make it a year-long mission to defeat the other, and Navy still likely has the overall advantage despite a number of injury concerns. Army gives Navy a good run, but the Middies will make fewer mistakes to prevail.
Prediction: Navy 23, Army 20
— 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.