College football game of the week preview and best bets: Army Black Knights vs Navy Midshipmen
Hold your horses, college football fans. It’s not bowl season quite yet! There is still one more regular-season game on the schedule, and it features one of the best rivalries in all of sports: Army vs Navy.
A National Championship is not what’s going to be decided by this matchup, but that will never diminish the stakes. Pride, honor, glory…you name it. And there’s also a trophy on the line – well, sort of. Having already knocked off Air Force, Army will retain the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy regardless of Saturday’s outcome. But the Black Knights will win it outright with a victory over Navy.
Let’s break down the two teams and the head-to-head matchup in this week’s biggest game—and only game!—in college football.
Breaking down the Black Knights
Army is quite simply a legit football team – which is nothing new for head coach Jeff Monken. Monken is in his eighth season at the helm and this is the fifth time he has amassed at least 8 wins, all of which have come in the last six years. The Black Knights head into their regular-season finale at 8-3 and two of their losses have come to Wisconsin and Wake Forest – both in competitive contests. They lost to the Badgers 20-14 and were outlasted by the Demon Deacons 70-56 one week later. Army, which is headed to the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 22 against Missouri, boasts an impressive 6 wins over fellow bowl-bound teams.
Unsurprisingly, the Black Knights are one of the best running teams in the country. In fact, they are second overall (behind Air Force) at 301.2 yards per game. But they aren’t entirely one-dimensional. Monken’s squad has passed for more than 1,000 yards this season, including 545 courtesy of current starter Christian Anderson. The senior from Bronx, N.Y. has tossed 5 touchdown passes without getting picked off a single time.
Breaking down the Midshipmen
Unfortunately for Navy, it has a record that is the mirror image of Army’s (3-8). That is pretty much how it has been for the Midshipmen dating back to 2018, with three losing seasons (and with plenty of room to spare) in the last four. They finished with just 3 victories in both 2018 and 2020. So far in 2021 Navy has defeated UCF, Tulsa, and Temple. It has been respectable against Cincinnati (lost 27-20), SMU (lost 31-24), Houston (lost 28-20), and East Carolina (lost 38-35). It’s clear that head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s team is far from hopeless despite its disappointing record.
All you need to know about Navy’s offensive style is that it ranks seventh in the entire nation in rushing (228.8 yards per game) despite averaging a mere 3.9 yards per attempt. No other program in the top 63 in rushing is averaging such a small number. Niumatalolo would probably do well to give Carlinos Acie more carries. The senior fullback is gaining 9.6 yards per rush (546 yards on 57 attempts) and he was given double-digit touches for the second time this year during a 38-14 victory over Temple on Nov. 27. Acie has 241 yards and 2 TDs over the past two outings.
Predictions and best bets
During an eight-year stretch starting in 2011, seven Army-Navy games were decided by no more than 7 points. Obviously what happened in the past doesn’t dictate everything that will happen in the future, but it means a little bit more in this particular rivalry. This matchup just induces competitiveness, even if one team is considerably better than the other on paper. And as we have seen more often than not in 2021, this Navy squad is competitive. It’s also expected to be another very low-scoring affair (see below), which is more likely to yield a smaller margin of victory. With the number currently more than a touchdown, give me Navy and the points.
As for the total, I’m avoiding it like the plague. I have no interest in taking the over for any Army vs Navy contest, but I’m also not inclined to make an under play on any game that has a total of just 34 unless it’s played in weather similar to what we saw on Monday Night Football between the Patriots and Bills. The forecast isn’t great for Saturday in East Rutherford, but it’s also not terrible. If it improves a bit, a slight lean toward the over could be the way to go.
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