In a vacuum, it appears that Air Force is gearing up for the easiest game of their last seven matchups. An argument could be made that on paper, Army should at least be a better team than San Jose State, but Air Force beat them 41-24, while Army lost to the Spartans 34-29. The Black Knights have hit an unfortunate decline and are the physical embodiment of the phrase “ya hate to see it.”
Is Army That Bad?
It seems like Army isn’t in need of a simple course correction. Instead, it appears that they’ve come off the rails and have undone the success and building they worked so hard to achieve over the last few years. Jeff Monken propelled them into the national conversation and got fans and the team alike really excited, but a 3-5 record is a strong indication that old school, hard nose football is really, really hard to sustain in 2019’s football landscape, much less continually improve upon.
According to the broadcast team during Army’s season opener against Rice, the team met for 45 minutes to discuss goals for the season and their number one goal was finish the season 13-0. Looking back, this prospect was obviously outlandish, but back then, they were serious contenders who had garnered a lot of national attention. A relatively weak schedule in 2019 with two FCS teams made that goal seem more than feasible.
At this point, Army fans have to be left with a lot of questions. It appears that expectation management has led the team down a bad path of overlooking games by starting unproven backups and allowing their focus to blur on in-game goals on the tactical level.
The Army team that held the highest 3rd down conversion percentage in the FBS with .552 in 2018 now sits at 27th behind both Air Force and Navy at .450. Last season Army had the highest time of possession in the FBS with 38:50 average time per game, this season they’ve fallen down the list with 32:07 average minutes per game. These stats have a huge impact on the razor thin margins of what it takes to win with their game plan.
All things considered, an Excel model would say that Air Force will crush Army this weekend. The FPI gives Air Force an 87.8% chance of winning the game and the spread is currently -16 Air Force. However, I would still suggest that Air Force fans exercise cautious confidence.
Cautious Confidence for the Falcons
This game doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it won’t be run like a Madden simulation. The fact of the matter is that although the better team no longer has a shot at the CiC trophy, it’s still an inter-service academy game. These teams are incredibly comfortable with one another. In preparation, they each have a unique ability to run scout teams with players who were recruited to play a far more similar style of football to one another than any other teams in the country.
Maybe it’s the eternal pessimist in me offering this warning, but CiC games are just different. Army’s bowl hopes are still on the table, but dwindling away. Air Force has already secured a bowl berth. In the grand scheme of things, this is nothing more than a bragging rights game for Air Force while a win for Army keeps their CiC hopes alive and pushes them towards a bowl bid, and winning the CiC, even if Army were to do so without becoming bowl eligible, would still make the season a success in many peoples’ eyes.
I purposely decided to not go into the stats in this preview. Air Force bests Army in all of the important ones, even with Air Force playing a much more difficult schedule. None of that matters when the game kicks off.
I most certainly hope Air Force steamrolls Army. I think there’s a great chance of that happening. Air Force is hotter than ever, Army is on the decline, and several older current Falcon players remember the sting of being shut out the last time Army came to town. A win for Air Force doesn’t undo the losses to Boise State or Navy, but it does set them up for a good look to win out and prove that this team is arguably the best ever to not win the CiC trophy.