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Asterisks and uncertainty aside, Navy should be favored against Air Force in the first C.I.C. meeting of 2020

Any notion suggesting the Navy Midshipmen are at a disadvantage heading into their game against Air Force is entirely false.

NCAA Football: Air Force at Navy Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

For many months, all we hoped for was any sort of college football. We begged and pleaded for there to be something, anything! Well, we have football, and it appears that it will continue through the fall.

However, some teams are having different types of seasons than others. For example, the SEC have yet to play any games, but that will change this weekend. And the Big Ten will begin play in mid-October.

Additionally, the Mountain West Conference — of which Air Force is a member of — has not yet announced plans to play football this fall (though that could change soon). Despite this decision made by the conference, the Falcons will still host the Navy Midshipmen on Oct. 3 and will travel to play Army on Nov. 7. These two games are the only contests on Air Force’s fall schedule.

The Capital Gazette’s Bill Wagner argued that the Commander-in-Chief competition between Army, Navy and Air Force will have an asterisk attached to it this year because of the vast differences between the schedules being played by Air Force and the two other Service Academies:

“No other sport — collegiate or professional — would proceed with a championship series that did not place all participants on a level playing field. In that regard, this year’s Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series has been compromised.”

Wagner is entirely correct in the sense that the series has been compromised. Many, including Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, questioned the fairness of Air Force getting to play their first game against the Midshipmen a month into the season. The Falcons have two games worth of film to use in their preparation and are fully rested and healthy. Conversely, Navy has no film of Air Force and are physically and emotionally beat-up from two extremely different games against BYU and Tulane.

Regardless, any notion suggesting the Navy Midshipmen are at a disadvantage heading into their game against Air Force is entirely false.

As I say — every single year — 90% of college football teams make their biggest improvements between Week 1 and Week 2. We saw this be especially true when we saw Navy go from losing at home against BYU, 55-3, to travelling to New Orleans and defeating Tulane, 27-24.

Week 1 games are often sloppy, full of penalties and just generally slow for the vast majority of teams. Pair that with the difficulties and limitations that come with trying to play a football game in The Age of COVID, things are going to get weird and uncertain.

Well, fortunately for the Midshipmen, they have worked through these pains and are onto their third game of the year. On the other hand, Air Force is still in the dark.

The Falcons have no rhythm, haven’t worked through the Week 1 growing pains and have no momentum whatsoever. They haven’t faced any adversity. They haven’t been crushed on their home turf and lost by over 50 points and they haven’t come back from being down 24-0 at halftime on someone else’s turf. Their quarterback — whoever that may be, but I’ll get to that in a second — hasn’t been intercepted or taken a hit by an opposing linebacker. No Falcon defender has been cut blocked at full speed and had to get back up and play the next play. Air Force hasn’t played a full, 60-minute game to its end. Navy has an overwhelming advantage flying into Colorado Springs next Friday.

This is all true with the assumption that Air Force is ready to field a full team of starters, with their best athletes healthy and ready to play. Yet, this assumption likely isn’t the case. Brent Briggeman of the The Colorado Springs Gazette reported this regarding the Air Force football team:

“Multiple sources have informed The Gazette that many sophomores, juniors and seniors on the football team — a number as high as 40 — have applied for administrative turnbacks. The turnbacks were created to give cadets facing personal hardships an opportunity to separate from the academy for a semester, putting them on a track to graduate in nine semesters instead of eight. In the case of football players, this would mean leaving for this semester, returning in the spring and gaining an extra season of eligibility.”

Additionally, its been reported that starting quarterback, Donald Hammond III, has lost good standing with the academy and, therefore, will not likely be under center next week. Hammond is a pretty darn good quarterback; he was named to the preseason watch list for the Davey O’Brien Award and accounted for 26 of Air Force’s touchdowns last season.

Because Falcons’ coach Troy Calhoun keeps things extremely quiet with regard to his players, their depth chart and pretty much every thing else about the program, there’s tons of uncertainty about the football team that will face Navy on Oct. 3.

And perhaps uncertainty is somewhat of a disadvantage. And maybe there’s a case to be made about Air Force being well-rested.

But ultimately, the Midshipmen should be the overwhelming favorite on Oct. 3 in Colorado Springs. They’ve played two games at full speed. They’ve been tested. Navy should have no reservations about Air Force having an unfair advantage.