November 30, 2012
Army's rugged schedule & record don't fool Navy
The team records suggest Navy is either too good for Army or set up to overlook the Black Knights when the 113th Army-Navy game is played Dec. 8 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.1948: Army was 8-0 and Navy 0-8, but the Black Knights suffered their only blemish in an otherwise unbeaten season when the Midshipmen managed a 21-21 tie. In the days before NCAA overtime rules, Navy's tie was as good as win. President Harry Truman was among 102,000 fans in attendance at Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium.
Navy is 7-4, bound for a bowl game and owns a 10-year winning streak in the storied America's Game rivalry.
Army is 2-9, home for bowl season and in danger of extending what is already the longest losing streak for either side in series that began in 1890.
But if you believe any of the above makes a difference, you don't understand how intensely the Black Knights and Midshipmen approach their rivalry. Army senior linebacker and team co-captain Nate Combs does, and he knows the Black Knights can't count on the Midshipmen taking them lightly.
"We know they're going to come out and play hard just like we are," Combs said. "This is a rivalry game. This is more than a rivalry game. It's Army-Navy. This game will come down to details. You miss your gap once and they might score and that might turn out to be the difference in the game."
Combs was in Philadelphia Wednesday with head coach Rich Ellerson and fellow team captains Jarrett Mackey and Trent Steelman as well as Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo and two Midshipmen captains for the Army-Navy luncheon.
Niumatalolo says the intensity of the 2011 contest when neither team was bowl bound was equal to the 2010 showdown when both academies had already secured bowl bids.
"Last year's game was like any against Army," Niumataolo said. "I couldn't say last year was any different. This is my 15th game (as head coach and assistant). They are all tough games and battles to the end. I don't expect this year to be any different."
In a series that Navy now leads 56-49-7 thanks to its 10-game winning streak, history shows there aren't many examples of the team with a clearly inferior record surprising a cocky favorite with a shocker. In fact, there are only three such examples since World War II, and all three upsets belong to Navy.
1950: Army was 8-0 and Navy 2-6, but the Black Knights' perfect season was spoiled by the Mids'14-2 win.
1985: Army was 8-2 and Navy 3-7, but the Midshipmen pulled out a 17-7 victory.
For Army to pull off an upset, the Black Knights are banking on the belief they are a better team than their record indciates. That's a cliché in football, of course, but Army believes it's more than a cliché for their 2012 season because a tough schedule turned out to be tougher than even viewed in the preseason.
Four of Army's losses were to teams with a conference title. San Diego State (9-3) shared the Mountain West, Northern Illinois (11-1) won the Mid-American West, Kent State (11-1) won the Mid-American East and Rutgers (9-3) claimed a share of the Big East.
Kent State is ranked No. 17 in the BCS standings and Northern Illinois No. 21 before they meet Friday night in Detroit for the MAC title. Rutgers had been ranked throughout the season before losing its last two regular-season games to Pittsburgh and Louisville. San Diego State is unranked but has votes in the Associated Press poll that equals No. 32. Even though Army lost to Football Championship Subdivision member Stony Brook, the Long Island school is 10-2, nearly beat Syracuse and is playing in the FCS playoffs.
"I was there," said Army coach Rich Ellerson, playfully cringing as if he didn't need to be reminded of the losses. "I think it adds some confidence for us. We know we played some talented teams this year. We've been right there in games. To look at a 2-9 season, you have to look at the positives and we look at the strength of our schedule."
In all, five Army opponents won at least nine games. The combined record for Army's opponents is 78-53 for a .595 winning percentage. Navy's combined record for opponents is 67-62 (.519).
Army leads the nation in rushing, but the Black Knights' problem has been a young defense that hasn't been able to make full use of Ellerson's intricate double-eagle flex.
"We'd be very foolish to look at just their record," Niumatalolo said. "We know they played good teams tough and they could have won some of those games. We're fortunate we won some of our games. All of us at the service academies know how tough it is to win games."
With one of Army's wins over Air Force, that also gives the Black Knights confidence. Both teams defeated Air Force, which has the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy up for grabs in a winner-take-all Army-Navy game for the first time since 2005. Army defeated Air Force 42-21 at home and Navy won 28-21 in overtime at Colorado Springs.
"Beating Air Force brings a little bit extra to the equation," Ellerson said. "We had a tough year, but this gives us confidence we might not otherwise have. We can see we can beat guys that are most similar to us (service academy football).
"Most weeks we've battled our tails off, but the scoreboard has been upside down. It's frustrating. The scoreboard tells you how good you are and how you can feel good about yourself. This game is a big part of their lives and it's about to come to an end. The beautiful part is the whole country can celebrate the game with us."
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