Army was planning its switch from the pro-style offense to an option attack before the season when offensive coordinator Tim Walsh predicted that senior fullback Collin Mooney would rush for 1,500 yards.
That's the same Collin Mooney who had carried the ball a total of six times for 22 yards in his career.
"Yeah, right," Mooney thought to himself. "You're just messing around."
Walsh's remark might have seemed ridiculously optimistic before the season, but Mooney has made his coach look like a prophet. Mooney has run for 1,285 yards and ranks 11th in the nation in rushing heading into Saturday's season finale with Navy at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field.
Mooney, a 5-foot-11, 247-pounder, needs to rush for 54 yards against Navy to break the school single-season record of 1,338, set by Mike Mayweather in 1990.
"Fifteen-hundred yards is kind of outlandish," Mooney said. "But as the season progressed, it kind of became a reality."
The Black Knights likely need a record-setting performance from Mooney to have any chance of ending their recent history of frustration in this rivalry. Navy has beaten Army six consecutive times, the longest winning streak by either team in the 108-game history of the series. Navy has won by an average margin of 28.2 points during the streak, with the closest game being a 26-14 decision two years ago.
Navy (7-4) is headed toward its sixth consecutive bowl appearance, while Army (3-8) hasn't won more than four games in a season since earning its last bowl bid in 1996.
Cracking the top 10?
Army fullback Collin Mooney enters the final game of the season ranked 11th in the nation in rushing yards per game. Here's a look at the stats of the guys he's chasing as he tries to break into the top 10. The average reflects the average yards per game by each player.
"It's hard to say why they've been a step ahead," Mooney said. "I can't really point out a specific thing. I think we're pretty equal, personnel-wise. They've just played better than us the last few years."
An upset of Navy would prove particularly sweet for Mooney, who has a unique appreciation for Army's history.
Mooney is the grandson of Charles Mooney, a retired U.S. Army colonel who will attend Saturday's Army-Navy game. While growing up in Katy, Texas, Mooney occasionally would hear his grandfather tell stories about his memories of Korea and Vietnam.
When a couple of his sister's classmates from Katy's Taylor High went to West Point, Mooney became even more interested in heading to Army. If the Black Knights hadn't recruited him to play football, Mooney likely still would have ended up at West Point.
"I was going to come either way," Mooney said. "When football came around, that made the choice easier."
Mooney spent most of his career as a special-teams performer and backup running back, but his role changed drastically this season. Army needed someone who could carry the ball 20 times a game. Mooney's exceptional effort in spring practice showed he was ready for the challenge.
He wasn't an immediate success. Mooney ran for just 229 yards on 65 carries with no touchdowns in Army's first four games. But he followed that by rushing for 187 yards and four touchdowns – the first four of his career – in a 44-13 rout of Tulane. He since has rushed for 229 yards against Eastern Michigan, 172 yards against Buffalo and 207 against Rice. Those last two performances came against bowl-bound teams.
Navy has beaten Army six consecutive times, which represents the longest winning streak by either team since the series began in 1890. Here's a rundown of the scores since Navy began its winning streak.
"When we decided that we were going to go with the option offense, we felt that he would be a big impact player," Army coach Stan Brock said. "Through the spring, he worked real hard at learning what we were doing. We knew that he was going to be our workhorse, and I think he has been spectacular."
A 100-yard performance in a victory over Navy would represent a fitting end to Mooney's remarkable season, but this won't necessarily represent his farewell to Army football.
Mooney said he hoped to return to West Point next year as an athletic intern in the strength program before eventually becoming a field artillery officer. Whether his team pulls the upset this weekend, Mooney sees better days ahead for Army football.
"I've seen a lot of change from the guys on the team, especially the younger guys coming around,'' Mooney said. "The overall attitude and work ethic has changed around here. It really makes you think things are turning around."
Army fans can only hope this prediction works out as well as Walsh's preseason forecast.