Is eight enough for Army?

The Army Black Knights (6-5) face Navy (8-3) for the 111th time in college football's greatest rivalry. For the first time since 1996 both teams face each other with winning records and are bowl eligible. Navy has won a record eight consecutive games in the series.

Between 1988 through 2001 Army and Navy were a compelling television matchup with ten of the fourteen games being decided by less than a touchdown and many going down to the wire. Army won nine of those games including the classic 1996 game, 28-24.

Things changed when Paul Johnson, who had been Navy's offensive coordinator in 1995 and 1996, accepted the head coaching in 2002. Johnson revival of the Navy football program really began with the "Meadowlands Massacre" when Craig Candeto scored a series record six touchdowns in leading Navy to a 58-12 blowout win.

Navy has dominated Army over the last eight games outscoring them 291-74. Navy has continued its supremacy over Army since Ken Niumatalolo took over the program. Army didn't scored a touchdown in the two games versus Niumatalolo's teams and hasn't scored a touchdown since 2006 against the Midshipmen.

Under Rich Ellerson Army has begun to turn the program around. This year Army enters the contest with its best team in over a decade. The Black Knights have nearly doubled their offensive output from last season averaging over 28 points per game.

These teams faced three common opponents this year with varied results. The Army flex defense befuddled Duke quarterback Sean Renfree on the road forcing three interception to jump to a 35-7 lead in cruising to a 35-21victory. Navy was stunned by Duke at home when they took a 24-0 halftime lead in route to a 34-31 Blue Devils upset win. Against Notre Dame it was a different story as Navy dominated the Fighting Irish with 438 yards of offense in a 35-17 win where the Midshipmen actually eased up on the Irish in the fourth quarter. Army, on the other hand, was over matched by Notre Dame at the line of scrimmage as the Irish rolled to a 27-3 win with them easing up late in the game. Both teams lost to Air Force with Navy losing a defensive battle 14-6 in Colorado Springs. Air Force used two long passes to pull away from Army, 42-22.

This time of year Army fans ask the perennial question, "Has Army closed the gap?" Some Army fans are in denial that this talent gap even exists stating that all the service academies draw from the same talent pool. Well denial is not just a river in Egypt. The talent disparity on the field was real in terms of team speed and athleticism. Using explosive offensive stars like Reggie Campbell and Shun White, Navy has burned Army repeatedly over the past decade. To make matters worse, Army was often seemed unprepared to match coaching wits with Navy under a clueless Todd Berry, an over the hill Bobby Ross and a over matched Stan Brock. However, they weren't alone as Navy has posted an 70-23 record since the infamous Meadowland Massacre and will appear in their eighth consecutive bowl game this year.

Army fans bemoan the eight game losing streak to the Mids. It was understandable in that from 2002-2008 Black Knights fielded some of their worst teams in their storied history and posted a combined 16-67 record. Navy's dominance over fellow service academy rival Air Force ended this year. After losing seven games in a row to Navy the Falcons beat the Mids finally ending their streak. Can Army, fielding their best team in 14 years, break the eight game skid?

As seen in last year's 17-3 loss, the Black Knights are a lot better prepared and coached team under Rich Ellerson. Army received good news that their two best "C " backs and outside threats Malcolm Brown and Brian Cobbs will be ready to play. The time off should help defensive players who have been playing hurt like Josh McNary and Mike Gann.

Navy's offense has been firing on all cylinders the last five games averaging 43 points a game. The Mids run defense is usually solid against teams that don't spread them out. Navy's young linebackers have been guilty of over pursuit and have been vulnerable to cutback runs. The Midshipmen's bend but don't break style defense has struggled in pass coverage the last month. It will be interesting to see if Army quarterback Trent Steelman can exploit this weakness.

Navy is still the more talented team but Army is better prepared to meet the challenge this year than any previous year during the eight game losing streak.

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