Academy Review: Week Four

This might seem like an overly dramatic pronouncement for late September, but Army and Air Force have both reached the point of no return in their respective seasons.


NO MARGIN FOR ERROR IN WEST POINT AND COLORADO SPRINGS

The notion of a "must-win game" does vary from program to program, and in the realm of service academy football, the only two "must-win games" are the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy games. That's true enough. However, one of the basic aspirations for any Football Bowl Subdivision program is to reach six wins, the threshold for bowl eligibility. In relationship to that metric, Army and Air Force have – in a real sense – run out of second chances before the start of the month of October. Neither the Black Knights nor the Falcons can stub their toes against the beatable teams that remain on the slate. They're not expected to win eight or nine games this season, but if they want to get to six, they can't lose another game that's a 50-50 shot or better. Army's home-field loss to Wake Forest and Air Force's home-field setback against Wyoming have left these two programs with no cushion going forward.

Why were last weekend's losses so damaging? A quick reassessment of schedules after week four should put Army's and Air Force's situations in their properly urgent contexts. Army, at 1-3, will have a hard time beating Boston College and Air Force away from home. The Black Knights beat those two teams last season, but those wins came in West Point. Western Kentucky will be a toss-up, and Navy… well… that's been a hard team for the Black Knights to solve, in case you haven't noticed. The particularly gettable games for Army are Louisiana Tech, Eastern Michigan, Temple, and Hawaii. Army has to go 4-0 in those games and swipe one of the others to reach the six-win mark. Wake Forest, of course, was another "gettable" game, and you can see why the failure to dump the Demon Deacons has made the remainder of the season so daunting for coach Rich Ellerson's club.

For Air Force, the outlook is uncomfortably similar. At 1-3, the Falcons can reasonably expect to beat Army, New Mexico, UNLV, and Colorado State, although CSU – which played Alabama well this past weekend – could be a tougher out than first thought. Air Force has to win each of those four games just to have a chance at a bowl bid, because Troy Calhoun's crew is unlikely to beat Notre Dame or Navy. San Diego State's encouraging performance against Oregon State makes the Aztecs appear more formidable, so that game feels like a toss-up at this point. This weekend's game in Reno against Nevada is a hard one to call, not necessarily because of any virtue the Wolf Pack might possess, but because Air Force's defense is not going to fix itself overnight. Air Force has to play its best offensive game to handle Nevada. If the Falcons fall to 1-4, they're almost certain to enter the month of November needing four wins in four games to reach the postseason. That's a precarious place to be.

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