A month ago it looked like Air Force was the clear favorite to win the C-I-C Trophy this season. The Falcons were 4-0 and had beaten Navy to put on hand on the hardware. Since then though the bottom has fallen out a little for the Falcons and they now come into this game against Army with each team at 5-3, but with different levels of momentum.
Season so far
Air Force began 2016 like a house on fire. The Falcons first got an expected win over Abilene Christian (FCS), before beating Georgia State at home and then Utah State on the road in a venue that is more difficult to play in than most know. That win was then followed up with the signature win over Navy by a 28-14 scoreline that was probably closer than the Mids deserved.
Four games into the season and Air Force was on the cusp of Top 25 recognition and had that all important C-I-C Trophy win in its back pocket. It has after all been years since Air Force or Navy failed to win the trophy. The Falcons though have been bad since that game. The first blow was a 35-26 loss at Wyoming. The Cowboys (6-2) have been better than expected this year and playing in Casper at 7,215 feet is always going to cause a problem (just ask Boise State).
Air Force though just doesn't seem to have recovered from this loss. Home games against New Mexico and Hawai'i were supposed to steady the ship, but the Falcons lost both to drop to 1-3 in the Mountain West. The lost to the Rainbow Warriors in two overtimes was particularly disappointing given that Hawai'i has traveled so far this year that their players are drained more than usual. A win against a bad Fresno State team (31-21) does at least have the Falcons coming into this one on a positive note.
Injuries and Suspensions
There are two players listed on the injury report for the game against Army. The first is defensive back Jesse Washington who list listed as a question mark with a neck injury. While Washington is a nice player, it is clearly the other injury that is more significant for both teams.
Starting quarterback Nate Romine left the Falcons win over Fresno State in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle and did not return to the game. Romine has been very limited in practices fo far this week and has been replaced under center by sophomore Arion Worthman for many of the drills. Worthman had a solid game against the Bulldogs where he rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns, but the Falcons would clearly like to see their starter good to go against the Black Knights impressive run defense.
The biggest challenge for Army on Saturday may well be believing they can win the game. Army last beat the Falcons in 2012 and before that there had been just one Army victory in the series (2005) since 1996. Air Force already has that win over Navy and with the Mountain West summit out of reach, then the team is likely to be even more keyed in on this game than normal. Service academy games are always a little extra tough. The hitting is always harder, the plays more intense, and the fans more into the contest than on a regular Saturday. Army is fully capable of beating Air Force this weekend, but the team has to believe they can do so in order for it to happen.