Before I get to what I'm calling ‘Statement Saturday' for the service academies, let me first explain some more about why I think each team has not proved very much this season.
True, their combined record is good. But the teams who have made up these eight victories are far from impressive. At the top of the list is most likely BYU whom Air Force beat decisively 35-14 in the second week of the season. Unfortunately for the Falcons' strength of schedule, BYU has not won since and are currently 1-3. After BYU, the resumes of the three service academies goes south in a hurry. The remaining seven victories amongst them have come against Eastern Michigan (0-4), North Texas (1-3), Duke (1-3), Louisiana Tech (1-3), Georgia Southern (3-1), Northwestern State (1-3), and Wyoming (1-3).As irony would have it, Georgia Southern, a FCS team, could very well be the best of that bunch of non-signature victories. Even more unimpressive then these seven teams combined 8-20 record is who these teams have beaten. I won't name them all (not that the list is long), but let's just say Elon was beaten by two of them and one of them had to squeeze by Tarleton State.
But hey, these are still service academy teams we are talking about, so let's not go taking any victory too lightly. A win is still a win – just ask Georgia or Notre Dame – two teams that wouldn't mind having one or two more victories at this point in the season.
First, I'll look at Army's game against Temple. Both teams enter the contest with 3-1 records for the first time in eternity. I didn't actually look that up, but I'm betting it's a solid guess. Both teams are also coming off of solid performances: The Owls in a close loss at Penn State; and Army's walloping of Duke. The reason why this game is so important to Army is because if they stay healthy there is no reason to think that they can't beat at least three of their future opponents. VMI, Kent State, and Tulane still remain on the schedule and none of those teams are as good as Duke. That gives Army six wins right there and if you believe CBS Sports, a trip to the Armed Forces Bowl against North Carolina. If the Black Knights find a way to beat a very good Temple team this Saturday, a bowl game becomes all but a certainty. Of course Army head coach Rich Ellerson will have none of that talk in his locker room even if they manage to go 4-1, but you can bet the Black Knights will have something they have been lacking for the better part of the past 14 years – and that's confidence.
Speaking of confidence, I'm not so sure which team, Navy or Air Force has more of it going into their showdown in Colorado Springs this weekend. The Midshipmen have beaten the Falcons seven consecutive times, but according to at least one oddsmaker, they will open the week as nine point underdogs to a team that just squeaked by Wyoming. You will never get Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo or any college coach for that matter, to talk about a betting line, but I think it's fair to say that there may be a bulletin board or two in Annapolis with the opening point spread on it. On the other hand, I can't imagine Air Force being a significant favorite will sit very well with their coach, Troy Calhoun. In fact, if the line holds true for a few days, and he's asked about it, I would imagine Calhoun would say something to the effect of ‘Navy is the team with the winning streak in this rivalry, and that if his players go into this game thinking the Mids are underdogs, they need to fix themselves.' Indeed, the respect quotes will be flying in both directions and should make for an uneventful game of words between the rivals…unlike past seasons under the two previous coaches. What will happen on the field, though, is once again, anybody's guess.
In fact, I think it is easier what will happen after the game, for the remainder of the season, for each team. That's because a win this weekend will go a long way to build that team's confidence going into what will be a tough stretch of games. Air Force could easily combine a win this Saturday with two more in a row, putting them at 6-1, and possibly ranked, when they face TCU, and then Utah. A loss could just as likely put the Falcons back into an ‘8-4 year' is a success mentality.
Meanwhile a win for Navy keeps them on track for most of their goals and continues to put the ugly loss to Maryland in the rearview mirror. A loss to the Falcons, on the other hand, might mean the Mids could easily be 4-4 headed into a showdown with a dangerous East Carolina team.
It's very possible that after this week, Navy's role of supreme service academy power could be in serious jeopardy. With a loss to Air Force and an Army win over Temple, the Mids would be in an unfamiliar role – looking up at its two rivals, both with 4-1 records and quality wins on their resumes. Even more disturbing would be the fact that a game between those two schools could decide the fate of the coveted Commander in Chief's Trophy. On the other and much more desirable side of the spectrum, a win over Air Force combined with an Army loss to Temple would go a long way to restore what has become ‘the norm' around Annapolis. Navy would still be the team to beat amongst the service academies and once again assured of controlling its own destiny in the CIC race.
Of course a win this Saturday for any of the three teams only counts as one in the ‘w' column, but the momentum and confidence could definitely help chart their course for the rest of the season. Indeed, it's ‘Statement Saturday' for the service academies.