Academy Preview: Twists, Turns, and Turnovers

It will always be true that turnovers frequently determine the outcomes of football games and, by extension, the trajectory of teams' seasons. Army's journey through autumn is improving for this reason, while Navy's season is headed in the wrong direction. Can Army maintain its winning ways, and can Navy steady the ship when it moves the ball into an opponent's red zone?


TURNOVERS, TURNAROUNDS, AND TAKING TURNS:

NAVY AND ARMY TRADE PLACES… AND GO IN OPPOSITE DIRECTIONS


The past three weeks have substantially changed the outlook for both Navy and Army this season. Navy has lost two of its last three games and now faces a tough fight in the battle for a winning record and a bowl bid. Heading into the Western Kentucky game, it appeared possible that the Midshipmen could win at least nine games. Right now 7-5 seems both reasonable and, to be quite honest, desirable. Think that's setting the bar too low for the Midshipmen? Possibly. Yet, consider what lies in front of this team.

Down the line, Navy must play Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, and San Jose State. Navy has played all three schools in the past six years, occasionally swiping a win but usually falling short against that particular trio. This Saturday's game against Toledo won't be a walk in the park. You might not be impressed with Toledo's three losses, but when you look more closely at the Rockets' profile, it's better than most 3-3 teams. The Rockets have lost to Florida and Missouri – two SEC East title contenders – and one of the two best teams in the Mid-American Conference, the Ball State Cardinals. Toledo's strength of schedule rightly makes the Rockets a touchdown favorite over Ken Niumatalolo's crew this weekend in the state of Ohio.

Navy has to get back something it lost a week ago. To be more specific, Navy lost a game at Duke that it should have been able to win, but turnovers and other miscues in the red zone destroyed the Men of Ken. The Midshipmen must now find a way to flip the script and prevail in a game they're not expected to capture. (Yes, it's true that Duke was favored over Navy. Yet, the Blue Devils' defense had not stopped opposing offenses with much success in 2013. Navy's performance represented a true stink bomb, since the Midshipmen had Keenan Reynolds in the lineup this time, something they could not claim for the balance of the Western Kentucky loss.) If Navy can go to Toledo and engineer a reversal of last week's outcome in Durham, N.C., this season will feel as though it is back on track. If the turnover monster rears its ugly head again, the Midshipmen could very well enter November with a 3-4 record and might need to beat Army just to finish the season 6-6.

If you're a Navy fan, would you really and truly say that a 7-5 record would feel like an underachieving season at this point? The weight of argument would seem to run contrary to that inclination at the present time.

As for Army, everything that pertains to Navy's season has been flip-flopped in West Point, to the delight of the Black Knights and their fan base.

Three weeks ago (Saturday, Sept. 28, to be precise), Army sat at 1-3 and faced a tall mountain to climb. While Navy lost two of three beginning on Sept. 28, Army has won two of three to move to 3-4. Moreover, this Saturday's opponent, Temple, is saddled with an 0-6 record. Before the season, this trip to Philadelphia did not feel like an expected win, but it's quite reasonable to expect the Black Knights to beat the Owls at this point. Moreover, look at the other foes on Army's schedule: Western Kentucky looked terrible on Sun Belt Tuesday Night Football against Louisiana-Lafayette. Air Force is a mess. Hawaii sits at the bottom of the Mountain West. A bowl game is not just a slight possibility right now. It has become a slightly-better-than-even-money proposition.

Why has Army's season improved? For the same reason Navy's season has declined the past three weeks: turnovers. Navy has coughed them up. Army has avoided them. The Black Knights kept a clean sheet against Louisiana Tech and Eastern Michigan. If they can do the same against Temple, they should get to 4-4 and become favored to punch a postseason ticket. (The same cannot be said for Air Force, which is idle this week.)

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