Academy Preview: Climbing The Mental Mountain

The Navy Midshipmen have once again arrived at "Game 11," which is in many ways their last regular season game of the year. Army is technically a regular season game, but it might as well exist on a different continent. Friday's meeting with San Jose State must demand a tired team's total concentration and commitment.


THE MOUNTAIN IN THE MOUNTAIN WEST:

NAVY'S MENTAL CLIMB IN SAN JOSE


The San Jose State Spartans stand in Navy's way this Friday night. Opponents called fatigue and distraction will also loom in Silicon Valley, as the Midshipmen try to solve a West Coast nemesis.

Two years ago, in 2011, San Jose State knocked off Navy in central California to eliminate the Midshipmen from bowl eligibility. Last year, the Spartans marched into Annapolis and pitched a 12-0 shutout against the Men of Ken Niumatalolo. Yes, those San Jose State teams were coached by Mike MacIntyre and not current boss Ron Caragher. Yes, those San Jose State teams played in the Western Athletic Conference and not the Mountain West, making their week-to-week grind less daunting, thereby enabling the Spartans to have more fuel in the tank when taking on Navy. Yet, a tough adversary deserves full respect even in a season when it is not as likely to be at its best. The Midshipmen can't look at game film of San Jose State's 38-16 loss at Nevada this past Saturday and think that the Spartans won't raise their game for this Friday night fight on national television.

Moreover, it's not as though Navy enters this game under ideal conditions.

First, let's talk about the Spartans: They need to win one of their last two games in order to become eligible for a bowl. San Jose State must play Fresno State on Nov. 29, so this is SJSU's best chance to make the college football postseason. Navy has to know that its foe will be supremely motivated, making this game more of a challenge on one level.

Yet, San Jose State's mindset is something Navy can't control. The Midshipmen have their own problems to deal with as Friday night's kickoff looms. First of all, Navy faces a short week of preparation. That's not something this team normally has to handle. Thursday games are usually preceded by off weeks, but Friday games don't receive as much schedule protection. If Navy had been playing this game on Nov. 29 after a 12-day break, fatigue wouldn't be an issue. It is in this case. Navy didn't play in week one (Aug. 31) or week four (Sept. 21), but the Midshipmen haven't enjoyed an off week since. This game will test every Navy starter; flying across the country on a short week doesn't do this team any additional favors.

In addition to fatigue, one must consider the possibility that Navy – subconsciously, of course – will look ahead to Army. Starting in 2010, Navy's schedule provided a three-week break before the Army game, making the first 11 games of the regular season quite distinct from the main event in December. Putting the Army-Navy Game on an island essentially makes it a bowl game without the formal bowl label or the gifts from a bowl committee. "Game 11" becomes in many ways the final regular season game of the year. Two years ago, San Jose State was "Game 11," and Navy wasn't particularly crisp against the Spartans.

This year, Navy has to climb that one last mental mountain. A bowl bid has already been clinched, but Navy has a chance to win eight games in the regular season, nine overall. The memory of lost opportunities against Western Kentucky, Duke, and Toledo (though not necessarily Notre Dame) must motivate this team to insist on excellence one more time.

Then the fatigue that has accumulated over the past two months can dissolve into a few weeks of well-earned rest, followed by a week of vigorous preparations for the Black Knights.

Climbing one more mountain before playing on an "island" against Army. That's Navy's big challenge this week. Passing this test will significantly elevate this team's specific reputation.

For Air Force, the biggest task in week 13 will probably relate to the way in which the Falcons finish their game against UNLV… not the way in which they start it. Recall another Thursday night game as the Falcons prepare for Vegas under the lights in Colorado Springs. Last month, Air Force got out to a great start against San Diego State but fell apart in the fourth quarter, surrendering 21 points to squander a 20-6 advantage. UNLV is not a cold-weather team. Air Force will have a chance to dictate the style of play at the outset. The first half shouldn't be much of a problem for coach Troy Calhoun's team. The second half will pose the big questions to the Falcons. How they answer them will probably determine the outcome of their last home game in 2013.

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