by John Furgele
Navy beat Army for the 14th straight time on Saturday in a game that was closer than they so-called experts thought. I use that term loosely, because if you follow college football closely, records tell only part of the story. Most looked at 9-2 Navy and 2-9 Army and assumed a blowout was forthcoming. CBS analyst Gary Danielson told Mike Francesa on Friday that if Navy could win 50-0, they would because in this, the ultimate rivalry game there would be no letup.
Army is now 2-10. They’re not a very good football team and they have a long way to go before becoming one. But, if you look at their record, they were more than competitive in eight of their 11 games; and after Saturday, nine of 12. They lost at the gun to Tulane and Wake Forest, they lost by two points to Fordham, six to Penn State, five to Connecticut, seven to Rice; you get the point. Good teams win the close games, bad teams don’t. Army needs to schedule carefully to be competitive, and they seem to managing this aspect of their program well. In 2016, they will play two FCS teams in Morgan State and Lafayette and also play games against Rice, UTEP, North Texas, Kent State and Buffalo, so there is an opportunity to improve and win more than two games in 2016.
They have the right coach in Jeff Monken. He gets academy football. He coached at Navy before moving on to Georgia Southern as head coach. He knows that the triple-option is the right offense when you have undersized offensive lineman. More importantly, he wants to be at West Point. He wants to be the guy who turns Army around into a contender like Navy has been in the last 14 years of this now lopsided rivalry.
Academy football is much different than it has been in the past. The pool of players continues to narrow and with so many FCS schools offering scholarships, it gets even tougher to recruit at Army. The Patriot League, of which Army went 1-1 this year, now offers football scholarships, something they didn’t do from 1986 to 2013. Today, a player who is considering Army might have to take a look at Colgate, Holy Cross, Lehigh or Fordham. The Northeast Conference now offers scholarships making it even tighter and tougher for Army to get players. Schools like Duquesne, Bryant and Sacred Heart offer excellent educations and a chance to study and play for free.
There is the military commitment as well. Keenan Reynolds is a splendid player, but unless there is some exemption or alternative available, he is off to active duty for the next five years. When you go to a MAC school, or an FCS school, you don’t have to worry about this. That said the kids who choose to play at Army, Navy or Air Force are a different breed of cat.
Navy went 10-2 and 7-1 in the American Conference. Air Force went 8-5 and lost in the Mountain West Conference championship game, so there can be success at the academy level. For some reason, Army has not enjoyed that success despite having good coaches. Rich Ellerson was more than solid and there is much to like about Monken, but for some reason, the level of success enjoyed in Colorado Springs and Annapolis has avoided West Point. It appears that West Point is committed to Monken, but eventually, he will have to beat Navy to keep his job.
As for Navy, things might be much different in Annapolis in 2016. Reynolds will be gone and head coach Ken Niumatalolo might be as well. A devout Mormon, he is being pursued by BYU and has agreed to meet with school officials. I don’t think he’d be visiting there without being their number one candidate, but we won’t know what will happen until he is offered the job. He could get cold feet. He has been at Navy for a long time and he loves it there. But, this could be the right time to leave. BYU, for him, is the dream job and he is losing Reynolds. The next quarterback can’t be as good and why not leave Annapolis on a high note if you can? If Niumatalolo says no, then there is reason to believe that he will stay at the Naval Academy for a long, long time.
The Army-Navy game is the best that college football has to offer. This is an overblown cliché, but it’s what’s right about sport on any level. The pageantry, and the fact that these kids are playing for both love of football and love of country make it a very special event. None of these players are dreaming of NFL careers and million dollar contracts. This is football at the backyard level, the high school level, the Ivy League and Division III level. The players will graduate and then serve their country and then go on to jobs across the world.
They moved this game so it can stand-alone on the second Saturday in December and of course, there were some at the CFP level that didn’t like it. What if Navy was 12-0 and we couldn’t announce selections until the second Sunday in December? They were worried that they would have to wait until the Army-Navy game is played before assigning teams to the four-team playoff and the bowl games.
So what? If Navy—or Army—were undefeated, then guess what? Wait. There are far greater tragedies to deal with than this. One would think that the Nick Sabans and Urban Meyers of the world would understand. The chance of this ever happening is remote, but there is always a chance. Forcing these two academies to push the game up to accommodate the bluebloods is wrong. And, it isn’t going to happen. They deserve the spotlight.
The American Conference is more than fine with Navy doing this. The Middies could foreseeably play the American Conference championship game on the first Saturday in December and then play Army the following week. It may not be the most logical, but it does make the most sense. The Army-Navy game is more important and it deserves to have its own stage regardless of records, quality of play and everything else.
If you watched yesterday’s game and didn’t like it, then you’re not a true fan of college football. You like college football for other reasons, some of which include gambling, having a favorite team or even fantasy, but fans who love college football have to love this game. It’s intense and it always means something—always. I’ve said this about the Ivy League in the past because like Army and Navy, football is part of the educational experience, not the entire experience. At places like LSU, Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma, there is separation that doesn’t exist at Army, Navy, Harvard and Yale where it’s part of being a well-rounded student and athlete. Playing football at these schools is like playing soccer and running cross country and track at others. You’re part of a culture, a club, if you will, but nobody outside the club really cares and that’s okay. The good thing is that there is Army-Navy and there is Harvard-Yale; special events that made America—America.
Let’s appreciate it.