Last December’s jaw-dropper of an Army-Navy Game is affecting how college football odds-makers are looking at the 2018 match-up.
Too many historians and not enough thinkers behind the scenes. It’s fine for a sportsbook to be full of trends and analytics, but mythology can kill a house’s advantage.
Yes, blood rivals that play identical styles usually have close games. But Army and Navy did something new in Philly last season. They played different styles of pigskin. Following awesome pre-game introductions in a blanket of heavy snow, Navy transitioned into what was essentially a Single-Wing offense with speedster Malcolm Perry running the rock. Army stayed glued to its roots under Jeff Monken, the Flexbone purist who once beat Florida with an FCS-labeled Georgia Southern squad.
I will never, ever understand how John Voit, a defensive end, caught up to Malcolm Perry on a game-saving play in the 2nd half. But his courageous shoe-string tackle set up Army’s “Death March” to the goal line and subsequent 14-13 win after a barely-missed FG try broke the other academy’s heart.
It’s hard to forget last year’s game. But in some respects, the betting public might be remembering it too well. Otherwise, there would already be a rush on Army’s side of the spread.
Who: Army Black Knights vs Navy Midshipmen
When: Saturday, December 8th, 3 PM EST
Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA
Lines: Army (-7) vs Navy (+7) / O/U Total: (40)
Those odds seem to disregard the way each program has been trending. The Middies have lost 8 of their last 9 games and are 2-9 against the FBS, falling to Hawaii 59-41, Air Force 35-7, and Cincinnati 42-0.
Meanwhile, the 9-2 Black Knights crowned 2 common opponents (UH and AFA), took Oklahoma to OT (!) and beat Buffalo and Colgate, each surprisingly-dominant teams on their respective levels in ’18, by a combined 6 touchdowns.
Navy couldn’t even handle Southern Methodist, losers to last-place AAC patsy Tulsa and a winless squad when the Mids played them. The high point of Navy’s season was a blunder-bowl September win over Memphis. The high point of Army’s was OT against a College Football Playoff team.
If Army had faced Navy at a time closer to mid-season, perhaps a sportsbook would have felt obliged to post a wider point spread. Army’s first triumph was shutting-off the Cole McDonald-led Hawaii Rainbow Warrior offense for most of 4 quarters in a 28-21 win.
Then the Black Knights held Oklahoma to 355 total yards and 0 points – 0 points! – in the 2nd half. Army’s Mike Reynolds intercepted Kyler Murray in the 3rd quarter, and the Sooners turned the ball over on downs twice after that, once on the goal line. That, boys and girls, is called Power-5 level defense.
Handicappers may be spooked that Army was forced to out-score opponents like Colgate and Miami of Ohio later in autumn, but it’s not a bad thing that the Black Knight offense was challenged late in games and came through shiny (especially against Colgate, but that’s natural).
QB is the position that makes Monken’s offense tick, and Kelvin Hopkins Jr. is a good’un. The junior has a strong, accurate arm and has scored 10 touchdowns in the run game, and bruising senior ball-carrier Darnell Woolfolk has added 14 for a backfield that averages almost 5 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, it’s sad to see such an amazing program as Navy take a tumble. Skipper Ken Niumatalolo built his ’18 offense almost completely around the running game, which was a gigantic mistake even for a run-heavy team. Consider the dynamics. Navy has always been able to pop a long pass over the top for a TD when a defense starts cheating to stop the triple-option play. If it was illegal for Navy to pass the ball, the offense wouldn’t look the same even as it does now in games where it never passes.
Perry was exposed as too small and too rudimentary in the pocket, and alternate QB Zach Abey hasn’t exactly prospered either. Abey was alright through the air in a loss to Tulane in late November, but couldn’t make the running game work. Senior Anthony Gargiulo was the Mids’ leading rusher against the Green Wave with 44 yards.
The Navy defense has struggled to make any noise at all. The Middies were out-gained almost 3-fold by Air Force this season. Who says military rivals always have close games?
I don’t think it will happen this Saturday afternoon. Army is my point spread lock of the month.
Army-Navy games are always emotional but end in lopsided results more often than you might think. At a point during Navy’s recent 14-game winning streak, the Midshipmen held Army without a touchdown in consecutive seasons while scoring dozens of their own.
No idea why the Army-Navy point spread isn’t at least (-9) or (-10) for West Point, but best we take advantage before if and when the line moves from (-7).
Pick Army to cover on Saturday.