Jeff Monken has bought the Army Black Knights back to college football relevance. This was true before the West Point Academy upset Navy last December, but that win, followed by a Heart of Dallas Bowl victory over North Texas, gave Army an 8-5 season and all the good feels that come with a season-defining win over the chief rival that had beaten you every year since 2001.
The opposite side of this coin is what happened with Navy in 2016. The Mids weren’t even supposed to be particularly good, especially after quarterback Tago Smith went down in the season opener, but backup Will Worth stepped in like he had been running the option his entire life. Navy rolled through its schedule before Worth went down in the AAC Championship game. Navy then lost its final three games of the season and went into the offseason with all the bad feels that come from losing to the chief rival that you had beaten every year for a decade and a half.
So. What happens next?
The hype around the Army-Navy game in 2017 should be something to see. Army finally got that victory that the team had come so close to a couple of times during the Mids massive winning streak when they took Navy down 21-17 in Baltimore. The series of events that led to the Black Knights win is not something we are likely to see replicated this fall, but can Army start their own streak against Navy, or will it be the Mids coming out on top?
It really is a pivotal game in the history of the series. A Navy win here means that the Mids can class 2016 as an aberration, nothing more than a string of bad luck at the quarterback position and weariness after a long, hard season. An Army win, however, means that the Black Knights have been the Mids equal for half of a recruiting cycle. The two academies are always battling for recruits, so the bragging rights of a two-game win streak and its ability to shift the balance of power in the series long term shouldn’t be underestimated.
It will be interesting to see how the two quarterbacks fare in this one too. This is a long term projection – especially given the injuries to the signal caller that a triple-option offense encourages – but Ahmad Bradshaw versus a much more mature and system knowledgeable Zach Abey does sound like it would be worth the ticket price alone. Both teams have holes coming into the season (Army is thin at MLB, while Navy has starters missing all over) but both Monken and Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo have shown the ability to pull big performances from unexpected sources.
The second Saturday in December cannot get here quickly enough.