For the first time this season, all three Commander in Chief’s Trophy contenders will play home games on the same day: Army West Point hosting Tulane at Michie Stadium, Air Force battling Utah State in Colorado Springs, and Navy facing Southern Methodist in Annapolis, the newly minted hip-hop capital of Maryland.
Six things you should know about a home-cooked Saturday afternoon:
1. Navy and the CFP. After the Mids’ 45-20 upset win over Memphis last weekend, Navy found itself 20th in the College Football Playoff rankings, which will determine the four semifinalists that compete for the national championship and will set the field for four other bowl games on or near New Year’s Day.
It’s a system that involves multiple closed-door meetings, billions of dollars in television contracts and, usually, some angry people in Texas. But unlike schools that find themselves at the whim of the voters, Navy’s path through the process is fairly simple:
- The Mids (7-1, 5-0 American Athletic Conference) are the highest-ranked member of a conference in the so-called “Group of Five.” The team in that spot at the end of the season is guaranteed a position in either the Fiesta or Peach bowl if it doesn’t qualify for the national title bracket.
- The only other Group of Five teams among the top 25 all play in the AAC with Navy: Memphis (21st), Temple (22nd) and Houston (24th).
- Navy faces Houston on Nov. 27 and would face Temple in an AAC title game the following week if both teams continue their winning ways, putting the Mids firmly in the driver’s seat.
All that said, an upset loss to Southern Methodist (1-8, 0-5 AAC) on Saturday (3:30 p.m. Eastern, CBS Sports Network) would ruin pretty much everything. Navy enters the SMU showdown as a 21.5-point favorite.
2. New Year’s notes. Navy last appeared in a New Year’s Eve bowl in 2009, downing Missouri 35-13 in the Texas Bowl. The New Year’s Day drought dates back a bit longer: In 1964, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Roger Staubach led the No. 2-ranked Mids into the Cotton Bowl, where they fell 28-6 to top-ranked Texas.
3. Flying high at home. Air Force (6-3, 4-1 Mountain West Conference) could cap off its second-straight undefeated home season with a win over Utah State on Saturday (2 p.m., ESPN3). It would be the third unbeaten year at Colorado Springs under head coach Jim Calhoun and the fifth in school history.
Like the Midshipmen, the Falcons remain in control of their own destiny when it comes to a conference title. If Air Force can survive the Aggies (5-4, 4-2 MWC), next Friday’s matchup at Boise State likely will decide which MWC Mountain Division school advances to the Dec. 5 championship game.
4. Big chance for Black Knights. Army West Point may be struggling, but at least according to oddsmakers, the Black Knights are faring better than the Tulane Green Wave, which will visit Michie Stadium on Saturday (noon Eastern, CBS Sports Network).
Both teams are 2-7, but Tulane is riding a five-game losing steak and could muster only a field goal last week in a 7-3 loss to Connecticut. Army West Point managed 17 points against the Huskies when the teams met in September (Connecticut still won, 22-17) and stayed within striking distance of Air Force for most of last week’s contest before 10 fourth-quarter points by the Falcons punctuated a 20-3 win.
Army will be a 2.5-point favorite in a game where points may be hard to come by: The Black Knights rank 105th in the nation in scoring offense (21.8 points per game), 18 spots better than Tulane (16.3 ppg).
5. Veterans Day media roundup. ESPN talked to Navy grad and New England Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona, the only active-duty service member in the NFL. The network also visited Colorado Springs for a handful of SportsCenter segments, including this one featuring anchor Hannah Storm and Air Force quarterback Karson Roberts. Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva — West Point grad, Army Ranger and current Army Reserve member — got the Veterans Day treatment from both ESPN and CBS Sports.
6. Odds and ends. SMU enters its showdown with run-happy Navy having given up nearly 260 yards per game on the ground, good for 121st in the country. … Air Force is 0-2 versus Utah State the last two years, but beat the Aggies 38-13 in Colorado Springs in their only previous meeting — in 1969. … Navy may be ranked above Houston in the CFP poll, but bowl projections by ESPN and CBS have the Cougars winning the conference and Navy playing in the Military Bowl in Annapolis on Dec. 28. … UCLA will honor Navy SEALs by wearing a special “frogman” helmet Saturday against Washington State.