Commander-in-Chief’s Two-Way Race
By Paul Myerberg // Aug 4, 2010
Why should the Cadets even show up? Navy’s a borderline Top 25 team, Air Force is again an eight-win club. The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy will go through this pair, with the winner of the Oct. 2 date in Colorado dictating whether Navy retains the top spot or Air Force breaks the Mids’ seven-year grasp on the trophy. History is certainly on the side of such a claim: Navy has won eight straight over Army, seven straight over Air Force; the Falcons have taken each of the last four and 12 of the past 13 against the Cadets.
That’s why they play the game, of course. However, on paper — and I hate to base a rivalry on such flimsy support — it doesn’t seem as if Army has what it takes to unseat either Navy or Air Force. Let’s take a trip back to, oh, June 10, when Army landed at No. 85 on the Countdown. Army, coming off a feel-good five-win finish, is hoping to take the next step and return to bowl play in 2010. Of equal importance — beating Navy.
On the first part, reaching six wins, Army’s chances are mediocre. On the second? Well, the Cadets will feature stronger quarterback play from sophomore Trent Steelman, who played relatively well “under the harshest of conditions: a plebe — first-year student at West Point — who started every game of the season.” The offensive line performed far better during the second half of 2009 than in the first, as the running game hopes to land a boost with the addition of fullback Jared Hassin, formerly of Air Force.
Army’s a nice story. We’re all rooting for Rich Ellerson, the Cadets and a program mired in the worst stretch in its proud history. Sooner or later, Ellerson will get things turned around: consistent bowl berths, competitive play against more talented opposition, the odd victory over Navy. I can’t see that beginning in 2010, though it is worth noting the improvement Army made in Ellerson’s debut season; if that continues, Army will be far better than I give it credit for.
As of now, given Navy’s dominance in the series, expected high level of play in 2010 and Army’s still-growing familiarity with Ellerson’s schemes on both sides of the ball, the Mids are an unquestioned favorite to extend their win streak another year. Now, what of Army’s chance against Air Force? They’re unquestionably better — but how much? Landing the Falcons at home helps; Army has won in Colorado Springs only once since 1978.
I’ve tried to make a point to illustrate the foolishness of using past success — or lack of success — as an indicator of future results. However, as with Navy, it’s hard to ignore Air Force’s recent string of success against the Cadets. As noted in the opening, four straight wins; 12 of 13; 20 of 22; and 30 of 44 altogether. Think about this: Army has struggled recently, yes, but the program was nothing if not consistently strong under Jim Young and Bob Sutton — the early Sutton years, at least.
Talk about reversing a culture of losing. Ellerson surely has his hands full, what with implementing the change in philosophies, attempting to locate players willing to attend West Point, trying to catch up with Navy and Air Force. The list goes on. For 2010, as has been the case for seven years, the battle for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy is a two-team race: Navy and Air Force. Obviously, given the rankings, I expect Navy to claim its eighth straight title in the triangular rivalry. Still, it wouldn’t be too shocking, especially given home field advantage, to see the Falcons score the upset. It would far more shocking to see Army claim its first C.I.C.’s Trophy since 1996.
Leave a Comment