Air Force, Army and Navy have each claimed the Commander-in-Chief trophy at least once in the past four seasons amid an especially competitive stretch of service academy football. Saturday, the pursuit of the trophy begins anew when Air Force opens its season by hosting Navy (1-1) in the latest chapter for a back-and-forth series, and Army joins those teams with games Saturday on CBS Sports Network.
The last time either Navy or Air Force held a two-game winning streak in their series was 2013 when Navy rattled off two straight victories. For the past six seasons, Air Force and Navy have traded victories with Navy winning last year's meeting 34-25. Both teams finished with double-digit win totals a year ago and are led by veteran coaches with firm grasp on the significance of this game. So who will take the first step toward the Commander-in-Chief Trophy?
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo issued an impassioned reminder of how important the trophy is to the service academies a few weeks ago when he expressed his frustration with the unbalanced schedules of Air Force, Army and Navy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, Air Force was only scheduled to play Army and Navy this fall, but with the Mountain West now expected to begin its season Oct. 24, Air Force will play a full schedule after all. But it begins with no margin for error as the Falcons launch their bid to claim the Commander-in-Chief trophy for the first time since 2016 in their season opener.
Navy: No team lived through a more wild on-field September than Navy. The Midshipmen began their season in disastrous fashion with a 55-3 loss to BYU after which Niumatalolo admitted his team hadn't tackled in preseason practices as a precaution amid the pandemic. Things looked just as bad for Navy in the first half of its second game at Tulane on Sept. 19, but after trailing 24-0 at halftime, the Midshipmen completed the largest comeback in school history to win 27-24. After star quarterback Malcom Perry graduated, this Navy offense is still finding its rhythm, but the comeback at Tulane proved there is no lack of fight among these Midshipmen.
Air Force: Air Force is coming off its third double-digit win total in Troy Calhoun's 14-year tenure as coach, and is tied with Notre Dame for the nation's longest winning streak at eight games. The Falcons' only losses in last season's 11-2 campaign came against Boise State and Navy, who finished with a combined record of 23-4. Seven of Air Force's eight straight victories to close the 2019 season came by double-digits, but it won't be easy for the Falcons to keep the winning streak alive as they replace a majority of their starters on both sides of the ball. With five senior starters along their offensive line, Air Force will hope to pick up where it left off when it ran for 371 yards in a 31-21 Cheez-It Bowl win over Washington State.
Army vs. Abilene Christian: 1:30 p.m. ET
Michie Stadium -- West Point, New York
Navy vs. Air Force: 6 p.m. ET
Falcon Stadium -- Colorado Springs, Colorado
Navy-Air Force prediction, pick
It's tempting to look at the fact that Air Force is playing its first game and to assume the Falcons will struggle. After all, Navy looked awful in its opener. But so long as the Falcons practiced tackling a bit over the last few weeks, they should be fine. The home team has won the last seven meetings in this series, and the bet here is that the trend will continue. Pick: Air Force +7
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