The College Football Regular Season comes to an end this Saturday with the final game, the 116th meeting between Army and Navy in Philadelphia. I heard someone this week call it the greatest rivalry in all of sports. First, I’m not sure how you would even quantify what the greatest rivalry is, and if the definition of a rivalry is that both teams have an equal opportunity of winning, then this isn’t a rivalry and hasn’t been for a while.
Navy has won 13th consecutive times against Army. That means that the last 12 Senior classes at Army have gone through four years without beating Navy. It doesn’t figure to be any different this weekend. Navy, which leads the series 59-49-7 has figured out how to recruit players to the academy, put them in a system that works, coach the hell out of them and win lots of games. The Midshipmen are 9-and-2 and with a win this weekend, Navy would tie the school record for wins in a season with 10, and have a chance to break the record in the Military Bowl in two weeks against Pittsburgh. Army is a dumpster fire at 2-9 and has been one for a while now. Coaches have come and gone trying to right the program with little success. Their only wins this season are over one of the worst teams in the nation, Eastern Michigan and FCS Bucknell. Among their 9 losses are FCS Fordham, Duke, Wake Forest, Rice and Tulane. Of that group, only Duke has a winning record.
But, the game in some ways is really minor compared to what these players will do with the rest of their lives. Both Academies have mandatory military commissions after graduation. The Navy guys have the option of being commissioned as Naval officers or officers in the United States Marine Corps. The Army guys are obviously commissioned as Army officers and many, if not most, will be commissioned as Field Artillery or Infantry. That means these players will be the ones fighting for this country and to protect all of our freedoms in what is rapidly becoming a very unsafe world.
Both schools have nationwide radio networks. Navy has network stations in the Annapolis area like Baltimore and Washington, but also has affiliates in Jacksonville, San Diego, Va. Beach and Seattle. Army’s radio network includes stations in its home territory of New York, but also expands to Kansas, Boise, Idaho, Alabama, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Colorado.
There are impressive people all over the field whom you would be proud to know, but no doubt one of the most impressive is Navy Quarterback Keenan Reynolds. With a win this weekend, Reynolds could become the first quarterback in the Army-Navy series to go 4-0 as a starter. He has scored 83 touchdowns (all of which are rushing touchdowns) out of Navy’s flex-bone triple option offense – which is an absolute thing of beauty to watch – the most in NCAA FBS History. He’s also rushed for a school record 4,279 yards in his career and needs just 36 yards passing this weekend to become the first quarterback in Navy history to run and throw for 1,000 yards in a season. It’s not just the demands of football he handles, just check out what his class schedule and typical day is like courtesy of the Navy Sports Information Office. Reynolds takes classes in Financial Analysis, National Security Decision Making in the Cyber Age, Politics of Irregular Warfare, Political Philosophy and Sports Economics. He also has to meet a physical fitness requirement and he does that by taking Tennis. Hey give the guy a break with all the other classes he has to take. His typical day leaves little if any free time. At 6:00 a.m, his day begins with treatment, Breakfast at 7:00 a.m., Classes from 7:55 a.m. to Noon. Lunch at Noon, Football meetings at 12:30, Media obligations at 1:15, at 3 it’s either in the Training Room, Watching tape or doing his homework, from 4 – 6 is practice, weight lifting at 6, Dinner at 7 and then studying for four hours until it’s lights out at Midnight. You think for 10 minutes you could handle that schedule? In May he’ll graduate, and be commissioned into Navy and he might get a shot in the NFL, but more importantly he, his teammates and the Army guys will all assume important positions in this country and make it possible for the rest of us to enjoy the games. So, enjoy this game, but realize that what’s happening on the field is a small part of its importance.
Meanwhile, the only other games this weekend are in the lower divisions as the playoffs continue in FCS, Division II and Division III. It’s down to the Quarterfinals in FCS where of the remaining 8 teams, three are from the Missouri Valley Conference (North Dakota State, Illinois State and Northern Iowa). The FCS seeds teams 1 – 8, and then brackets the rest somewhat geographically. Seeds 1, 2, 3, 7, and 8 remain in the playoff field. There is just one game featuring two unseeded teams against each other and for that one we go to Huntsville, Texas where the 10-3 Sam Houston State Bearkats host the 9-4 Colgate Raiders from Hamilton, New York. This will be the first time these two schools have ever met. Colgate won the Patriot League title this season and last week upset 5th seeded James Madison 44-38. Sam Houston State knocked off previously undefeated McNeese State to earn a spot in this game. Both of these teams got off to slow starts, Colgate started 0-3 before winning 9 of 10 games and 7 in a row. Sam Houston started 0-2 and has won 10 of their last 11. Sam Houston features the number 1 offense in the country at 543.3 yards per game and their coach K.C. Keeler has a history with Colgate. Keeler won an FCS (then I-AA) championship in 2003 while coaching Delaware. The team he beat in the final was Colgate. Keeler has been nothing but successful in his coaching career. At Division III Rowan University he appeared in five National Championship Games, but couldn’t ever find a way to win. In addition to his one FCS title, his Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens finished runner-up in 2007 and 2010.
Division II is down to the semi-finals. In one game Grand Valley State visits Shepherd and for the other game, we go to Maryville, Missouri where the unbeaten and number one ranked Missouri State Bearcats (13-0) host the 12-1 West Georgia Wolves. Northwest Missouri State is located 100 miles north of Kansas City and they are a Division II powerhouse. They’ve won 4 National Championships in 1998, 1999, 2009 and 2013, and finished runner-up 4 other times from 2005 – 2008. Over the last 5 seasons, Northwest Missouri is 59-8. They are 8-1 all time in semi-final games and have never lost a semi-final game at home.
The Division III semi-finals have an interesting twist. In 9 of the last 10 years, Mt. Union has met Wisconsin-Whitewater in the National Championship Game in Salem, Virginia. This year they meet in the semi-finals at Mount Union’s stadium in Alliance, Ohio. The one year in the last decade they didn’t play in the championship game was the year Mount Union defeated St. Thomas. Appropriately enough the other semi-final takes us to St. Paul, Minnesota where the Tommies of St. Thomas University host the Linfield Wildcats from Oregon. Linfield is 12-0 and St. Thomas is 13-0. In fact the final 4 teams in Division III have a combined record of 50-1. Both of these teams are offensive machines so I hope the bulbs are working in the scoreboard. Linfield averages 50.4 points per game. St. Thomas averages 53.6 points per game. St. Thomas has scored over 50 points in 8 of their 13 games, and have hung 78 on an opponent in one game and 80 in another. While Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mt. Union has been a great rivalry, I’m glad my buddies in Salem will see at least one different team this year. Salem does a first class job with the Stagg Bowl. Actually they do a first class job with everything as there is no half-assing of anything in Salem.
NAIA has the weekend off before next week’s National Championship game in Daytona Beach.
In recent years, I’ve stood out in the cold watching high school state championship games back in Virginia on this weekend. This year I decided I needed to dedicate my time and efforts to other things. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s supposed to be in the 70s. Enjoy the weather and the weekend. The Bowl season begins next Saturday with 5 games. Until next week…