Last weekend was a fairly dull weekend of college football. There were very few Top 25 matchups, and the games themselves were rather blah all around with few exceptions (Georgia/Tennessee, West Virginia/Baylor). This weekend is an unbelievable weekend for college football. Sure, there’s no #1 vs. #2, but there are plenty of good nationally ranked teams playing one another such as:
- #23 Washington vs. #2 Oregon
- #8 West Virginia vs. #11 Texas
- #21 Nebraska vs. #12 Ohio State
- #4 LSU vs. #10 Florida
- #5 Georgia vs. #6 South Carolina (this week’s site of College Gameday on ESPN)
Of course I’ll be paying attention to all of these along with watching my South Carolina Gamecocks take on Georgia in Columbia, but there are three games every year, one of which is this weekend, which I readily enjoy watching:
- Army / Navy
- Air Force / Army
- Air Force / Navy (Saturday, 11:30 a.m. ET, CBS)
Everyone has their own guilty pleasure regarding football like watching 84-0 wins against FCS teams, Spurrier throwing a visor, seeing USC lose to a clearly inferior opponent to cost them a national title, or admitting to liking Big 10 Football. I always like watching the service academies play. People should watch these teams play; I don’t mean every weekend, but fans should recognize their existence. They deserve it.
Let’s start with commitment. I have to admit that I chuckle a little bit whenever I hear about some blue-chip recruit talk about the tough decision regarding where to play. The reason why I have to laugh is that their decision is in no way permanent. The worst thing that could happen is that they don’t like it and are forced to transfer (usually out of conference) and sit out for a year. At any of the academies, once they set foot on campus for their third year, they then have a full military commitment, and there is no going back.
When normal college kids are starting to learn how to live without their mommies doing their laundry, cooking for them, and making their bed, students at the Academies are lining up in formation at or before the crack of dawn, regardless of the weather or if they had a late night.
All of the football players are actual students. The Academies won’t take anyone who doesn’t have a brain in their head. If they are borderline academically, they might be sent to a military prep school. There is no basket-weaving major at any of the academies. Don’t believe me? Check it out yourself: West Point (Army), Annapolis (Navy), Colorado Springs (Air Force). I don’t see a single cupcake major there. There’s nowhere to hide someone who isn’t up to the academic standards for the regular students. It’s nice to see student-athletes on occasion who are actually student-athletes. You have to love seeing a postgame interview or halftime piece where the players say “Yes sir” and “No sir” without being prompted, and that all of them can string two sentences together without the ever-present “you know”.
Because of, but not limited to, the points above, the Academies’ have to recruit a different kind of player, but still compete with the big boys. Because of this, they have to do things a little differently on the football side of things. They all run variations of Wishbone/Triple Option offenses (which I have a certain affinity for) which differ from the norm of college football in this era. They have to be a little bit different, because they just don’t have the athletes to run a conventional offense. Even with their somewhat wacky unconventional offense, and every recruiting disadvantage imaginable, the Academies still manage to compete. Of course they lose lopsidedly occasionally, but they always play hard regardless of the opponent or the score.
While growing up in South Bend, Indiana, I got to see Notre Dame play in person usually about once a year (which, ironically led to me hating them). In 1998, I saw a 2-4 Army team come in to Notre Dame Stadium to play a 4-1 Notre Dame team that would end up finishing the season 9-3 (with a roster compiled almost completely of Lou Holtz recruits). Just by roster alone, Army had no business being on the same field with the Irish, but Army controlled the ball and the score for most of the game, but ended up losing 20-17 because Army’s offense just wasn’t built for two-minute drills. Air Force went to South Bend (always at South Bend) two years before and beat Notre Dame by that same 20-17 score. Navy lost there in 1997 because they came up one yard short on a completed Hail Mary. You have to admire teams that play hard for the entire game when the odds are stacked so far against them.
When these players graduate their respective academies, they aren’t finished. They are all then active duty military personnel. That means they might be going off to the Middle East or Afghanistan. That to me is the epitome of commitment. How many college football players do you think would go to their respective school knowing that after they are finished, there is a good chance they are going to be shot at? My guess is not very many.
Sure it might be a little bit slower than SEC football, or not as quirky as the Pac-12, or as nationally recognized as the Big Ten, but try to spend a little bit of the early afternoon and watch Navy play at Air Force at 11:30 a.m. ET on CBS. You’ll have plenty of time to catch the LSU/Florida game at 3:30 ET, or any of the other great games on this weekend.
Consider it your patriotic duty for the week.