Army Vs. Navy 2010: Option, Option, Who's Got The Option?

It's a banner year for the Army Black Knights and Navy Midshipmen, even taking into account the former's frustrating up-and-down season and the latter's dashed hopes for national ranking. (And Air Force took the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy, but this weekend that's all forgotten.) For the first time in well over a decade, both service academies are already bowl-eligible before entering the game, and both have already accepted invitations for far-flung postseason play. No matter what happens Saturday, in a couple weeks the Mids and Black Knights will be bound for California and Texas to face hometown opponents in the Poinsettia and Armed Forces Bowls. But right now, as every single publication covering this game will solemnly explain, Saturday is everything that matters. The importance of this game to both service academies can really never be overstated.

Hard not to love these stat sheets: Navy's rushing offense is the nation's 5th-best, its passing game 118th. Army's ground game is No. 9; its aerial attack No. 120. Dual-threat quarterback Ricky Dobbs made it through the season without being grievously injured, which is a big deal for a Navy quarterback, playing in 10 of 11 games, and the Mids haven't played a down of competition since November 20, so you know they're poppin' fresh. Navy's favorite target for the ball besides Dobbs himself is running back Alexander Teich, but if the battle goes ill, they can turn to his arm if they must: In two games this season (Louisiana Tech and Duke), Dobbs has rolled up 200 passing yards or more. Only in two other games this season did he crack the 100-yard mark. If Navy does take to the air, receiver Greg Jones will be the guy to watch.

For Army's part, the Knights hold an unassailable stranglehold on the All-Name quarterback position with TRENT STEELMAN (must always be written in all caps) behind center. The key matchup on this side of the ball will focus on he and fullback Jared Hassin against killer Mids linebacker Tyler Simmons.

The all-time record is close, with Navy leading 54-49-7, the last five wins of the Mids' eight-game victory streak serving to give them the overall edge. Picked by more than one pundit at the outset of the season to finish undefeated in 2010 (including yours truly, if I may presume to call myself a pundit when I get something terribly wrong), the Mids suffered three largely unnecessary losses, to Maryland, Air Force, and Duke. If you're a fan of agreeable symmetry, put money on them sustaining a fourth loss this weekend: After a two-game win streak against North Texas and Duke back in December, the Black Knights' record reads L W L W L W L.  And the Knights have a streak of their own they're desperate to snap:

The Midshipmen have won an unprecedented eight in a row in lopsided fashion, outscoring the Cadets 291-74 over that span. When the teams renew the rivalry that began in 1890, Navy’s senior class will be looking to become the first in history to complete a four-game sweep without allowing a touchdown.

On paper, at least, Army seems to stand a nice chance of a breakthrough. The Knights rank 12th nationally inturnover margin and lead Division I-A in sacks allowed with four (4!). Navy may boast a stellar offense, but as a service academy, they just don't get the punishing Hutt defenders other schools can pull in: The Mids rank 100th nationally in sacks and 115th in tackles for loss, a stat that may buy the Knights some crucial time. Army fares a little better in tackling stats, but safe to say your money's well spent taking the over this Saturday.

The 111th Army-Navy game kicks off at 2:30 p.m. this Saturday, at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field.

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