Army, Air Force have much on the line

It has been a while since anybody has been able to utter this sentence:

Air Force and Army play with bowl and Commander-In-Chief Trophy hopes on the line.

But the status quo in college football has been turned on its ear this season, and the game between the two service academies in West Point on Saturday has major implications.

Both teams need one more win to become bowl eligible. If Air Force wins, the Falcons win the Commander-In-Chief Trophy for the first time since 2002, thanks to its win against Navy this season. If Army wins, the Black Knights go to their first bowl game since 1996 and would need to beat Navy on Dec. 11 to get the CIC Trophy for the first time since that season.

This actually has the potential to be a history-making year for the service academies. Navy is also one win away from bowl eligibility. Army, Navy and Air Force have never played in a bowl game in the same season.

Army only has four bowl appearances in its history: 1984, 1985, 1988 and 1996. Army and Navy made bowls in ’96. Army and Air Force made bowl games in 1984 and 1985. Only Army made it in 1988.

“Service academies, football–wise, don’t get much respect from America, and it’s nice to see every team is having pretty good success this year,” Air Force cornerback Reggie Rembert said. “Beating teams that aren’t going through what we’re going through, people have more respect for our football program.”

Air Force (5-4) has only won once since that 14-6 win against Navy on Oct. 2. The Falcons have hit a three-game slide, but two of those losses came to TCU and Utah. One weakness has been their inability to stop the run. Rembert says one of the big reasons is poor tackling.

Army (5-3) obviously runs a different offense, but does run with quarterback Trent Steelman and fullback Jared Hassin. So wrapping up on tackling is the No. 1 priority going into the game.

“If you can’t tackle people, you’re not going to win many games,” Rembert said. “The scoreboard shows it.”

Air Force also has struggled to force turnovers, and is at minus-1 in turnover margin. One of the big reasons why Army is having success this season is because it is getting turnovers, so that could be one of the keys to this game. Army is at plus-10, having given the ball up just eight times all year.

Army needs a win in its next three games against either Air Force, Kent State or Notre Dame to become bowl eligible. Its finale against Navy doesn’t count toward bowl eligibility because it is the week after the BCS standings and bowl pairings are announced.

“Everybody knows it’s a huge game and everybody knows what’s at stake and what’s on the line,” Steelman said. “We just try not to look at that type of stuff. It’s just another game, another win we have to stack up.”

Army has no automatic bowl tie-in this year, but is a backup for the Armed Forces and Military Bowls. Navy has a tie-in to the Poinsettia Bowl, and Air Force has tie-ins with the Mountain West. So for the Black Knights to make it, they would have to be an at-large selection.

First, they have to win a game. Air Force has won four straight in the series and six straight at West Point. Trash talking has also begun. Army cornerback Richard King told The Times Herald Record that Air Force had an “arrogance” about them. “Air Force is by far the team I probably most dislike," King said. “Out of all the teams I've ever played, they talked the most trash and I felt the most disrespected.”

No question emotions will be running high with so much at stake.