With the Saturday spotlight all to themselves, the 113th edition of the historic matchup between the Army Black Knights and the Midshipmen of Navy is once again set to be played in Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field.
All of the pomp and circumstance that goes along with this monumental event is why it deserves its own day this year, even if the Black Knights will still finish with a losing record and Navy has already made postseason plans that do not hinge on the outcome of this meeting.
Nevertheless, there is still something to be decided this year with the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy still up for grabs. Awarded annually to the winner of the football competition among the three major Service Academies (Army, Navy and Air Force), the trophy needs to find a new home this season after having been claimed by the Falcons the last two years.
Air Force has already lost to both of these squads, so this will be the game to decide it all which means either the Midshipmen will be taking it back down to Annapolis for the 13th time since the award began in 1972, or Army will celebrate for just the seventh time and the first since 1996.
Heading into this weekend, Navy, which has already accepted an invitation to play against Arizona State in the 2012 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco later this month, won six of the last seven games on the schedule, including a 21-10 victory over Texas State in the most recent outing on Nov. 17.
Meanwhile, Army's road through the 2012 campaign has been anything but smooth, the program winning a total of just two games against Boston College and Air Force. The Knights suffered one of their toughest losses in the most recent outing, a lopsided 63-32 setback versus the Temple Owls at home on Nov. 17, marking the unit's second straight setback and the fifth in the last six contests.
"I don't think it's the way you want to finish any game," Army quarterback Trent Steelman said of the loss to Temple. "At the same time, we have one more. We can still go out on the right note and finish the season the right way."
The relationship on the football field between the two Academies dates back to 1890 when the Midshipmen posted a 24-0 victory over Army in the very first meeting. Navy owns a 56-49-7 advantage in the all-time series thanks to a current 10-game run over the Black Knights.
Last year the event was held at FedExField in Landover, Maryland for the first time as Navy scored in every quarter, but needed a pair of field goals by Jon Teague in the fourth to break a 21-21 tie and provide the Midshipmen with the six-point cushion they needed in the 27-21 final.
Both teams ran for just under 300 yards in the 2011 contest and combined for a mere 90 yards passing on just five completed attempts. This year figures to have similar numbers on both sides as Army ranks first in the nation in rushing (369.8 ypg) and Navy is sixth (285.5 ypg) on the ground, with the squads ranked 120th and 117th, respectively, in passing.
Even though the Navy passing game is far from attack mode on a regular basis, quarterback Keenan Reynolds has still managed to keep most opponents on their toes when he lines up under center. Responsible for nine rushing touchdowns in the last seven games, Reynolds also tossed TDs in four straight outings, a total of eight during the stretch which means he is more than capable of finding holes in the Army defense.
Senior Brandon Turner gives Reynolds his top option down the field, with the receiver having turned his 19 catches into 248 yards and three touchdowns. Coming out of the backfield, Gee Gee Greene transformed his 14 receptions into a team-high 280 yards and another couple of scores as well and that's sure to be a comfort to Reynolds who still gets a bit anxious before he takes the field each week.
"I'm pretty sure I'll be nervous before the game starts, but you know, once the first play goes its just football again," said Reynolds.
Also taking some of the pressure off Reynolds will be Noah Copeland who has carried the ball more than anyone else on the team, his 130 attempts leading to 592 yards and four TDs.
On the defensive side, Keegan Wetzel has garnered plenty of attention from the opposition due to his 13.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, both of which pace the program. Matt Warrick, second on the unit in total stops with 73, also registered three interceptions on the season, but with both of these teams operating almost exclusively on the ground, that sort of effort might not come into play this weekend.
In fact, Steelman has attempted a total of only 85 passes through 11 games, completing 45.9 percent of those for 619 yards and one score. Steelman has two interceptions in 2012, but odds are he'll try and feed his running backs and take the ball down the field with his legs before he resorts to putting it in the air.
The signal-caller ranks first on the team in rushing with 1,152 yards and has scored 16 touchdowns, giving him a total of 44 for his career which sets the new school record that was once held by 1946 Heisman Trophy winner Glenn Davis. The highest-scoring Army quarterback in history, Steelman is also first in the record books among signal-callers with regard to career rushing yards (3,224) and rushing attempts (735).
If and when Steelman gets tired of calling his own number, Raymond Maples is capable of carrying the load after producing 1,059 yards and averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Larry Dixon, gaining better than six yards per attempt himself, has landed in the end zone six times as well.
But while the rushing attack for the Black Knights is clearly their favored approach, the squad has had just as much trouble slowing down the competition which has opted to run the ball. Opponents have averaged 5.7 yards per carry and have recorded 33 rushing scores which is two more than Army through 11 games.
Despite missing a pair of games, Nate Combs is clearly a force to be reckoned with on defense for the Knights, his 12.0 TFLs and 6.0 sacks leading the unit, while also pacing the group with three recovered fumbles and two forced fumbles. In on seemingly every hit this season has been Geoffrey Bacon with his 122 stops, 39 more than his closest teammate.
"This is a great game, a great venue, but at the end of the day, it's still a football game," Army head coach Rich Ellerson notes. "The outcome will be determined by the same things that determine every football game."