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Air Force vs. Army
Betting Line: Air Force -6.5 o/u 48.5
Air Force travels to take on Army this week in a huge game for both programs. At stake for Air Force, having already defeated Navy, is the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy which Air Force hasn't won since 2002. That's a big deal among the Service Academies. Also at stake for both teams is the crucial 6th win to make them Bowl eligible. Perhaps a bigger deal for Army, who hasn't been to a Bowl game since 1996. They'll have 3 more cracks at it after this week, but no easy games. Air Force on the other hand, has UNLV and New Mexico. Safe to say they'll be bowling this year.
For a team like Army to have any kind of success, they have to play fundamentally sound football. They can't afford to beat themselves. Let's face it, they aren't going to have the best talent. One of the very first stats we are interested in before handicapping any football game is turnover margin. If you haven't noticed, there is a direct correlation between turnovers and winning football games. Take a look at the top 3 teams in the country in turnover margin. Oregon, Iowa and Ohio State. Now take a look at the bottom 3. New Mexico, Duke and Middle Tennessee.
Turnover margin alone can keep us off a game. So how does that all important stat apply here? Well, guess who the #5 team in the Nation is in turnover margin? Yep, it's Army at +10. Air Force finds themselves at -1. Turnovers are no accident. There is no such thing as a team "getting all the breaks and bounces". Turnovers are forced. Turnovers are recovered by being in the right place. Turnovers are a part of playing sound, fundamental football.
But turnover margin is the only edge we see here for Army. While both teams
are at 5-3 coming in, and while Army has played well, it's a very different 5-3
for these two teams. Neither of these teams has won a game against a team with a
winning record. But for Air Force, the wins AND the losses are more impressive
than the wins and losses for Army.
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The teams Army has lost to with winning records are Hawaii, Temple and 4-3 Rutgers. The Teams Air Force has lost to with winning records are Oklahoma, Utah, TCU and San Diego State, who are a combined 30-3, with 3 of the 4 ranked in the top 8 in the Nation. Air Force lost those games by 2, 3, 5 and wasn't competitive in losing to TCU 38-7. Army squeaked by 1-7 Eastern Michigan 31-27.
Many handicappers make the mistake of looking at a game and handicapping it based strictly on the stats in black and white, without making the adjustment for schedule strength. In fact, if you look at a stat like yards per point in this game, it favors Army with a 12 on offense and a 15 on defense compared to a 15 and 16.5 for Air Force. But the difference in strength of schedule here is enormous. Air Force has played a schedule that is about 17 points stronger that that of Army.
When a team plays a team like Oklahoma, and then plays a team like Army, the difference is evident immediately to the players. A team like Oklahoma has the biggest, fastest, strongest and most talented players in the Nation. Receivers can't get open. Defensive backs can't cover. The line can't protect the QB and can't open holes. Things that were not possible, suddenly become possible. Receivers are coming back to the huddle screaming for the ball because they are open on every play. Backs are seeing holes open up that you could drive a truck through. Army isn't exactly a threat through the air like an Oklahoma, which allows the defense to concentrate on just stopping the run. It's night and day.
We wouldn't necessarily call this game a mismatch. Although the last 4 times these two have played have seen Air Force win by scores of 35-7, 16-7, 30-10 and 43-7. The 16-7 in 2008 shows us it's possible for Army to compete. Let's also not forget the turnover margin of +10. But we think Air Force is the better team here and is much more prepared by way of having played some of the top teams in the Nation. We have them winning by enough to cover the spot here. The game opened -7.5 and has moved to under a touchdown. Air Force 31 Army 17 Air Force -6.5