Motivated Navy is a dangerous underdog for resurgent Army

Army is on the march under head coach Jeff Monken.

Nothing better exemplifies how far the Black Knights have trekked than Saturday’s point spread in the annual rivalry game against Navy (CBS, 3 p.m.). Army will close near a 7-point favorite in this popular betting attraction … the first time it’s been favored over Navy since 2001!

It did take two losing seasons before Monken got everyone in formation. His Cadets now have posted winning records straight up (SU) and against the spread (ATS) for three straight years:

Army on the march

Year SU ATS
2016 8-5 7-6
2017 10-3 7-6
2018 9-2 6-4-1

Most importantly, those records include:

  • Two straight wins over Navy. Last year, Army (+2¹/₂) won outright in a 14-13 gut-check. Two seasons ago, Army (+5 ¹/₂) covered by more than a touchdown in a 21-17 victory.
  • Two straight bowl victories. Prior to Monken’s arrival, Army had played in only two bowl games total from 1989 to 2015. Last year, Army (+6¹/₂) upset San Diego State in the Armed Forces Bowl, 42-35. After the 2016 season, Army (-10¹/₂) won, but didn’t cover, in a 38-31 win over North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Army will play in its third straight bowl game for the first time ever against Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth on Dec. 22. Army opened as a 3-point favorite.

While the Army story is worthy of celebration — and the athletes on all armed forces football teams are worthy of admiration — handicappers and bettors should be wary of how prices are changing with the Cadets. It’s one thing to catch people by surprise as you’re improving. It’s quite another to cover point spreads after everybody has noticed the improvement.

Army has been a feisty underdog during this three-season surge. The Cadets are 2-1 ATS as ’dogs this season, after going 5-2 ATS last season, and 3-2 ATS in 2016. That’s 10-5 ATS (57 percent).

Our chart totaled to 20-16-1 ATS overall during that stretch. That means Army is just 10-11-1 as chalk (Vegas slang for favorites, because point spreads used to be written on chalk boards). It’s something to consider if you’re thinking about backing Army as favorites versus Navy or Houston.

For Navy, this is the bowl game. There will be no postseason, with nine losses already on the deck log. But, the Midshipmen have looked much sharper in recent action. Navy enters with three straight point-spread covers, including a 35-24 loss to Central Florida that looks much better now given UCF’s subsequent wins by 25 over Cincinnati, 28 over South Florida, and 15 over Memphis. And that was before the injury to UCF star quarterback McKenzie Milton.

Bettors must evaluate whether much-improved Army is about to march into an ambush against a motivated underdog with double-revenge that wants to end its season with a rivalry upset.