Air Force vs Navy Prediction, Picks: Can Midshipmen Keep It Close?

Air Force vs Navy Prediction, Picks: Can Midshipmen Keep It Close? article feature image

Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Image. Pictured: Navy’s Rayuan Lane III (18).

Air Force vs Navy Odds

Saturday, Oct. 21
Noon ET
Air Force Odds
-115o / -105u
Navy Odds
-115o / -105u
Odds via BetMGM. Get up-to-the-minute NCAAF odds here.

In the first leg of the 2023 battle for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, Navy will host Air Force in front of a sold-out crowd. You can bank on an awesome college football atmosphere in Annapolis on Saturday.

If it feels like this game is coming a bit later than usual in the schedule, that's because these two programs have met on the first Saturday in October for two decades with the exception of 2021 when they played on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

However, this season, they will meet a few weeks later with the Falcons making the trip across the country looking to remain undefeated after starting out 6-0 for the first time in over 20 years, including its first-ever 4-0 Mountain West start in program history.

Winners of 11 straight dating back to last season, Air Force also comes into this rivalry ranked for the first time in four years. However, that came in the end-of-season poll, which means this will mark the first time Air Force plays a game while ranked for the first time since 2010 when it lost as a small favorite at San Diego State.

Meanwhile, Navy will look to play spoiler and extend its modest winning streak to three after back-to-back wins over North Texas and Charlotte. The Midshipmen will also attempt to stop a three-game slide in which they've scored a combined 20 points.

Will Air Force keep it rolling, or can Navy keep this close enough to have a chance at ending the Falcons' hopes of a perfect regular season? If the Falcons can take care of business on the road, that's certainly in the cards with a remaining schedule that includes Colorado State, Boise State, Hawaii, UNLV and Army.

Let's take a closer look at each team before diving into which side I like from a betting perspective.

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Air Force Falcons

As mentioned, Air Force has started out 6-0 for the first time since 2002.

While the Falcons deserve plenty of credit for taking care of the teams on their schedule it's certainly been a very easy path with wins against the following teams:

  • Robert Morris
  • Sam Houston
  • Utah State
  • San Jose State
  • San Diego State
  • Wyoming

Those opponents have a combined 15-27 record with only one sitting at above .500 on the season in Wyoming, which was tied with Air Force with under three minutes to go in the fourth quarter.

The Falcons have been favored by at least six in every game and by double digits in five. They've also benefited from only hitting the highway one time so far against a San Jose State squad that doesn't have much of a home-field advantage.

As far as the team goes, this is your classic triple-option, and it's a good one. Not only does Air Force average close to 60 rush attempts per game — over 10 more than the team with the second-most — but they also rank in the top 10 nationally in yards per carry at 5.7.

That's a deadly combination, especially when you consider the Falcons rank as the most explosive passing team in the country. They don't pass often, but they have connected for big plays when they've taken shots.

However, that might not be in the cards on Saturday after an injury to starting quarterback Zac Larrier, who was averaging close to six yards per carry and completed 20-of-28 passes for 468 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

With Larrier out for a while, Air Force will turn to senior Jensen Jones, who has attempted only one pass in his career.

Consequently, I'd expect a few fewer pass attempts per game and an almost exclusive triple-option attack on Saturday that relies on a deep stable of backs.

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Navy Midshipmen

The season didn't get off to a great start under new head coach Brian Newberry when Navy got pummeled in Ireland by Notre Dame.

However, optimism within the program has grown since, with the Midshipmen going 3-2 after getting back to the States with one of those losses coming by only four points at Memphis.

This version of Navy passes a bit more but still features a very heavy triple-option flavor with the nation's second-highest rush rate, trailing only Air Force.

The Mids also have quarterback questions coming into the weekend. After losing Blake Horvath to injury, they then saw Tai Lavatai go down last week in a victory over Charlotte.

Lavatai has a chance to play on Saturday, as he's listed as day-to-day, but there's probably a slightly better chance that either freshman Braxton Woodson — who has a ton of raw talent — or the more experienced Xavier Arline gets the nod.

The Navy ground game is nowhere close to as efficient or as explosive as Air Force, but it can get the job done.

The defense has also had more struggles, especially against the pass. Statistically, Navy has one of the worst coverage units in the country, but that shouldn't be a concern on Saturday against the Falcons with a backup quarterback.

Air Force vs Navy

Matchup Analysis

Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Air Force and Navy match up statistically:

Air Force Offense vs. Navy Defense
Rush Success662
Line Yards251
Pass Success368
Finishing Drives276
Quality Drives926
Navy Offense vs. Air Force Defense
Rush Success60104
Line Yards8182
Pass Success13341
Finishing Drives11787
Quality Drives8124
Pace of Play / Other
PFF Tackling4131
PFF Coverage2661
Special Teams SP+9100
Middle 82979
Seconds per Play32.5 (133)30.6 (127)
Rush Rate92.7% (1)78.1% (2)

Air Force vs Navy

Betting Pick & Prediction

Last year, Navy lost at Air Force, 13-10, as 14-point underdogs, which shouldn't surprise anybody who follows service academies closely.

They simply know how to ugly up a game with limited possessions, especially when they face each other.

That makes it very difficult for favorites to cover bigger numbers in games that usually have super low totals, as we have with this matchup in Annapolis on Saturday.

The advantage that service academies have had in the past is they run a unique offensive scheme that opposing defenses aren't used to facing. That lack of familiarity makes up for a talent gap that Army, Navy and Air Force have. Well, that's not the case when they go head-to-head since they get to practice against the triple option every day.

Service academy matchups always have limited possession due to a speeding clock throughout. That will be even more amplified in the first service academy matchup under the new clock rules, which will make it extremely difficult for Air Force to win by a substantial margin.

It could simply take a fumbled pitch or failed fourth down after an Air Force drive that eats up most of a quarter for Navy to stay within this number.

Also, from a matchup perspective, Air Force won't be able to exploit Navy's issues in the secondary.

Meanwhile, if you dig into the advanced metrics, Air Force could struggle to get a push up front, ranking outside the top 100 in Stuff Rate, which means Navy could grind out a few long possessions by solely relying on the ground game.

Lastly, don't sleep on Navy punter Riley Riethman, who's putting together a very solid campaign so far in 2023. In a game where field position will be uber-important, Navy holds the edge in the punting department, which could make all of the difference.

In a game where possessions should be extremely limited, give me the double-digit dog at home hosting the newly-ranked rival coming across the country for the first time this season in a truly hostile environment and now with a backup quarterback.

Plus, this will basically be a 10 a.m. local kick for Air Force, so I wouldn't be shocked if it got off to a bit of a slow start.

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