Army vs. Navy Picks, Predictions: How to Bet Saturday’s Spread & Total
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Army and Navy football helmets.
Army vs. Navy Odds
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
By Dan Keegan
College football’s annual nightcap arrives on Saturday in the form of America’s Game, as the Army Black Knights take on the Navy Midshipmen. The game returns to Philadelphia this year, and the pomp and circumstance surrounding this iconic matchup make this a must-watch for all college football fans.
Of course, some of the game’s most memorable moments will occur off the field, including the game ball run and what promises to be a spectacular flyover. Them, there’s nothing else in the sport like the march on. How can you not get emotional during the postgame singing of the alma maters? All of it is incredible and one-of-a-kind.
But on-field, the football will be unique as well. Both teams run the flexbone triple option offense, which has now become synonymous with service academy football. While this may be a unique look to most of their other opponents, these two defenses are so versed in this playbook that points will be at an utter premium.
Famously, the under has hit in this game the last 16 years in a row. Books have responded, and this year’s total sits at a miniscule 32.5.
In addition to the teams’ familiarity with each other — and the slow pace of play of the triple — there’s another factor at play this year. The NCAA’s new rule outlawing blocks below the waist outside of the tackle box has hampered the service academy run games. There were only four total touchdowns in the two games these teams played against Air Force.
Both Army and Navy lost their games to the Falcons, so the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy already resides in Colorado Springs and will not be contested in this game. But the rivalry will still be fierce, of course, even without the trophy.
The Black Knights will be seething for revenge after getting upset as a 7-point favorite in last year’s contest. Former Navy linebacker Diego Fagot said the Knights were “little brother” after the game, which ruffled some feathers and has certainly been at the forefront of every Army player’s mind all year.
Last year, I had the privilege of attending this game, fulfilling a lifelong college football bucket list event. It was a memorable day and absolutely lived up to the hype; hopefully you will get a chance to attend one year. But if you can’t see it in person, the next best thing is winning money by betting on it.
To help you do that, we’ve polled 12 of our college football experts to find a consensus angle and dig up some best bets. Let’s get to their analysis.
Army vs. Navy Point Spread
By Dan Keegan
Our team is relatively split on this, with a lean toward laying the points and backing the Midshipmen. The game opened with Army favored by 2.5. That line has moved across, and now Navy is favored by a slim margin.
In a game this close, there’s value in just taking the points, which is certainly a consideration for our Army backers. The game is a pure toss-up in our Action Network power ratings, as well as at other systems like Beta_Rank and Parker Fleming’s EPA system.
But our team is backing Navy in this matchup, largely because it has been the better rush defense all season. The Midshipmen’s rush defense ranks 18th in EPA, while Army sits at 116th. This is a massive split and should be the difference in a close matchup.
Both teams have been playing their best ball down the stretch. Army got quarterbacks Tyhier Tyler and Cade Ballard back from injury in recent weeks — both will play, along with Jemel Jones in a three-quarterback rotation — and finished the season by whalloping UConn and UMass.
Navy lost two of its final three games, but they were close losses to Cincinnati and Notre Dame, and it beat ranked UCF.
The Midshipmen will not get starting quarterback Tai Lavatai back from injury and will be rolling with Xavier Arline in this game. Arline was the starter in 2020’s loss to Army, and was injured on his first play in this game in 2021. This game means extra for him.
Both teams are going to run the ball nonstop, of course, with the service academy triple-option scheme. However, the NCAA’s new rules eliminating below-the-waist blocks on the perimeter have hampered these offenses.
Fullback rushes will be more critical in this game because of this; Navy has the edge with Daba Fofana, who has 749 yards on 4.3 yards per carry this season. Army’s leading fullback in this game will be Jakobi Buchanan, who posted 337 yards on 4.1 yards per carry.
Due to injuries at slotback, Army head coach Jeff Monken had to use his other fullback, Tyson Riley, at slotback in their last game.
It will be a close game, of course, and will truly be a game of inches. Last year’s matchup was decided by an accidental fake punt (converted successfully in a moment of masterful improvisation by Navy linebacker Diego Fagot) and a fourth-down measurement. In a game this close, you can’t go wrong by just taking the points.
But our team sees value in backing Navy; the Midshipmen have a better fullback rushing attack and a vastly superior rush defense.
Army vs. Navy Over/Under
When arguing that Michael Jordan is the G.O.A.T. of NBA players, the only argument you need is his six NBA Finals wins and Finals MVPs. Service Academy games are just like that — there’s only one argument you need.
Since 2005, the under in games between service academies has gone 43-9-1. That’s a winning percentage of 82.7%. The under has cashed in 10 straight meetings and 15 of the last 16. Between just Army and Navy, the under is 16-0 in the last 16 games. The over has not cashed since 2005.
The reason for this is fairly simple. For starters, these two triple-option teams run the ball nearly exclusively. Each team averages over 54 rushing attempts per game and rank outside of the top 85 in seconds per play. The clock hardly ever stops running. In last year’s game, each team had just nine possessions.
Another reason is that these two teams get to face a triple option offense every day in practice. These defenses know exactly how to stop it and get to practice stopping it every day since camp opened.
Sure, this number keeps getting lower and lower. In fact, this is the lowest the total has ever been in the Army-Navy game.
But even as the totals get lower, it still doesn’t get all that close to going over. In fact, even though the total sits at 32.5, the final total hasn’t reached 33 in the last seven games. The last seven matchups between service academies have all had totals in the 30s and have finished with an average of 22.7 points.
The two games already this year — Army vs. Air Force and Navy vs. Air Force — ended 13-7 and 13-10, respectively, with the Falcons winning both games.
It’s going to be 40 degrees in Philadelphia on Saturday with winds of eight miles per hour. The under has gone 9-0 in Army vs. Navy games at Lincoln Financial Field.
Betting this under is just as American as it gets.
“There are very few things in life that are said to be certain. Death, taxes, and service academy unders.” – Benjamin Franklin (probably).
Navy ML -140
To me, this simply comes down to Navy’s superior run defense. The Midshipmen have also had a much tougher schedule, which should benefit them here a bit against an Army squad that has played a bottom-10 schedule.
The Black Knights have wins over Colgate, Villanova, UL Monroe, UConn and UMass. That’s a pair of FCS schools and three horrid run defenses ranked outside the top 90 in yards per carry allowed.
In contrast, Navy has played a schedule I have ranked right around national average. It has much more impressive wins over UCF, Temple, Tulsa and East Carolina.
Most importantly, as I mentioned before, Navy boasts the much more impressive run defense. Navy has allowed only 3.1 yards per carry on the season, which ranks eighth nationally. Meanwhile, Army has allowed 5.2 (120th) against a much easier schedule.
The Midshipmen defense also ranks in the top 20 in EPA per Rush and Rush Success Rate. Army sits bottom-20 in both.
To look at a few other defensive trench statistics that matter when defending the option, Army ranks 124th in Line Yards and 115th Stuff Rate. Navy ranks fifth and eighth, respectively.
In a game where points will come at a premium, I rolled with the Navy moneyline due to its significantly superior run-stopping abilities.
Navy Alt Spread -7 (+195)
This is clearly a higher beta play, but I’m OK with that in this instance for those looking for a little more juice out of the staff lean.
I have a strong preference toward Navy in this matchup for a multitude of reasons as the two service academies duke it out.
First, Navy has been the better team this season despite its losing record. After a slow start to begin the 2022 campaign, the Midshipmen have finished strong and covered in their last three outings against reputable opponents in Cincinnati, Notre Dame and UCF.
Secondly, Navy has faced tougher competition this season. Through 11 games this season, Navy has the 63rd-toughest schedule, whereas Army has the 98th-most difficult schedule, per TeamRankings.
Lastly, and most importantly, Navy has the elite rushing defense. It’s no secret this is going to be a trench-fest, but the Black Knights will be facing the fourth-ranked rushing defense in the country.
The Midshipmen are allowing opposing offenses to gain just 85.7 yards per game on the ground. Meanwhile, the Army rush defense has been lackluster this season, ranking 115th in the nation by allowing 193.5 yards per game.
On the season, Navy has a scoring offense that ranks 104th in the nation, scoring only 22.4 points per game. But in its last seven contests, the offensive output has increased to an average of 27.5 points per game.
Navy has improved markedly as the season has progressed, showing bursts of offensive productivity that weren’t there early in the season.
With the Midshipmen’s ability to control the run game and score, I think 2.5 isn’t nearly enough chalk. The edge for this plus-money alternate spread rests on Navy capitalizing on the weak Army defense.
Navy winning by a touchdown more is well within reason and offers excellent value at nearly +200.