By: Rajan Nanavati
In recent years, it hasn’t been a surprise to see military universities like the Naval Academy or the Air Force Academy make an appearance in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings of college football teams. Sure, it doesn’t happen all that often, but it wasn’t completely unheard of, either.
Now, Army University? That’s a different story. Over the last 55 years, the Black Knights of Army University have appeared in the AP Top 25 rankings exactly twice. The first time as in 1985, and it was only for a week. In 1996, they re-appeared in the AP Top 25, and stayed there for four of the five final polls of the season, before ending the season with a 25th overall ranking.
Since then, it hasn’t been pretty. The Black Knights haven’t even made it close to being ranked, having only one winning season between 1997 and 2015.
However, head coach Jeff Monken — a cousin to Todd Monken, the former head coach at Southern Mississippi University and current offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — has not only dragged Army from the dregs of college football, but has led them to back-to-back bowl game appearances (and wins in both bowl games). In his first season as head coach at Georgia Southern University (who plays in the FCS), the former Monken led the Georgia Southern Eagles to the FCS Playoffs Semifinal, before accepting the position at Army. In his first two years in Leavenworth, the Black Knights were 6-18; in the two ensuing seasons, they’ve gone 18-8.
With one game left on their schedule, Army currently has a 9-2 record, with their last loss coming against 5th-ranked University of Oklahoma (they lost a competitive game against the Sooners by a 28-21 score). Since their loss to the Sooners, Army has won seven games straight. That’s the first time in 72 years to have a winning streak of that duration. Included in said winning streak is a win over rival Air Force earlier this month, to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy — given to the top team between the three service academies — for the second-straight year; it was the first time that Army has ever won said-trophy in back-to-back years.
For the common college football fan, the college football season might appear to go on hiatus after the first weekend of December, when the Division I conferences have their conference championship game.
But the annual Army-Navy clash, which takes place the ensuing weekend (on December 8th) will not only be worth watching because of the usual pageantry of the game, but because it could lead to the Black Knights being named to their third-straight bowl game for the first time in the history of their program. And if Army was to win said bowl game, they could finish the season being ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 1996.
While they’re obviously not going to gain the notoriety of the standard college football powerhouses, as sports fans, we’d be wise to take note of – and salute to – what future members of our armed forces are accomplishing in a sport loved by every red-blooded American.