The race for the 51st Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy begins Saturday when Navy faces Air Force. The annual award given to the team with the best record of the three service academies (including Army) is one of the great highlights and traditions in college football, and after a 2021 season where the three schools split the series for the fifth time, the excitement for an outright winner is higher than ever. 

Army “retained” the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy as a result of the split, but that retention was met with some disappointment because it was Navy’s upset win in the Army vs. Navy Game at the end of the season that led to all three schools having a 1-1 record in the series. Navy is looking to bring that same upset-friendly approach to Saturday’s showdown in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as Air Force has won three of the last four meetings against the Midshipmen and enters the game as a heavy favorite. 

While some rivalry games include the phrase “throw out the record books,” it is actually those books themselves that speak to the pride in this particular matchup in the history of the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy. Air Force (20) and Navy (16) have combined for 36 of the 45 outright wins in the history of the series, and in every season from 1997 to 2016, it was the winner of this game that would go on to win the trophy. So not only is this the first edition of the coveted rivalry series, but potentially the most impactful in determining the winner.  

How to watch Navy vs. Air Force live

Date: Saturday, Oct. 1 | Time: Noon ET
Location: Falcon Stadium — Colorado Springs, Colorado
TV: CBS | Live stream: CBSSports.com, CBS Sports App (Free)

Navy vs. Air Force: Need to know

Air Force offense is dominant on the ground: Air Force led the nation in rushing in 2020 and 2021, so it’s not a huge surprise to see the Falcons leading the nation again here through four weeks of the season. But even for this program, the 2022 season has gotten off to a special start. The Falcons are currently averaging a whopping 412.3 rushing yards per game, a mark that’s more than 80 yards per game higher than the rushing title averages of the last two seasons. The 2022 average is likely to regress a little with more games added to the season totals, but the fact that Air Force is leading the way should be no surprise. This is an offense that has had one really off day in a loss against Wyoming, but otherwise has been so efficient that there have been two games where the Falcons have not punted.  

Navy run defense a highlight in the 1-2 start: The Midshipmen got off to an 0-2 start but rallied to get their first win of the year in a 23-20 double-overtime victory at ECU. But what’s been strong all season, even through the losses to Delaware and Memphis, has been the run defense. Navy currently ranks fifth nationally, allowing just 69 yards per game and 2.33 yards per attempt on the ground, and much like Air Force’s rushing offense that kind of performance is not the expectation in this matchup of strength-on-strength in a rivalry game. Navy has a slight advantage against its service academy rivals because of the familiarity, but this year the Midshipmen have been strong against the run, and that gives them their best chance to win. 

A rubber match in the coaching rivalry: Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo and Air Force coach Troy Calhoun are two of the 25 winningest active coaches in college football and currently rank in the top six on the active list of coaches who have won all of their games at one school. Calhoun has won three of the last four, but the series between the two coaches is tied 7-7 with Saturday’s game breaking the tie. 

Navy vs. Air Force prediction, pick

Odds via Caesars Sportsbook

Since 2005, the under in games between service academies is 41-9-1. Two run-heavy teams playing against each other means the clock does not stop often and the number of possessions is limited, plus both defenses are used to playing against option attacks, so the big plays aren’t going to hit as often. The totals for these games have been dropping since the trend started in 2005; it’s much tougher to see unders hit in the 30s than the 40s or low 50s, but we ride with the trend. Prediction: Under 38

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