Army vs. Navy College Football Odds, Picks & Predictions (2022)

Dec 8, 2022 - 3:05 PM

The annual Army-Navy game will act as each school’s defacto bowl game this year. Navy enters 4-7. Army enters 5-6. Navy lost its way out of bowl season the old-fashioned way. Army’s waiver request to be sent to bowl season – asking that its two wins over FCS opponents both be counted towards eligibility (in addition to this game ostensibly being pre-counted as a win) – was denied by the NCAA.

2022: 82-65-3 ATS (55.8%) | 2014-2021: 706-620-17 ATS (53.2%)

Philadelphia, PA
Navy (-2.5) vs. Army | Total: 32.5
ATL: Army -2.2
ATT: 30.5

These teams took very different paths to reach similar records.

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By any metric, Army was a disappointment this season. Since 2016 – Year 3 of the HC Jeff Monken regime – the Black Knights had won at least eight games in five-of-six seasons. Coming off a 9-4 season – Army’s fourth nine-plus win season in the last five – Vegas set a preseason win total of eight.

Considering its track record, and considering that Army returned 14 starters, that win total seemed reasonable. But it turned out Army was never a threat to reach it. Despite playing a schedule with double the FCS opponents (2) as Power 5 foes (1), Army limped to 5-6 against the No. 101 SP+ strength of schedule.

Outside of beating the FCS teams, Army’s other three wins were over UL-Monroe, UConn, and UMass. Those teams are all power-ranked by my ATL system in the bottom 18 of the FBS – with UMass at the very bottom. This year has been a disappointment.

Navy, on the other hand, entered the season with meager expectations. The Midshipmen had gone 7-15 over the past two seasons. Vegas dropped a 4.5 preseason win total that was in line with that work. Navy goes over that number by beating Army on Saturday and will finish under with a loss. Navy’s 4-7 record was accrued against the No. 57 SP+ SOS.

More was expected of Army, while Navy more or less has met expectations. But when they meet on Saturday in Philly, they will not only bring similar triple-option products to the field, but they’ll line up as qualitative equals. Navy’s SP+ resume ranking is No. 68, Army’s is No. 69.

The beautiful thing about these service academy handicaps is you can more or less toss out the passing offense and defenses and focus on the rushing attacks against the run defenses opposing them. Both teams rank top-3 in run rate (joined by Air Force).

Army has the better rushing attack. Army averaged a tick over 300 YPG rushing on 5.6 YPC, while Navy averaged 239.5 on 4.0. But even normalized for opponent strength, Army’s attack shines through.

Army’s run offense ranks No. 25 in success rate, No. 41 in explosiveness, and No. 4 in stuff rate. Navy ranks No. 116, No. 110, and No. 59, respectively, in the same three categories. There is no advanced stat category in which Army’s rushing offense does not outshine Navy’s. This goes for the advanced offensive line stats as well – Army clearly has a better OL than Navy.

But here’s where it gets interesting: Nearly the same thing could be said about Navy’s rushing defense against Army’s run defense. Navy’s is superb. It’s part of the reason we tailed Navy against Notre Dame and UCF at the end of the season – we knew Navy’s run defense was going to complicate what those run-heavy offenses wanted to do.

Army’s run defense, on the other hand, is shoddy. Navy’s run defense ranks in the top 16 of the nation in success rate, marginal efficiency, opportunity rate, power success rate, and stuff rate. Army’s ranks outside of the top 100 in each of those categories. There is one area where Army’s is superior, but it won’t apply in this game as much as against other opponents: Army ranks No. 59 against rushing explosiveness, Navy ranks No. 117.

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Between the two, Army is the better tackling squad, No. 44 in success rate against Navy’s No. 77. But Navy’s front-seven is far and away more active. Navy ranks No. 10 in havoc, including No. 1 in linebacker havoc. Army ranks No. 124 in havoc, including No. 125 on the defensive line (Navy is No. 90) and No. 40 among the LB corps. Both offenses, unsurprisingly, rank top-15 in preventing havoc.

The run vs. run handicap in short: Army’s rushing attack is superior, while Navy’s run defense is superior. Qualitatively, the combo of each is very, very close.

Army averages 81.1 YPG passing, Navy averages 91.2 – advanced stats confirm they are a wash in this area. Both can hit the occasional downfield shot off play-action. Only one area here that could come into play: Army’s pass defense ranks No. 19 against explosiveness, while Navy’s ranks No. 123.

So you would project Army to have more success on these play-action concepts, the manifestation of which could be anywhere between one-to-three more long completions than its opponent.

That said, Navy might have the advantage on third downs. Each offense predictably stinks in third-and-longs, and have analogous success in third-and-shorts – Army is clearly better in third-and-medium scenarios. But Navy’s defense is top-26 in both short- and medium-scenarios on third-downs, while Army’s is No. 54 in short- and No. 125 in third-and-medium success.

While my numbers suggest Army – with an adjusted spread that essentially is the Vegas number inverted – I’m reticent. The offense vs. defense handicaps on both sides is so dang close, and both special teams units stink – it’s all a wash.

Momentum, you can probably say the same. Army has covered five-straight games, with three wins and two close losses to good G5 teams (Air Force and Troy). Navy covered three straight to close out November, all against strong competition. Navy lost 20-10 to Cincy as 18.5-point underdogs, only lost 35-32 to Notre Dame as 17-point dogs, and then upset UCF 17-14 as 14.5-point dogs.

I have a minor lean to Navy on the side, while my system leans Army. The margins are too close to pull the trigger. If Navy was the underdog, I’d probably buy a money-line ticket on them. But that isn’t an option, so I’m passing.

Instead, my play is what it usually is in these games: The under!

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Since 2005, the under is 41-9-1 ATS in games between Air Force/Army/Navy. Over the past 31 such games, the under is 27-3-1 ATS. It’s the most reliable cash-cow system that we have over that volume in all of college football betting. For years, the books didn’t properly adjust these totals, and for years they’ve been hammered because of it.

So this time around, the books, having wisened up, have set an Army-Navy total of 32.5. This is not only the lowest point total ever for a service academy game – the lowest total in the sample since 2005 was 36 for the 2020 Army-Navy game (which went under – but it has a shot to threaten the sport’s record for lowest-ever point total.

That record was set earlier this season in the Minnesota-Iowa game (31.5). I attended that game, and bet the under. The teams combined for 17 points in the first 20 minutes but scored only six over the final 40 to easily go under (13-10 Iowa win).

There isn’t much leeway with a number this low. But short- and long-term history both support an underplay. This year, Army lost to Air Force 13-7 in a game that easily went under, while Navy fell 13-10 to Air Force in another easy under.

I see this game going similarly – every yard hard-won, punts galore and very few long plays on either side. Even at a near-record low point total, going under feels safer than stepping out on a limb with either side in what appears to be an exceedingly-even matchup.

The pick: Army-Navy UNDER 32.5

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