PHILADELPHIA — The end of the college football regular season is here, and that means one thing: the renewal of the annual Army-Navy rivalry.
After serving as a gridiron punchline for Midshipmen during a 14-year losing streak, the Army Black Knights finally beat Navy in 2016. And they followed that up with a 14-13 win in 2017, and a 17-10 triumph last year.
But this year an ascendant Annapolis looks to whip West Point and end the streak.
Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s clash.
1. Historic rivalry renewed.
The two service academies will meet for the 120th time on Saturday. Once again, the game will be held at Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Despite dropping its last three to Army, the Mids lead the overall series 60-52-7.
2. Not an Army strong season.
After finishing with an 11-2 record last year — good for 19th in the final AP poll — Army has sputtered this season to a 5-7 record under head coach Jeff Monken.
He’d previously led Army to three straight winning seasons. West Point boasted just one winning campaign from 1997 to 2015.
3. Navy wants to right the ship.
After watching Army’s victories mount in previous seasons, the Midshipmen (9-2) and head coach Ken Niumatalolo are in a good place this year.
A banner win over ranked Southern Methodist University vaulted Navy into the AP Top 25. They enter Saturday’s game as the No. 23 team in the nation.
4. Navy keys to the game.
Annapolis maintains a prolific rushing attack, piling up 360.8 yards per game, nearly 80 more per contest than last season.
As a team, the Mids have attempted only 94 passes all season, compared to 664 rushes.
Senior Malcolm Perry has been Navy’s top weapon, racking up 1,500 rushing yards at an impressive 6.3 yards per pop.
Sophomore Jamale Carothers and junior Nelson Smith round out Navy’s top rushers, compiling 637 and 557 yards, respectively.
On the other side of the ball, Navy’s 17th-ranked rush defense could cause problems for an Army attack that sticks mostly to the ground.
ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Navy a 75.6 percent chance to win.
5. Army keys to the game.
In traditional service academy fashion, neither Army nor Navy will offer much of an air assault.
Army’s senior quarterback Kelvin Hopkins, Jr. has attempted only 75 passes this season, compared to 137 rushes for 706 yards and seven touchdowns.
Hopkins is one piece of a three-headed monster employed by Monken, with senior running back Connor Slomka providing 637 rushing yards and eight touchdowns and junior Sandon McCoy adding another 555 yards and 10 scores.
Army’s rushing attack is ranked second in the nation (behind No. 1 Navy), piling up 312 yards per game. That’s why the Black Knights stay on the field for, on average, 33 minutes per contest.
Army’s defense, meanwhile, must grapple with Navy’s ground game.
The Black Knights’ rushing defense has slipped significantly since last year, giving up 144.1 yards per game after holding opponents to just 106.5 per game last season.
6. Tune in.
CBS will once again host the game, with kickoff set for 3 p.m. EST.
The network has aired the annual rivalry match since 1996 and is signed through 2028.
For the sixth straight year, ESPN’s College Gameday will follow the pregame festivities.
7. City of Brotherly Love.
Philly will host the game until 2021. After that, the rivalry shifts to New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, home of the NFL’s New York Jets and Giants.
So far this year, Navy’s won two more games than both of those teams — combined — and the Midshipmen want to add another victory on Saturday.
They can turn two if they also take down the Kansas State Wildcats on Dec. 31 in the Autozone Liberty Bowl.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.