Feature graphic courtesy of Sarah Sopher
Army Black Knights (7-5) vs. North Texas Mean Green (5-7)
Where: Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas
When: Dec. 27th, 12 p.m. EST on ESPN
Army Black Knights
How they got here:
The last time that Army beat Navy in Maryland, the No. 1 Cadets defeated No. 2 Navy en route to winning the 1944 AP National Championship. The boys from West Point won’t be playing for any rings this time around, but they will be looking to win their second bowl game since 1996.
While the Black Knights were already bowl eligible for the first time since 2010 heading into the Army-Navy game, the rivalry in Baltimore was easily the high point of the season for third-year head coach Jeff Monken. Army defeated then 25th ranked Navy 21-17 in M&T Bank Stadium to win the Army-Navy game for the first time since 2001. The Black Knights defense forced four Midshipmen turnovers, ending the 14-year winning streak for Navy.
Why they can win:
Simply put, Army can win this game on the ground. The Black Knights torture teams with their rushing attack, averaging the second most rushing yards per game among FBS teams. It is more than likely that the Mean Green’s run defense will be looking black and blue by the day’s end. North Texas ranks in the bottom 25 in terms of rushing yards allowed per game. Not a great matchup when facing a team that averages 327.5 yards on the ground.
With nine different players that have 20 carries or more, expect a heavy dose of running back Andy Davidson and quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, among others, to run the ball right down the throat of a weak North Texas defense.
Player to watch: LB Jeremy Timpf
A lot of the attention goes to the running game of the Black Knights, but Army quietly boasts a top-five defense in the country. Timpf, along with the other senior linebackers, have stepped up in their final seasons to make the Black Knights defense a very formidable unit. With 19 tackles in his last two games, Timpf is going to be a load to handle for North Texas as he suits up for his final collegiate game.
North Texas Mean Green
How they got here:
North Texas is one of only two teams to finish 5-7 and still make a bowl game. Despite losing four of their last five games, the Mean Green are here now and first year head coach Seth Littrell is hoping to get North Texas their first postseason victory since 2014.
Fresh off a 1-11 season a year ago, North Texas did just enough to get to a bowl game (their Academic Progress Rate scores helped get them in since they are not technically “bowl eligible” at 5-7). With a 3-5 record in Conference USA play, the Mean Green are just happy to be here coming off a horrific season a year ago.
Why they can win:
North Texas can beat Army because they have already done it this season. In the only bowl game that features a rematch from a game earlier this season, North Texas will attempt to replicate their success against the Black Knights from two months ago.
However, this North Texas team is much different than when these two played on October 22nd in West Point. Army still managed to have their way on the ground, rushing for 302 yards. But seven fumbles sealed the deal for the Black Knights as the Mean Green pulled away in the second half en route to a 35-18 victory.
After that game, North Texas went on to lose four of their final five contests following a promising 4-3 start to the season. It will be interesting to see how far each of these teams have come in the last couple of weeks.
Player to watch: RB Jeffrey Wilson
If there is a player to watch for on North Texas’ offense, it is easily junior running back Jeffrey Wilson. Forced to miss two games with a knee injury, Wilson likely would have exceeded 1,000 rushing yards if he had played the whole season.
Despite facing a top-tier defense, Wilson ran for three touchdowns when these teams met earlier this year. Eager to prove that his team belongs in a bowl at 5-7, look for Wilson to have a big game on Tuesday.
Edited by Joe Catapano