By Troy Phillips
The 2018 season marked a rare surplus of bowl-eligible FBS teams with conference affiliations – four in all were locked out of bowls – making the fate of some independents like Army West Point go down to the wire.
This year, the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl had an opportunity to do a solid for an old friend. One that richly deserved it.
Therefore, when the key decisions came down on Selection Sunday, the No. 22 Black Knights (10-2) had found a home, announced back for a second straight (third overall) LMAFB appearance, this time to face Houston (8-4) of the American Athletic Conference on Dec. 22 at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN.
Oklahoma’s spot in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff bumped Big 12 teams up in the bowl pecking order, leaving none available for the LMAFB to select. It opened up that at-large spot for – who else?
“You’re watching every score and game you never thought you’d care about, but you end up caring a lot about every Saturday night,” Army athletic director Boo Corrigan said. “Coach [Jeff Monken] and I had had been talking, and this was one of the bowls we’d been looking at. Thankfully it worked out.
“Every set of eyes in my house was looking to see that No. 4 (CFP) team. When it came up Oklahoma, I was smiling, thinking it might work out for us.”
Army’s trip to the Armed Forces Bowl a year ago, a 42-35 victory over San Diego State, came with a contract to appear, a deal the two sides lacked this season.
Without that guarantee, along with the Big 12’s spot opposite The American, Army had to wait this year despite being on the cusp of a second consecutive 10-win season.
“They had no set course,” LMAFB executive director Brant Ringler said of Army’s bowl status. “Having them last year was phenomenal. Their fan base, their players and coaches, such a class act to work with. We’ve had a service academy 10 of the last 12 years, and we love being associated with Army’s brand. It’s always a perfect fit here.”
The bowl’s military theme, tributes and peripheral events that honor active-duty, wounded and veteran servicemen and women are LMAFB traditions. Navy and Air Force have also come to Fort Worth during their own football resurgences, and Army’s current rise is emphatic.
First eight-game winning streak since 1996. First season to be ranked in the top 25 in 22 years. The most wins in a three-year period (28) ever, edging the 1944-46 teams (27). First chance to win three consecutive bowls (2016 to 2018) and four straight overall (2010).
All after 18 losing seasons in 19 total years from 1997 to 2015.
“We were treated like celebrities last year,” Monken said of the bowl. “It’s like you’re royalty. It’s so special for our guys. They come from such a regimented environment, not like traditional college students.
“They spend so much time preparing to be leaders in the United States Army. All the things this bowl does for them, it builds a lifetime of memories.”
Army’s throwback triple-option ran roughshod over San Diego State a year ago for 440 rushing yards and 91 total plays. Led by Darnell Woolfolk (885 yards) and Kelvin Hopkins (847), the Black Knights throw seven to 10 running backs at opponents weekly.
Naturally, Army ranks second in the FBS in rushing offense (296 ypg). Run you into the ground, they can and will.
They’re undefeated (2-0) in Armed Forces Bowls, apparently capable of winning a third. Arranged marriage or not, the Black Knights fit nicely in Fort Worth either way.