The 120th installment of the Army-Navy Game on Saturday comes with some added incentive for the No. 23 Midshipmen.
Navy (9-2) was tabbed on Sunday for a spot in the Liberty Bowl, a prestigious postseason game that pits it against Big 12 opponent Kansas State. Kansas State handed College Football Playoff semifinalist Oklahoma its only loss of the regular season, so the Midshipmen have an opportunity to make noise at a national level in Memphis.
But first, coach Ken Niumatalolo noted in his Liberty Bowl press conference that Navy has more pressing concerns ahead of it this weekend in Philadelphia.
"Going to a bowl game is always one of our top goals, but right now our only focus is to get goal number one and that is to beat Army and win back the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy," he said.
From 2002 through 2015, Navy owned a 14-game winning streak in the historic rivalry, the longest in the series dating back to 1890. Army ended the streak in 2016 and has won all three matchups since.
The Black Knights (5-7) have also claimed each of the past two Commander-in-Chief's Trophies, awarded to the service academy that comes out on top in the season's round-robin between Air Force, Army and Navy.
Navy claimed 10 of them from 2003 through 2015.
Prospects of a third straight Commander-in-Chief's Trophy were dashed for Army when it lost at Air Force on Nov. 2. The 17-13 decision was the sixth game the Black Knights lost by single digits this season, including a 24-21 double-overtime thriller at Michigan in Week 2.
Army's hope for a bowl bid slipped away on Nov. 30 in a 52-31 loss at Hawaii.
Nevertheless, the Black Knights have plenty at stake: the rivalry winning streak, the historic bragging rights, and sending out its current class of seniors undefeated in their careers against Navy.
This is a senior group that elevated a long-struggling Army program to bowl games in three straight seasons, and in 2018, a final Top 25 ranking.
"It's hard to believe that those guys are already getting ready to graduate and be commissioned as officers in the United States Army. But, they are a class that's really developed," Army coach Jeff Monken said following the team's 47-6 rout of VMI on Nov. 16. "A lot of these guys have played a ton of football for us and that led to a lot of the success we've had here over the last few years."
Each win in Army's ongoing streak came by one possession: 21-17 in 2016; 14-13 in 2017; and 17-10 last season. The run of close games extends five years, with Navy winning 17-10 and 21-17 outcomes in 2014 and 2015.
One reason for the close contests has been the programs' similar styles of play. This year is no exception, with Navy ranking No. 1 nationally in rushing offense at 360.8 yards per game, and Army ranked second at 311.7.
Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry has been outstanding this season, rushing for 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns. Although a late push to get Perry into the Heisman Trophy conversation proved unsuccessful, Navy will have Heisman influence when it takes the field in Philadelphia.
The Midshipmen will wear alternate uniforms patterned after their 1960s attire, when Joe Bellino (1960) and Roger Staubach (1963) won the Heisman Trophy. Army is wearing a uniform honoring the 1st Cavalry Division.
--Field Level Media