Army football was lost in the woods for most of the 20th century and early 2000s but reached a bowl game for the first time in 14 years in 2010. That year Rich Ellerson finally got the Black Knight to 6-6 and a bowl berth. Then, after three years, Jeff Monken finally got his West Point program rolling to the postseason in five of the past six years.
Army football - and service academy football in general - is a different type of college football. They recruit a very specific type of player and tuck them away on actual JV teams for a few years before the juniors and seniors take over the starting rolls. There aren’t any blue-chip recruits on their roster and they tend to feature low 2-star or walk-on athletes on their two-deep roster.
The point is: they tend to get overlooked. And yet, they’ve won more than eight games in every non-COVID season since 2016 and won ten games in 2017 and eleven games in 2018. They run a heavy ball-control triple option offense - a classic talent equalizer - and an aggressive 3-4 defense that excels at stopping the run.
And, of course, this is the most prevalent in bowl games. Since 2010, Army has played in five bowl games and won four. Here are the SP+ rankings and stats from those games:
2010 Armed Forces Bowl
Army 16 - SMU 14
- Army: 98th overall, 99th offense, 94th defense, 7-6 record
- SMU: 69th overall, 50th offense, 78th defense, 7-7 record
- Army: 199 yards rushing, 30 yards passing
- SMU: 111 yards rushing, 302 yards passing
2016 Heart of Dallas Bowl
Army 38 - North Texas 31 (OT)
SP+ Rankings Stats
- Army: 102nd overall, 110th offense, 73rd defense, 8-5 record
- North Texas: 116th overall, 111th offense, 115th defense, 5-8 record
- Army: 480 yards rushing, 53 yards passing
- North Texas: 96 yards rushing, 314 yards passing
2017 Armed Forces Bowl
Army 42 - San Diego State 35
- Army: 91st overall, 46th offense, 106th defense, 10-3 record
- San Diego State: 54th overall, 68th offense, 45th defense, 10-3 record
- Army: 440 yards rushing, 6 yards passing
- San Diego State: 255 yards rushing, 25 yards passing
2018 Armed Forces Bowl
Army 70 - Houston 14
- Army: 84th overall, 65th offense, 70th defense, 11-2 record
- Houston: 64th overall, 20th offense, 106th defense, 8-5 record
- Army: 507 yards rushing, 85 yards passing
- Houston: 90 yards rushing, 230 yards passing
2020 Liberty Bowl
Army 21 - West Virginia 24
- Army: 69th overall, 96th offense, 43rd defense, 9-3 record
- West Virginia: 38th overall, 72nd offense, 17th defense, 6-4 record
- Army: 182 yards rushing, 57 yards passing
- West Virginia: 42 yards rushing, 280 yards passing
So what does this mean for Missouri?
The obvious: Army is going to run on you. Even the best defense the Black Knights faced - 2020 West Virginia - allowed 182 rushing yards on the day. Army doesn’t even really pretend to pass, instead knowing that they can option their way down the field for 14 plays and probably get points out of it.
Here’s the bad news: Army has beaten better teams than Missouri in prior bowl games. SMU, San Diego State, and Houston were all much better than the 2021 Tigers and fell to the unstoppable Army option juggernaut.
The good news: Army has never beaten a P5 opponent in a bowl game. Granted, the only one they’ve played in the modern era was West Virginia last year and they damn-near beat them. But, Houston blowout aside, Army plays in close, one-possession bowl games and usually finds a way to win.
Missouri has more talent the Army, no question about it. How does that talent react while getting cut-blocked 50 times per game? Or handle an aggressive run front that is adept at eliminating the one thing Missouri wants to do on offense? No matter the outcome, this will be a frustrating game.