Air Force linebacker Jordan Pierce drops Army quarterback Angel Santiago during last year's Army-Air Force showdown in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (USA Today Sports photo by Ron Chenoy)

Air Force linebacker Jordan Pierce drops Army quarterback Angel Santiago during last year’s Army-Air Force showdown in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (USA Today Sports photo by Ron Chenoy)

There can’t be a bigger day for service academy football than Army-Navy day. But tomorrow might come close.

Air Force visits Army on Saturday morning and could walk out of West Point as the rightful owner of the Commander in Chief’s Trophy. A few hours later, Navy and Notre Dame square off at FedEx Field outside Washington, D.C., in a prime-time chapter of their long-standing rivalry.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the opening act in Saturday’s doubleheader, including players to watch, key matchups and the occasional parachute team lip-syncing to Taylor Swift:

What: Air Force (5-2, 2-2 Mountain West Conference) at Army (2-5)

When: 11:30 a.m.

Wait, when?: That’s 9:30 a.m. in Colorado Springs, 5:30 a.m. for those stationed in Hawaii. The Army athletics department has you covered, though — check out these brunch-time tailgate ideas. Does anything scream “football” quite like pumpkin spice baked french toast casserole?

TV: CBS, the first game of a tripleheader that includes Florida-Georgia and Notre Dame-Navy.

Gambling is illegal in most states: Air Force is a three-point favorite.

Key stat: Army is 2-0 this season when fullback Larry Dixon gets 20 or more carries. The senior captain has 683 yards rushing this season, and most of them haven’t come easy — forget the sweeps and pitches, just up the gut, shoulders lowered. It’ll take a team effort for the Air Force defense to drag down Dixon while keeping an eye on the rest of Army’s rush options (primarily quarterback Angel Santiago and running backs Raymond Maples and Tony Giovannelli), but inside linebackers Jordan Pierce and Connor Healey will see the most action.

Air attack?: Air Force ranks 117th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing, averaging just 152 yards per game. Sounds bad, but Army’s 125th, dead last, with less than 77 yards per game. While the Falcons have their own bruising fullbacks to lead the way in Shayne Davern and D.J. Johnson, the difference could be senior quarterback Kale Pearson’s big-play potential — two of his five completions in the Falcons’ win over New Mexico went for 50 yards or more. Army’s Santiago hasn’t completed a pass longer than 40 yards all season.

Takeaway machine: Air Force safety Weston Steelhammer had three interceptions in the Falcons’ win over Boise State and has also recorded three sacks, a fumble recovery and a safety this season. Army’s turned the ball over 10 times this year, but history is on the Black Knights’ side: They forced five turnovers against Air Force the last time the Falcons visited West Point, on the way to a 41-21 win.

YouTube rout: Either team could win the turnover battle, but when it comes to spirit spots this time around, Air Force has the clear edge. Here’s one put together by the Wings of Blue and Wings of Green parachute outfits — come for the jumps, stay for the breakdancing:

Taylor Swift not your speed? How about a five-minute rap from an Air Force cadet that references Heath Ledger, Olivia Wilde and the cinema classic “Space Jam”?

Speaking of cinema, check out this pro-Air Force re-creation of the dinner table scene in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”:

Hot links: A game preview from Army football guru Sal Interdonato here. … Air Force players and coaches on the Army ground game here. … One more spirit spot, this one a knock-off of the “21 Jump Street” movie, here.

 

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Air Force cadets cheer as the clock runs out on their 30-21 victory over the US Naval Academy Midshipmen 30-21 at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Saturday, October 4, 2014. (Mike Morones/Staff)

Air Force cadets cheer as the clock runs out on their 30-21 victory over the US Naval Academy Midshipmen 30-21 at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Saturday, October 4, 2014. (Mike Morones/Staff)

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Well, here’s one response to the Navy’s iPhone parody.

Two falcon mascots (The Birds?) are featured in this 2014 Air Force v. Navy Spirit Video dubbed “Calamari – The Bird.” The mascots recreated Childish Gambino’s “Freaks and Geeks” rap with a few lyrics of their own. A preview:

Alright you navy kids are asinine, we steal yo’ chicks to pass the time
Mass appeal, flying time, you ride your ships, I’m sinkin’ mine
Navy thinks their good, but beware Air Force is better
AF swag so cold, best not leave your sweater yeah
Air Force do it big, and these sailors ain’t nothin’
Yeah, this flight suit suits me, goin’ squid huntin’

Lockheed Martin and Boeing also get a shout out. And yes, an iPhone also makes an appearance.

Check out the video below:

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The newly released iPhone 6 is getting all sorts of attention these days. And the Navy is using it to their advantage.

In this Siri iPhone parody video, the “Go Navy, beat Air Force” spirit is in full swing before the Midshipmen take on the Falcons this Saturday at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

Watch Siri’s sassy behavior shut down the conversation below:

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The original Associated Press caption for this image, under the header "Football College Game Action Yale Bowl Yale vs Westpoint": "At Yale's bowl, New Haven, Conn, with a score resulting in 7-7. Woods of the Army, making forward pass to Neale of Army fourth quarter, who makes a gain of forty yards on Oct. 28, 1922." It was Army's second non-Navy road game ever; the first was a loss at Yale Bowl the previous year.

The original Associated Press caption for this image, under the header “Football College Game Action Yale Bowl Yale vs Westpoint”: “At Yale’s bowl, New Haven, Conn, with a score resulting in 7-7. Woods of the Army, making forward pass to Neale of Army fourth quarter, who makes a gain of forty yards on Oct. 28, 1922.” It was Army’s second non-Navy road game ever; the first was a loss at Yale Bowl the previous year.

If your idea of college football history is watching an ESPN special on the Miami Hurricanes of the 1980s or enjoying the occasional Dish Network commercial, sit this post out.

The iconic Yale Bowl, which hosted the nation’s greatest college football teams years before the NFL existed, is celebrating its centennial this season, and the Army Black Knights — which also boast plenty of black-and-white photos in their media guide — will pay a visit Saturday, continuing a football series that’s even older than the stadium.

Here’s a half-dozen ways the Bulldogs and Black Knights have been linked over the decades, information you can use to stump West Pointers and Ivy Leaguers alike:

 Army hosted Yale for the first time in 1893, losing 28-0. The Bulldogs went 10-1 and claimed a national championship that season. Princeton also claims a share of the crown, having finished the year unbeaten and defeating Yale in the season finale. Thankfully, it only took big-time college football a scant 121 years to come up with a playoff system to avoid such problems.

 Later that year, Army played only the second road game in school history, falling at Navy 6-4. The team wouldn’t hit the road again until 1921, visiting the Yale Bowl. Army lost, 14-7.

 After a 7-7 tie at Yale the next year, Army returned to the Bowl in 1923 for what Yale says was the most-watched game in stadium history. About 80,000 fans saw Army lose 31-10.

 The 1931 Army-Yale game ended in a 6-6 tie, a score that’s not even mentioned in most accounts of the contest. While attempting to get past the long-since-outlawed “flying wedge” blocking formation used by Yale on a kickoff return, Cadet Richard Sheridan broke his neck. He was stretchered off the field and taken to what was then New Haven Hospital. He died less than two days later. Learn more about the incident and its aftermath here.

 The series continued at irregular intervals through 1943, picked up again for two years in 1954, then went dormant until 1985, when Army downed the Bulldogs 59-16 at West Point. Army won again the next season, won 33-18 in its last trip to the Yale Bowl in 1988, and beat the Bulldogs 39-13 in 1996 at West Point, the last time the two legendary programs squared off.

 In a series that predates the divisions, subdivisions, conferences and TV-directed scheduling practices that have cropped up since, Yale holds the overall edge at 21-16, with eight ties. Before any rival academy fans gloat, the Bulldogs are 5-4-1 vs. the Midshipmen all-time and beat Air Force 17-16 in 1980 in the schools’ only meeting.

Saturday’s game starts at 1 p.m. and will air on Fox College Sports Atlantic.

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With less than a minute to play in Saturday’s game at Wake Forest, and with his team down by a field goal, senior Army linebacker Stephen Ricciardi may have gotten a bit desperate. First the video, then some background:

The setup: The Black Knights led 21-14 going into the fourth quarter at Wake, but two late scoring drives gave the home team a 24-21 edge, and an Army fumble gave Wake the ball back with about four minutes to play.

Army called its last timeout with 2:34 left, stopping the clock before a critical 3rd-and-8. But Wake Forest picked up 13 yards on a draw play, earning a first down and the right to run the clock down to next to nothing.

As the video shows, Ricciardi appeared to channel his inner soccer star, or perhaps basketball star, trying to draw a clock-stopping penalty when none existed. At least he didn’t play dead. And he did get a starring role on several sports websites.

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Indianapolis Colts linebacker Josh McNary, left, chases Houston Texans wide receiver Keshawn Martin during the second half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Indianapolis Colts linebacker Josh McNary, left, chases Houston Texans wide receiver Keshawn Martin during a game last December. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Former West Point star Josh McNary will make his first NFL start tonight as his Indianapolis Colts face the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football. As far as this blogger can tell, it’s the first time a West Point grad has started an NFL game on the defensive side of the ball since the 1950s.

An inside linebacker, McNary will be filling in for injured starter Jerrell Freeman.

Last week McNary recorded two tackles in the Colts’ season-opening loss to Denver. As a rookie in 2013, McNary appeared in the Colts’ last five regular season games and two playoff contests.

McNary is one of only three military veterans currently on an NFL roster or practice squad. Ali Villanueva, a former teammate of McNary’s at West Point, is on the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad. Ben Garland, an Air Force Academy graduate, is on the Denver Broncos 53-man roster but has been inactive the first two weeks of the season.

While McNary appears to be the first defensive starter from Army in many decades,  Collin Mooney, a 2009 West Point grad, started four games for the Tennessee Titans last year at fullback. 

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Indianapolis Colts linebacker Josh McNary (57) tackles Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew (32) at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Army grad Josh McNary, here tackling Maurice Jones-Drew during late-season action in Indianapolis last year, will return to the Colts in 2014, one of two service-academy graduates to make an active NFL roster at the start of the season. (USA Today Sports photo by Thomas J. Russo)

If you’re a service-academy football fan who doesn’t keep up with the pro game, or even if you just decided to spend your Labor Day doing something other than refreshing the NFL.com practice-squad page over and over, here’s a brief recap of where some academy standouts found themselves as NFL teams trimmed down to the 53-man roster limit:

Ben Garland (Air Force): The former standout defensive lineman for the Falcons made the Denver Broncos roster, but not on defense. Garland, who was promoted to captain in the Colorado Air National Guard in May, switched to offensive guard last year. He first signed with the Broncos in 2010 as a defensive lineman, then spent two years in active service and two more on the practice squad.

The move may not have made headlines, but it did get into some rare media air — the Twitter feed of Sports Illustrated/NBC icon Peter King:

Josh McNary (Army): McNary saw action in five games for the Indianapolis Colts last season, recording 14 tackles, including 10 solo stops. He’s back with Indy this year and should be a special-teams mainstay while providing depth at linebacker. The Indianapolis Star reported that McNary’s status as a “younger, cheaper option” to other defenders may have helped his chances; the Star also had high praise for the linebacker in this patriotic profile.

Alejandro Villanueva (Army): This Black Knight-turned-Ranger is now an Eagle-turned-Steeler. He’s also made the move from defensive line (at Army) to offensive line (at Army) to wide receiver (at Army) to tight end (at the East-West Shrine Game in 2010) to defensive lineman (with the Eagles) to offensive lineman (on the Steelers’ practice squad). Confused? Get the rest of the breakdown here and here.

Eric Kettani (Navy) and Chad Hall (Air Force): Kettani made headlines last offseason by having members of the Washington Redskins coaching staff assist with his promotion ceremony. He would go on to get looks from the Chiefs and Browns before settling in with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he was among the team’s final cuts. Hall, who played with the Eagles in 2010 and 2011 and caught on with the Chiefs in 2013, was waived by the Jaguars earlier in August.

Collin Mooney (Army): Mooney played in 12 games with the Tennessee Titans in 2013 before a knee injury ended his season. While new head coach Ken Whisenhunt praised Mooney in the early days of the offseason, he also made it clear that the team’s need for a fullback in its new offensive scheme was limited, at best. Mooney ended up not making the final roster, and the Titans’ depth chart ended up without a fullback position.

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Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly talks with Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo prior to a in a NCAA college football game with BYU Saturday Nov. 23, 2013 in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, here talking with Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo last year, told ESPN that any scheduling rules eliminating a Notre Dame-Navy game would be a “deal-breaker” for the Irish. (Associated Press photo by Joe Raymond)

When he’s not busy riding a horse to training camp, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is entering heavy preparations for the 2014 college football season. That prep involves chalk talks, two-a-day workouts and, naturally, talking to ESPN reporters.

Regardless of what Navy fans think of Kelly, or the Fighting Irish, or horses, they should be pleased with a response he gave to a recent ESPN poll, asking coaches of the so-called “Power Five” schools about scheduling preferences.

A quick primer: The Power Five consists of teams in the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern and Pacific-12 football conferences (and independent Notre Dame). The group of schools recently earned the right to all but police themselves within the NCAA Division I football structure, setting the stage for possible changes to what benefits student-athletes can receive and how schedules are created.

ESPN surveyed the Power Five coaches on whether they’d prefer a schedule limited to the Power Five — ending the sometimes-lopsided nonconference games that can help pad a team’s won-loss record (or, if things go the other way, get their own Wikipedia page). Throwing out the undecided votes, the majority of coaches said they would like to stick with the Power Five. Kelly wasn’t among them.

From the article:

Even though Notre Dame has never played an [Football Championship Subdivision] team and plays almost exclusively Power Five opponents already, Irish coach Brian Kelly said he would be against it if it meant no longer playing Navy.

Kelly said removing Navy from Notre Dame’s schedule would be “a deal-breaker.”

Navy, set to enter the American Athletic Conference in 2015, frequently features Power Five teams on its schedule — the Mids open the season against Ohio State later this month, for example. Games like that, plus the rivalry with the Irish that dates to 1927, could vanish if the Power Five cuts the lower-level schools off its slate.

Ohio State’s Urban Meyer stood with Kelly against the plan, as did Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson, whose team will host Army on Sept. 20. Stanford’s David Shaw, whose Cardinal will host the Black Knights seven days earlier, was for it.

Get the full service-academy football slate here.

And yes, Kelly really road a horse to practice:

 

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Keenan Reynolds and the Navy Midshipmen will play four games at NFL stadiums this year, including Dec. 13's clash with Army. (USA Today Sports photo by  Tim Heitman)

Keenan Reynolds and the Navy Midshipmen will play four games at NFL stadiums this year, including Dec. 13′s clash with Army. (USA Today Sports photo by Tim Heitman)

Aside from the typical midseason TV-directed time changes (more on them later), the 2014 service academy slate is just about set. And as sweltering summer temperatures signal the beginning of full-pad practices and traditional preseason speculation, here’s a few things for the more-than-casual academy football fan to take notice of:

1. A normal Saturday slate. Aside from a trio of games in late November, including two on the day after Thanksgiving, every service academy game will be played during a time typically reserved for college football. Last year, Air Force alone played four non-Saturday games.

2. Mids going big time: One-third of Navy’s 12-game schedule will be contested in stadiums that host NFL teams — two games in Baltimore (season-opener vs. Ohio State and season-closer vs. Army), one in Philadelphia (Week 2 vs. Temple) and one in Landover, Maryland, home of the Washington Redskins (Nov. 1 vs. Notre Dame).

3. Home cooking: Navy won’t leave the state of Maryland between its Oct. 11 home game vs. VMI and hosting Georgia Southern on Nov. 15. Army makes the two-hour drive to New Haven, Connecticut, to face Yale on Sept. 27, then has two home games before a trip to Ohio to face Kent State Oct. 18, another home game versus Air Force, and a Nov. 8 trip to Yankee Stadium to face Connecticut. Air Force’s longest homestand is two games and they won’t be easy; the Falcons host Boise State and Navy on back-to-back weeks.

4. Program your remote: At least six of the 14 football weekends leading up to the Army-Navy game will feature multiple service academies squaring off on the CBS family of networks. And the Dec. 13 Army-Navy game will be on CBS at 3 p.m., live from Baltimore.

5. Early lines: Even though the schedule’s barely set, the folks at The Golden Nugget already have some wagering information out. Ohio State is favored by 14 points over Navy in the opener for both schools; Notre Dame’s a field-goal favorite over the Mids for early November; and the Black Knights are 13-point underdogs to Navy in their Dec. 13 clash. Navy was a nine-point favorite on the early line last year.

Before clicking through to the full schedule, clipping it out and affixing it to the wall next to your television set for optimal Saturday visibility, remember three words that are part of every college football TV slate: Subject to change.

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