WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) -After the Army-Navy game on Saturday, the Black Knights will retreat to the daily grind and begin thinking about spring football while their archrivals - the Middies and Air Force Falcons - begin preparing their option attacks to play in the postseason.
Army (3-8) doesn't have that opportunity this year, and even if the Black Knights snap their five-game losing streak against Navy (7-4), they're already assured of their 10th straight losing season.
It may be no coincidence that the Army mascot is a mule. It's taken seven years for academy brass to realize they had a pretty good thing going with the wishbone attack before former head coach Todd Berry jettisoned it in favor of a pro-style set, to disastrous results.
First-year head coach Stan Brock has finally seen the light. He plans to meet with his coaching staff after the season to discuss implementing at least some aspects of the option, which produced victories in the first two bowl games in academy history (10-6 over Michigan State in the 1984 Cherry Bowl and 31-29 over Illinois in the 1985 Peach Bowl) and its only 10-win season.
``There's a lot of things with the option that we like, but you have to recruit people to do it,'' Brock said this week as he prepared for the biggest game of the season. ``We'll talk about a scheme or system, who we are, who we're recruiting, who our opponents are. But it will be a part (of the offense).''
That's music to the ears of countless alumni and fans.
Jim Young became a hero at West Point when he built Army back into a winner after more than a decade of despair. When Young arrived as head coach in 1983, Army had won more than four games only once in the previous 11 years. Young didn't fare any better his first season (2-9). But after installing a ground-oriented attack in 1984, Army football took off.
Young had only one more losing season before retiring after a 30-20 victory over Navy in 1990, his 51st win at West Point, third-most in academy history.
Bob Sutton succeeded Young, and after five so-so seasons plagued by injuries and some amazing bad luck, guided the Black Knights to a 10-2 mark in 1996.
Sutton was fired on a Philadelphia street after losing to Navy in 1999, three years after he won national coach of the year honors.
``Sutton beat Navy five years in a row and then they fired him,'' said Joe Steffy, the 1947 Outland Trophy winner for Army during the glory days of Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard. ``That's the dumbest thing in the world.''
It sure has seemed that way since. Berry was 5-35 before he was fired at midseason in 2003, and since going away from an option-based attack, Army has 17 wins in 92 games.
The slide can also be attributed in part to Army's 1998 decision to join Conference USA, a move aimed at getting more money from television and perhaps a bowl game now and then. Many thought that was a mistake. No longer afforded the luxury of scheduling Division I-AA schools like Colgate and Lafayette, Army sputtered. The Black Knights never won more than two conference games in seven seasons before reverting to independent status in 2004.
Army athletic director Kevin Anderson was quick to caution against expecting immediate results from the option. After all, Homer Smith, an expert in the wishbone-T offense while at UCLA, took over as head coach at Army in 1974 and went 3-8 and 2-9 before abandoning it.
``It wasn't only the option,'' Anderson said. ``It was the scheduling. You can go back and look at the record books. Jim Young balanced the schedule. That's when we had success.''
In considering the option, all Brock had to do was look at the stats.
Navy, which has the 16th-best offense in the country and leads the nation in rushing at 357 yards per game, has beaten Army in eight of the last 10 meetings. And Air Force (9-3), third in the nation in rushing at 298 yards per game and averaging 29 points, has beaten Army in nine of the last 10.
When it ran the wishbone with star tailbacks like Mike Mayweather, who graduated in 1990 as the all-time leading rusher in service academy history with 4,299 yards, Army was consistently one of the nation's top rushing teams.
This year, the Black Knights have 45 three-and-out drives, are averaging 86 yards rushing and 18 points per game to rank 111th out of 119 schools in both categories. They're still looking for their first 100-yard rusher in a game.
Still, Brock knows he has a chance to make that first postseason staff meeting enjoyable.
``If we beat Navy, everybody will be happy,'' he said.
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