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My Favorite Bet: The Under in Service Academy Football Games

Analyzing why betting the under is a great and profitable wager when the service academies face off on the gridiron.

The pageantry, the pomp, and the profit. Those are the three things I think about during a Commander and Chiefs trophy matchup.

There are no sure things in sports betting, but taking the under in a game featuring Army, Navy or Air Force is pretty damn close.

The under is a staggering 45-13-2 dating to 2002.

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Dec 12, 2020; West Point, New York, USA; Army Black Knights quarterback Tyhier Tyler (2) carries the ball as Navy Midshipmen defensive tackle Jackson Perkins (96) defends during the second half at Michie Stadium.

Doing the lion's share of the work is the tradition-filled Army-Navy game. It doesn’t matter how high or how low. A total of 64 in 2007? A Navy suffocation of Army 38-3 meant there wasn’t even a sniff of doubt. Last year’s total of 36 in a game played during a literal fog storm? A 15-0 Army win meant you were good despite the total being about as low as a college football game will be pegged at in this day and age. 

Every Army-Navy game since 2005 has gone under.

But not to be outdone, the other two legs of the triumvirate rivalry hold up their end of the bargain as well. The last eight Air Force-Army games have gone under, and the under is 7-2-1 in Navy-Air Force going back to 2012.

But why?

Well, it’s obvious. Each of these teams run the option to varying degrees. If these teams are out of the top five in rushing attempts per game nationally something is very wrong with the world. They also are routinely near the top in time of possession because of the throwback style. Less plays, less possessions, less points.

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And when you’re a good option team, it can help you when you’re very overmatched. Army is 19-10-1 in its last 30 games when it’s more than a 14-point underdog, including against opponents like Wisconsin, Penn State and Oklahoma (who they took to overtime on the road in 2018). They’ve covered five straight in such games.

And the style of football will probably never go out of style because they’re not running the option by choice as much as they’re running it by necessity.

The academies do not recruit the same players that Alabama or Texas et al do in more ways than just talent. Their players literally have to be smaller:

"According to academy guidelines, the maximum weight for a 6-foot male is 201 pounds, 231 for those who are 6-6. (Army did not provide its standards but a spokesperson said they were similar to Navy's.)"—The Philadelphia Inquirer

Because they have to be smaller, they have to run schemes that suit their size, and there we arrive at the option and a more ball-control system. And while the option is a changeup for their other 10 opponents each season, when they play each other it becomes a much more attritional football game.

So, no, it’s not automatic that the under will hit in a service academy game, but it gives you a pretty good shot to cash.

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