We're devoting the Fourth of July edition of Three and Out entirely to the service academies. On the day we celebrate our freedom, why not celebrate those who keep us free.
1. One of my favorite traditions in the entire sport is the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, given to the winner of the round-robin match-ups between Army, Navy and Air Force. The 41-year history of the trophy has been historically unkind to Army, with the CIC Trophy retiring to West Point only six times, most recently in 1996. The Black Knights came tantalizingly close to winning the prize last fall, with a 41-21 win over Air Force and a potential game-winning drive against Navy, until a heartbreaking fumble ended the drive 13 yards shy of the end zone with 3:37 to play.
We don't like to play favorites with these things, but here's rooting for Army to bring the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy home in 2013.
2. Provided the wheels don't fall completely off the wagon, this year will mark a dozen straight years that Air Force and Navy have ranked within FBS's top eight rushing offenses. Army got with the program in 2008, jumping from 111th to ninth nationally in the span of one year. (Army's rushing improvement is a lesson to all coaches installing new systems. In 2007, the Black Knights rushed for 87.4 yards per game on 2.62 yards per carry. A year later? 241.2 yards per game on 4.56 yards per carry.) Since then, the Black Knights have never ranked lower than 16th, including two straight FBS rushing titles.
Together, the trio has combined to win the FBS rushing championship eight times over the last 11 seasons, including a 1-2 finish by Navy and Air Force in 2007. In 2012, the services academies combined to rush 2,310 times for 12,169 yards (320.2 yards per game, 5.27 per carry) and 99 touchdowns. For those scoring at home, that's more rushes (2,179) and yards (9,096) than the entire Western Athletic Conference combined.
3. It's not surprising considering their surroundings, but it's still refreshing to see each service academy's commitment to the plan regarding their head coaches. Hired following the 2006 season, Troy Calhoun is the 22nd-longest tenured head coach in FBS; he has posted a 47-31 record in the seven seasons since. Ken Niumatalolo was promoted to head coach following Paul Johnson's departure in December 2007. The 28th-longest tenured FBS head coach, he has a 40-26 record in six seasons. Hired Dec. 26, 2008, Army's Rich Ellerson is the new man in the group and still the 40th-longest tenured head coach in FBS. Ellerson has a 17-31 record in four seasons.
The rest of FBS has collectively hired more than 100 head coaches since the service academy trio came together.