On Saturday, Army capped off a 9-2 season with a gutty 10-7 win over Air Force to earn the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy after having beaten Navy the week prior. It wasn’t the best Army team in recent memory, as a rotation of quarterbacks tried their best to lead the way for the triple option attack, never quite finding the explosiveness that offense is capable of, but still finished fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game at 281.
Still, that they cobbled together a schedule as an independent that allowed them to play 11 games, winning nine of them — with one of their losses to AAC champion and top G5 team Cincinnati — was impressive all on its own, and they desperately want a trip to a bowl game. However, with teams being able to opt out of bowl games this season, there are fewer teams available to play than normal, and with the SEC insisting all eligible teams play — including the likes of 2-8 South Carolina — bowls have had to meet contractual demands with them.
As such, Army saw itself on the outside looking in on Sunday when bowl selection got finalized, with a few bowls being canceled that normally would’ve let them in and others filling spots with well below .500 squads from conferences they have contracts with. Army coach Jeff Monken was understandably upset by this development, and laid into the bowl structure as well as teams who decided after late losses to change their tune and opt out of bowl games, leaving Army out in the cold. Monken spoke with ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg about their current status in college football purgatory, and took aim at those that changed their tune late about opting out.
“The bottom line is there were enough people who kept saying, ‘No, we don’t want to play Army, we don’t want to play Army,'” Monken said. “And I’m sure they don’t want to have one week to get ready for the option [offense] or whatever, but our players, we’ve got guys on our team that wouldn’t be invited as walk-ons to the teams we’re getting ready to play. We’ve got guys from California, they didn’t have a Pac-12 walk-on offer, and they are starting for us.
“USC, a week ago, was saying, ‘We deserve to be in the College Football Playoff if we go undefeated and win the Pac-12 championship,'” Monken said. “And the Pac-12 was saying, ‘An undefeated Pac-12 team deserves to be considered.’ So they go to the Pac-12 championship against Oregon and lose and they go from wanting to go to the College Football Playoff to not wanting to play at all? I don’t get it. Boise State opted out today. They lost their championship game yesterday. So they went from being their conference champion and representing their conference in a bowl game to opting out? You couldn’t go one more week and play us? It just doesn’t make any sense to me that you can go from wanting to play to not wanting to play in a matter of 12 hours.”
Monken said they had guys in tears knowing they wouldn’t get a bowl game and one last chance to play, a stark reminder of why bowl season does indeed matter beyond the College Football Playoff to so many programs who enter the season fully aware they won’t be competing for a national title.
There are undoubtedly plenty reasons in 2020 not to play in a bowl game, and while Monken praised the SEC for having its 12 teams play the postseason, others have questioned why the league didn’t ask its players for their input as happened elsewhere in college football. Like anything there are two sides to the coin with this right now, as players have dealt with a season unlike any other and played through the significant health risks of a pandemic. For teams that have dealt with outbreaks and positive tests, it’s more than understandable why they might call it a year, but as Monken notes, the teams that went so quickly from wanting to play in a possible big bowl game to opting out after losing a conference title game don’t seem to be making those decisions simply based on health and safety.
Monken said Army will continue to practice and hold out hope for a call this week to serve as a replacement team in a bowl, ready and willing to fill in should a team be a late scratch as has happened plenty this year.