As college football teams opt to end their seasons instead of continuing on to bowl games, the attrition has left one program — the Army Black Knights — without a postseason opponent.
Army had been contractually committed to the Independence Bowl against a Pac-12 opponent. But the Independence Bowl canceled its contest after seven Pac-12 teams announced the end of their 2020 seasons. That left Army without an opponent and coach Jeff Monken feeling for his team.
"We had guys in tears," Monken told ESPN. "We pulled off the biggest wins of these seniors' career, they just won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy back, that's going to be their legacy, and they're looking forward to playing in a bowl game one time together, before they go off in the United States Army, and we're sitting here telling them, 'Sorry, guys, you can't play.'"
The Army Black Knights celebrate with the Commander in Chief's Trophy after beating the Air Force Falcons 10-7 at Michie Stadium. (Photo: Danny Wild, USA TODAY Sports)
Army (9-2) is coming off three consecutive wins, the last two against Navy and Air Force. Monken's issue rests not with programs prioritizing health, but by the shift from wanting to play in bowl games compared to not wanting to prepare for Army and its option offense. He named USC and Boise State as teams who had expressed a desire to play in New Year's Six bowl games but decided to end their seasons following losses.
"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 told ESPN. "And I'm sure they don't want to have one week to get ready for the option 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.
"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 didn't rule out a last-minute bowl for the Black Knights, with the team ready to play an opponent whose original foe must drop out due to COVID-19 issues. Players will remain on campus through Thursday before heading home for the first time since May.
"If we got a Dec. 31 bowl game, if you call us on the 29th, we'll have those guys flying there on the 30th," Monken told ESPN. "What I'm hoping is some of these bowl games, when they hear enough of this about Army, they're going to say, 'You know what? If somebody cancels, we're going to take Army."
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
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