The Triple Option Disadvantage

By Max Kaplan

Air Force in the triple option (photo from Maize n Brew)
Air Force in the triple option (photo from Maize n Brew)

Tomorrow, Air Force plays Rice in the Armed Forces Bowl and Navy plays Arizona State in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (click here for other ridiculous bowl names and click here for the Arizona State Sun Devil’s battle with God).

The service academies and Georgia Tech, who will play USC in the Sun Bowl on Monday, currently run the triple option as their primary offense. The rarity (and uniqueness) of the option means that teams must prepare specifically for games against Air Force, Army, Navy, or Georgia Tech differently than they would against a more conventional offense. At least that’s what other bloggers are writing about.

One would think that having an extra month to prepare for such an offensive scheme before a bowl game would tip the scales against teams that use the option.

Is the advantage of the triple option lost during bowl games?

Let’s look at it team-by-team.

Georgia Tech has only been running the option since Paul Johnson arrived from Navy in 2008. While he is 42-21 in regular season games, Georgia Tech has lost all four bowls (one of them to Air Force).

While it is hard to find out exactly when the service academies started with the triple option and truthfully the line can be a bit blurry, I’ll do my best to look at the years that I know they used the triple option.

Air Force has found success with the triple option since Fisher DeBerry became coach in 1984. Since then, Air Force has gone 195-116 in the regular season and 8-9 in bowls.

Army has run the option since Bob Sutton in 1983, though they switch to a pro-style offense from 2000 to 2007 before returning to the option in 2008. They were 17-76 in those pro-style years. Army is 3-2 in bowls under the triple option.

Navy, after a long bowl drought, has gone 3-6 in bowls since Paul Johnson’s arrival in 2002.

In total, the four combined to go 14-21 in bowl games in the range of this study. While that alone is not conclusive evidence, it does give credence to the idea that the triple option is better suited for the regular season than for bowls.

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