Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Army Football Preview: 2017 First Look (Part 2)

This week we get into Part 2 of our first look at next year’s Army football season.

Week 7: Eastern Michigan.  Long an FBS doormat, this year’s EMU Eagles took flight, going 7-6 overall and 4-4 in the MAC-West.  They finished the season in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, where they lost 24-20 to the Old Dominion Monarchs.

Army gave Eastern Michigan a drubbing two years ago on the road, earning their first road victory since 2010.  Both squads have improved dramatically since then, making this a match-up to which people may well pay attention next season.  Eagles’ QB Brogan Roback will be a senior next season, and I expect his game will continue to improve.  He finished this past season 219/372 for 2,694 yards (58.9%) and 18 touchdowns against just 7 interceptions.  In the Bahamas Bowl, he went 26/46 for 300 yards, 2 touchdowns, and just 1 interception.

Week 8: Temple. Army opened the season at Temple last season, earning the program’s best win in years--and arguably its best win of the season.  Though the Owls started 1-2 following a loss to Penn State two weeks after the Army game, they finished strong.  They went 10-4 overall, 7-1 in the American Conference-East, and famously beat Navy in the American Conference Championship Game.  The Owls took a shellacking in the Military Bowl, though, dropping the game 34-26 to a resurgent Wake Forest squad that also had a very good season.

It’s worth noting here that Temple took a ride on the coaching carousel to end the season, and we don’t yet know how that’s going to play out.  Former Head Coach Matt Rhule left for Baylor, and despite universal player appeals to promote DC Ed Foley, he was instead replaced by Florida DC Geoff Collins.  Foley and Collins are both known for their doomsday defenses, so I expect Temple will continue to excel on that side of the ball.  However, QB Phillip Walker and RB Jahad Thomas are both graduating, leaving the Owls with significant question marks on the offensive side of the ball.
As I noted last week, this will be the eighth game week in a row for the Black Knights, and that could make injuries a potentially serious consideration.
Week 9: Bye. I expect this will be a much-needed break.
Week 10: at Air Force.  Army might’ve beaten Navy this year, but their games against Air Force continue to be absolute nightmares.  Though the Black Knights showed up big against Temple and Wake Forest in 2016, the Falcons beat them handily in Michie Stadium.  Next year’s match-up won’t be any easier for being at Air Force.
Air Force finished 10-3 overall, won the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy, and won their bowl game against South Alabama, but they finished just 5-3 in the Mountain West-Mountain.  This put them fourth in their division despite the fact that they were tied on overall record with eventual winner Boise State.  Moreover, the Falcons’ victory over South Alabama didn’t necessarily impress anybody.  
Head Coach Troy Calhoun sounded both tired and bored at his post-game press conference following the Army game, and speculation ran wild after the season that he was ready to leave.  I don’t know that this will necessarily help Army next year, but at some point in the not-too-distant future, I expect we’ll have some genuine chaos out at Colorado Springs.  That would be a nice change of pace.
Week 11: Duke.  The Blue Devils finished a disappointing 4-8 overall and 1-7 in the ACC-Coastal.  This was perhaps inevitable when QB Thomas Sirk went down with a torn ACL in the preseason, but that is cold comfort, I’m sure, to Blue Devil fans.  Still, freshman QB Daniel Jones showed real promise, going 270/430 for 2,836 (62.8%) and 16 touchdowns against just 9 interceptions.  That’s excellent.

It’s hard to know what to expect out of Duke next season, but Head Coach David Cutcliffe is one of college football’s best.  With a bit of improvement out of Jones and a retooling on defense, the Blue Devils surely have a bowl game in their future at the very least.  They also have one of the best Academic Progress Rates in FBS college football, and they're a top recruiting school.
Those guys do it the right way.
Week 11: at North Texas.  Army fans know all about North Texas now, am I right?
I expect next year’s game will be a close contest.  It’s also Army’s last before a two week bye and Navy.
Week 12: Bye.
Week 13: Bye.
Week 14: Navy.  Navy got off to a good start but lost senior QB Will Worth to a broken foot in the American Conference Championship game, and they were never the same afterwards.  They dropped their last three straight, finishing 9-5 on losses to Army and Louisiana Tech in the Armed Forces Bowl.  In fact, the entire American Conference went just 2-5 in bowl games overall.

The Streak is over.  Until next year, let’s leave it at that.

* * *
Recruiting Update
Army beat writer Sal Interdonato is currently tracking a whopping *82* football recruits headed to West Point this summer.  Rivals makes that number just 75 but has been known to miss some guys.  Regardless, even 75 is good enough to rank the Black Knights 69th nationally, ahead of both Navy and Air Force.  

Though the new class is large, it's light on three-star recruits.  Army is usually good for 2 three-star recruits per year, but the current class isn’t showing any.  Granted, the stars system is far from perfect.  Last year’s highest-ranked recruit has yet to see his first start.  Still, this is probably not what Army fans want to see.  Army has some good sized guys coming in, however, and quite a few players who’ve earned state and regional-level awards.  For example, the incoming class has fully six quarterbacks, most of whom were amongst the very best players in their respective states.  Army also has some very highly regarded linemen inbound.

Ironically, Air Force appears to have been the biggest loser in this year’s Army-Navy game.  Rivals puts the Zoomies at just 29 recruits averaging a little under 1.3-stars apiece.  Considering how long Air Force has held the Commander-in-Chief’s recruiting advantage, this is a significant turnaround.  I suspect that at least some of the apparent change is due to poor data inputs, but still, it seems clear that a clear majority of would-be military recruits want to play in the Army-Navy game.  

Who can blame them?  I’d want to play in that game, too.

Navy lags Army by just a bit on the recruiting front, with fewer total players but more (3) three-star recruits.  Where Navy has really excelled in recent years is in offensive line recruiting, as their offense showed this year to good effect.  It’s notoriously difficult for military academies to recruit on the defensive line, but Army has in recent years been able to make up that difference with good linebacker play.  Navy has yet to make this work, but somehow they always seem to get a bunch of good skill-position players.

There are a couple of important caveats here.  First, because of its fundamental nature as a military academy, West Point is not subject to the same Signing Day requirements that regular colleges are.  Recruits join the Army on R-Day, so Army Football recruits are not formally “committed” until they actually show up and take their oaths.  We won’t truly know how many recruits the Black Knights have until this summer.  Further, not all of these recruits will be direct-admits.  In fact, most will go to the Prep School first, and some who are at the Prep School now will either fail to gain formal acceptance or will choose to go elsewhere.  This should not be cause for alarm.
Army Swimming has also been recruiting very well.  This year's Army-Navy meet
was the closest since my yearling year, way back in 1992!
Despite this uncertainty, these numbers are a good guide.  The Class of 2019 tracked almost this many recruits at this stage and wound up putting fully 79 kids into the Academy on R-Day.  Given what we’ve seen, I expect the Class of 2021 to put at least that many into West Point later this summer.

Editorial Note: It has long been the policy of this blog not to refer to high school recruits by name until they finish Beast Barracks--at which point, they will no longer be recruits.  The reasons for this policy ought to be obvious.  I would never encourage anyone to either decommit or leave during Beast, but neither do I want to publicly broadcast some teenager's worst moments.

If you make it through Beast, then we'll talk about how you're gonna help the team.

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