There have never been such high expectations for an Army Football Team in my West Point life (class of ’89). In four short years, Coach Monken and General Caslin brought this program from despair to a place where we hoped it could someday be. The Academy supports the program and in turn, the program is bringing in a caliber of athlete not seen since the 1960’s. Both Generals Caslin and Williams are incredible recruiting tools in themselves, offering recruited players examples of a life path that Army Football can deliver. And now with President Trump’s Go Pro directive, the few exceptional players can represent the Academy on Sundays, post-graduation. Going into R-Day, Army had seven three-star commits and 25 two-star commits and 12 three-stars have already committed for next year.
Senior Quarterback Kelvin Hopkins is back to lead the team for the second year. He led the team with 1,017 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns and 1,026 passing yards and 6 touchdowns versus three interceptions last year. He is fast, smart and athletic. If things go as I think they will, he will be on Heisman watch and will receive many accolades. He will battle Ronnie McAda’s legacy for Army’s greatest wishbone Quarterback.
Darnell Woolfolk and Andy Davidson graduated, however senior Connor Slomka (6’0, 240 lbs.) and junior Sandon McCoy (5’11, 215 lbs.) will begin the season as the primary fullbacks; senior Rashaad Bolton (5’11, 235) freshman Anthony Adkins (6’1, 251) will also contribute. Senior Kell Walker (5’9, 195) and junior Artice Hobbs (5’9, 175) will be the key Running Backs, both bring significant speed to assist Hopkins. Army lost Cam Thomas as the back-up Quarterback, which is a shame, because he looked really good in limited play last year. Sophomore Jabari Laws (5’9, 172), junior Christian Anderson (6’1, 185), sophomore Clay Czyzynski (6’0, 200) and sophomore Tyhier Tyler (5’8, 174), along with five freshmen will vie for the back-up role. Experienced junior Cam Harrison (6’2,195) and senior Kjetil Cline (6’0, 205) return as sure handed Wide Receivers. Of course, all the talent in the world means nothing without an offensive line. The summer calculus/weight lifting/eating program is really paying dividends. Senior Offensive Lineman Jaxson Deaton (6’4) will weigh in at 310 lbs., senior Jake Baumert (6’3) will weigh in at 300 lbs. and junior Peyton Reeder (6’6) weighs in at 290 lbs. and the rest of the starters and back-ups are greater than 280 lbs. This is exactly what is needed to make this offense work against the bigger defensive teams. If you look at the depth charts, it is filled with 280 lbs. freshman.
The defense was ranked eighth in the nation last year and allowed fewer than 300 yards per game. John Loose, last year’s Safeties Coach, takes over as Defensive Coordinator. He brings the Army’404 Tite Defense, which is exactly the opposite of the zone defenses of the past; that would hope for a penalty or mistake to thwart a drive. The name refers to how defensive linemen set up, with defensive ends on the inside shoulders of the offensive tackles, and then a nose guard in the middle. One Linebacker gets behind the Nose Guard to cover another gap, and then the rest change from play to play. The defense is designed to defeat spread offenses by being completely unpredictable and creating confusion in the blocking scheme with blitzes from different angles and coverages. A good offense can figure the scheme out and exploit the gambling, but last year, Army’s defense faced only 615 defensive plays, about half the average and 58 less than the next team in that category. Which means that the defense can be great if the offense is great.
Army lost top tackler and pass rusher James Nachtigal and fellow outside pass rushing star and chemist Kenneth Brinson. Sophomore Arik Smith (6’0, 230) will replace Nachtigal as the Will Linebacker and junior Jeremiah Lowery (6’2, 240) will fill the Rush Linebacker positions. Senior Cole Christiansen (6’2, 225) is the leader of the defense after finishing second on the team last year with 77 tackles, will keep his Mike Linebacker position.
The secondary returns seniors Elijah Riley Jaylon McClinton at Safety. Senior Cameron Jones (6’0, 200) and junior Javhari Bourdea (5’8, 180) will play the Corners. This is clearly Army’s best secondary in my life. Many eyes will be on Riley as he is the player most likely to be drafted to the NFL.
The defensive line is the hardest hit position and the team’s biggest question mark. Senior Rod Stoddard (5’11, 280) will play the Nose Guard position and senior Amadeo West (6-2, 255) and senior Jake Ellington (6-3, 240) will play the Tackle positions. The Defensive Line will need to rotate to stay fresh and some freshmen will need to step up.
Senior Zach Potter will be the punter and Junior Landon Salyers will start the year as place kicker. Kell Walker will return kicks..
08/30 – Rice
09/07 – at Michigan
09/14 – at UTSA
09/21 – Morgan State
10/05 – Tulane
10/12 – at WKU
10/19 – at Georgia State
10/26 – San Jose State
11/02 – at Air Force
11/09 – UMass
11/16 – VMI
12/01 – at Hawaii
12/14 – vs Navy (in Philadelphia, PA)
Army enters the season ranked 29th and that makes them early season favorites against all but Michigan. Michigan, Tulane, Air Force, Hawaii and Navy look to be the most difficult games. Obviously, if Army beat Michigan early, they would stay in the Top 25 until they lost. If they lose to Michigan, the strength of their schedule will most likely keep them out of the Top 25 for the remainder of the season.
With the young defensive line, I can see potential losses to Michigan, Tulane, Hawaii and Air Force. If the offense is good enough to keep the defense off the field, we could have a magical season. Let’s take one game at a time.
Season Prediction – Army Final Record 11-2. Commander in Chief’s Trophy and a New Orleans Bowl Birth (December 21.)
If Army beats Michigan – reserve your flights to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl (December 28.)
The first game of the year matches the #29 ranked Army West Point Black Knights (Sagarin 62) and the Conference USA West Rice Owls (Sagarin 168). Rice leads the all-time series 4-3-1, but Army beat Rice two years ago in Houston 49-12.
Rice was 2-11 last season. They averaged 318 yards and 19 points per game. Head Coach Mike Bloomgren wanted to start a ground-oriented offense, but the Owls only averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Their leading Rusher Austin Walton graduated and their second leading rusher, Emmanual Esukpa transferred to BYU. Sophomore Juma Otoviano (5’10, 197) and senior Nahshan Ellerbe (5’9, 212) will be their main ball carriers. The Owls also lost two starters on the Offensive Line. Senior Wiley Green (6’3, 206) will start at Quarterback. Senior Wide Receiver, Rhett Cardwell (6’1, 196) is a capable Receiver if Green has time to find him.
The Rice Defense allowed 36 points per game and had difficulty stopping the pass. Two of their three Defensive Line starters left the program, but returnee junior Elija Garcia (6’5, 290) is good. Their Linebackers are the strength of the defense; junior Blaze Alldrege (6’2, 219) and sophomore Treshawn Champerlain (5’10, 201) are their lead tacklers. Junior safety George Nyakwol (6’0, 182) is the team’s best defensive player.
Who is favored?
Army is favored by 24 points
What to look for?
Last year Army was the best third down conversion team in football at 57.0% and Rice was the worst at 28.7%. With few players returning on either line, Rice will be pressed to stay in this game. Army certainly has holes on the defensive line, but I doubt if Rice will be the team to exploit them. Army is bigger, faster, stronger, more talented and better practiced than the Rice Owl team.
I look for Army to comfortably cruise through this game and get many of the new faces playing time. Brent Davis will probably want to practice Hopkins’ throwing in anticipation of the Michigan game, so you may see several passes early. Otherwise, look for vintage triple option with many new ball carriers if the game opens up.
On defense, Rice will try to run and this will be a fantastic start for the Army Defensive Line. If Rice is unable to effectively rush the ball, this game could get ugly. If they can sustain drives and successfully throw on occasion, they may be able to keep it close for a half.
Army is very confident.
Final Score – Army 42 – Rice 7. (Predictions for 2018 8-4-1)
This game will be shown on CBSSTV @ 6:00 PM EDT