Army Black Knights
Army had a few things happen in 2010 that haven’t occurred in a long time with the most obvious being their first winning record since 1996. The Black Knights also went to a Bowl and beat a favored SMU club to snare their first postseason victory since 1985. Army’s season was punctuated by an offense that scored when the opportunity presented itself and the ability to keep opponents in check on the scoreboard. A return to the postseason in 2011 will need much the same performance with an emphasis on protecting the ball in Rich Ellerson’s option offense.
The offense doesn’t appear to be anything special was in fact the number eight rushing attack in the college game. This unit will have their work cut out for them to repeat that ranking with just six starters back. The good news is quarterback Trent Steelman is back along with Jared Hassin who surpassed 1,000 yards on the ground a season ago. However, slot back Patrick Mealy is gone but the big concern is not who is back running the ball but who will be blocking for them. There is a natural reason to worry with four starters graduating but head coach is a master at running the triple-option and I see him being able to find the bodies that will propel the Black Knights in to a top ten ranked ground game once again. Oddly for a team that rarely throws Army does need a better performance from their receiving corps when they do.
The Black Knight also have some questions on defense where only five players return. The most notable losses were DE Josh McNary, DT Mike Gann and leading tackler in middle line backer Steven Anderson. This will be a unit that is on the small side but has speed and quickness. That said the key to their success will be how they perform against bigger offensive lines that will probably hand the ball off and let their O-Line simply push the smaller Army defenders backwards. That said, the Black Knights quickness will serve them well defending the pass assuming opponents are forced to throw enough to make a difference.
Alex Carlton returns to handle the kicking duties and has a fairly strong leg going 15 of 22 in 2010 with eight makes in the 40-49 yard range. Punter Jonathan Bulls graduated but he was notorious for line drive kicks that were returnable. Chris Boldt takes over the position with little experience and the return game will be a mix of new and old faces but it’s hard not seeing this group show improvement.
The Black Knight thrived last season because they forced 16 more turnovers than they gave away and likely have to meet or exceed that number this year with just 11 players back. With so many new faces I have a hard time seeing Army duplicate their 2010 success more so because the defense will struggle containing the big offensive lines they’ll see who will try to run the ball right at them. I don’t see this team getting outworked or out coached but I don’t see them going 7-6 again and I hope I’m wrong.