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Beyond? the Empire: Previewing Army Football

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We head up the Hudson to learn about the Sons of Slum and Gravy, home to our esteemed General (Class of 1840), and hear about the upcoming Army-Ohio State football clash.

NCAA Football: Army vs Navy Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

You might not remember: Off Tackle Empire’s been slowly rolling out our previews of other conferences, Beyond the Empire. Unfortunately, the responsiveness of other sites and our own personal laziness (let you guess which it’s more of) have meant that this will about do it for this year. [Here’s the AAC preview, in case you want some USF-Illinois sadness.]

We were going to preview all the Independents on the Big Ten’s slate, but let’s be honest—fuck Notre Dame kind of distracted us. Sorry, BYU. Instead, we cast our net far and wide for some perspective on Army.

So here’s GoForThree.

(1) SBNation published a longform on Jeff Monken and the “years-long” plan to finally get over the hump against Navy. As someone who attended the game, wrote about it here, served, and is closer to Army football than most, did 2016--an 8-5 record, including a bowl win and the obvious Navy win--change your expectations for 2017? Is there a hangover (besides your hangover after the Navy game), or has Army turned a corner?

It’s always difficult to claim that a rebuilding program has “turned a corner” in the sense that the line to sustained success is rarely smooth, and there’s always the chance of down seasons.

That said, Monken has brought a cultural shift to Army football. The program had been unmoored since the late ’90s with the Todd Berry experiment and the successive hires of past-their-prime men (Bobby Ross and Rich Ellerson, most notably) who brought some dusty credentials and little energy to the program. Monken, by contrast, is a dynamo who takes a much more aggressive and comprehensive view recruiting--and that’s necessary with the strictures of the Academy admissions model.

(2) Moving to 2017’s club: Is...is everyone back? QB Ahmad Bradshaw and his top 7 rushers return. With Andy Davidson back, Army’s got the fullback-dive option it needs to keep opponents honest in the middle, allowing it to beat teams to the edge. How high can this offense climb, and does the loss of experienced and All-Name WR Edgar Poe hold it back?

Everyone is not back, and it will show. Oddly, Andy Davidson has seen little field time thus far, only carrying 6 times (all against Buffalo). Starting FB Darnell Woolfolk is churning out yards, averaging 93 across two games.

The linchpin of the offense is of course the QB, Ahmad Bradshaw. He carries the ball the bulk of the time (34 carries at 9.5 ypc) once defenses commit to stopping the FB. If you’re the EMOL, Bradshaw will be making you commit incorrectly all day long.

The flipside is that Army has no credible receiving threat. None. Edgar Poe graduated, and his heir apparent (and brother) Christian Poe elected to leave the Academy. The offense clicks on the ground like we’re back in the 1950s, with Monken’s nuanced and always-varying take on the Flexbone option system adapting to drive good defenses crazy and make undisciplined players pay.

(3) On defense, losing Jeremy Timpf and Andrew King from the LB corps hurts, but they’re succeeded by the combined 15 returning sacks of Alex Aukerman, Kenneth Brinson, and James Nachtigal. Given just how efficient the Black Knights were in dealing with a short field in 2016 (seriously, though...those special teams were baaaad) and the quality of the returning talent, can they replicate their above-average 2016 performance?

Replacing both Timpf and the King of Queens will be a monumental task. Because there’s no real redshirt year, talent development and rapid maturation is key in Army’s system. That’s not too much to ask of a young man who will be handed a platoon in short order and told to move out and draw fire. I expect Aukerman to step into that leadership role, and so far his on-field performance reflects that, with 9 total tackles and a team-leading 2.5 TFLs. This defense, nonetheless, has a lot of growing to do.

(4) Okay, so...um... Ohio State: Do you see any way the Black Knights keep it close? How will you personally handle your rooting interests in this game?

I will be in attendance, along with my buddy grew up in Cbus and graduated from USMA a year ahead of me. We will be dressed in full Old Grad regalia. I love OSU dearly, and I was born into the fandom. But Army football is special, and wholly unlike anything other sporting venture in the FBS arena.

For OSU, this is just another game, albeit it a unique one in terms of scheme (don’t expect Urban to call Army “Akron” afterwards), but there’s no big advantage to the program for a win. A win for Army would mean everything, and I’d cheer the downfall of Ohio State if it meant Coach Monken and the Pride & Dream could get a program-changing win in Ohio Stadium.

(5) Army trades out Notre Dame and an FCS opponent for...a lot of middling teams in S&P+. With a schedule of [/deepbreath] Fordham, Buffalo, @OSU, @Tulane, UTEP, @Rice, EMU, Temple, @Air Force, Duke, @North Texas, vs Navy: Give us your prediction for Army football’s finish in 2017. Bowling again?

8-4 with losses to OSU, Duke, Air Force, Tulane.

...outside of a win over Navy, though, does it really even matter?

Army could go 1-11 forever and ever Amen provided they destroy Navy’s deck-swabbing soul every year.

Poll

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This poll is closed

  • 72%
    Go Army
    (65 votes)
  • 27%
    Beat Navy
    (25 votes)
90 votes total Vote Now