Preview 2017: Is Army Really The New Navy?
Previewing and looking ahead at the Army Black Knights season – and what you need to know.
This is exactly how the whole plan is supposed to work.
The goal was to out-Navy, Navy. For the moment, mission accomplished.
With just one winning season and bowl run from 1997 to 2015, and a brutally long losing streak to Navy along the way, 2016 became a season the Jeff Monken era needed to kick in. It needed to be when there was a sign that Army football could potentially be decent, and it came up with something so much more.
As an independent, the schedule was set up to be relatively favorable – with a slew of lightweights and two FCSers mixed in with Notre Dame, Air Force, and low-end Power Fivers Duke and Wake Forest. Yes, the slate mattered.
The ground game always worked under Monken. The 2014 Army team finished fifth in the nation in rushing, and the 2015 team was 12th – both teams were awful.
Last season, the players were in place in Year Three to not just average 340 yards per game and finish second in the country, but to take over games and go on the long, sustained marches – boom.
It took a few years to find the right pieces on defense and build up the depth, and it all came together. The linebacking corps was stellar, the pass rush was better than it’s been in a long, long time, and the young talent in the secondary rose up for the nation’s sixth-best pass defense.
Oh yeah, and Army went to a bowl game, and won it.
And it came up with a victory over Navy.
For a program that’s known nothing but try-hard misery for years and years and years, it was the campaign desperately needed to prove that, yeah, it’s possible to win football games at Army.
But here’s the thing. That was fun, but to really and truly out-Navy, Navy, Army has to do this again. And again. And keep it going for several years, and beat some of the good teams along the way, and compete and a higher level.
Of course, Army actually beat Navy, but Navy got to the American Athletic Conference championship, beat Houston, beat Notre Dame, and once again showed that it’s a real, live football team at a mid-range level. Under Monken, Army is still building for that sustained success.
And there’s no reason that can’t keep on going with this team.
Everyone who gained a meaningful rushing yard is back behind a line that returns four starters. The quarterback situation is deep, experienced and talented, and the receiving corps has the bar set at just catching an occasional pass.
The defense has to replace irreplaceable linebackers Jeremy Timpf and Andrew King, but 11 of the top 14 tacklers return with – and this was what was missing in the past – enough depth to rotate in and keep everyone fresh. If the pass rush is almost as strong, and the young defensive backs that were so good early on can shine again, at the very least, there won’t be a massive drop-off.
This can’t be a one-off. Monken is too good, there are too many strong pieces in place, and – Ohio State game aside – a schedule that most Power Fivers would groove into a nine-win campaign, go ahead and get excited for what Army football is becoming.
Oh yeah … and if you really want to be the new Navy, once again, beat Navy.