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An Absurdly Premature Assessment of: Army

A random, too-soon look at next fall, sans the inevitable injuries, suspensions and other pratfalls of the too-long interim.
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The least you should know about Army...
2006 Record
Past Five Years
Returning Starters, Roughly
8 (4 Offense, 4 Defense)
Best Player
Jeremy Trimble is not much of a big play guy, has never had a 100-yard receiving game and only caught two touchdown passes last year, but he can become the academy’s all-time receiving leader with another 52 catches. He was athletic enough to run two punts back for touchdowns on VMI and Baylor and to take an end around 41 yards for the opening touchdown against Navy.
Bizarre Tradition
Bizarre? Hell, the outdated gray coats executing the "March On" before the Army-Navy game is straight Americana, boy. Here the cadets line up for hypothetical battle and cheer in very manly fashion in Philadelphia last December:

Bizarre Item of Dubious Interest
The distinctive jersey patches were a new addition in 1999 designed to ensure every unit being represented in the Army-Navy game will have a patch on the field during the game for the benefit of overseas personnel. They’re worn now over the entire season. Last year, quarterback Carson Williams was assigned the "Hard Charger" patch of the 1st Cavalry, the same patch his "proud, shocked" father was wearing at the same time as a member of the unit in Iraq.
What's Changed: Service academies generate a lot of turnover as a matter of course, but there's not an egregious amount of turnover for ex-Bobby Ross disciple/new coach Stan Brock in his first year up from guiding the offensive line. Whatever is different personnel-wise is mostly along the lines: four veteran offensive line starters are moving on to more serious matters with five of their counterparts from the defensive front seven. The top three tacklers will be missed, primarily they of the drill sargeant-ready names, Cason Shrode and Barrett Scruggs, who combined for 200 tackles last year, one of only about half a dozen teammates in that category if - as the NCAA does - you count assisted tackles the same as solos (sacrilege, frankly). Beyond that, all the plays on defense were made by junior DBs, an indicator to which we shall return in a second.

Also: do not feel bad if you weren't aware Army does not and has not run the old wishbone option anymore, or weren't certain; I wasn't, either. I had suspicions, but can now report confidently the venerable military tradition has been fully, inexorably scrapped for the first time since the late seventies: it's still a run-first system (almost 60 percent of snaps last year were runs), but the top six seasons in school history for completions are the past six, and the same is very nearly true for yards, attempts and touchdown passes. The Black Knights have thrown for more yards than they've run every year of the Berry-Mumford-Ross era this decade.

What's the Same: That's more a knock on the state of the run game than it is a compliment of Army's clumsy adaptation to the forward pass, though. The reader's uncertainty about the academy's penchant for passing should be relieved somewhat by the fact that it remains really, truly terrible at it. David Pevoto, playing the first half of '06, and Carson Williams, playing the last half, combined to throw a ghastly 24 interceptions to ten touchdowns, with none of the gains Army quarterbacks used to turn in regularly on the ground. That was easily the highest team interception percentage (24 picks on just 293 attempts means an INT on 8.1 percent of throws) in the country. The old option-heavy look occasionally generated huge gains on the rare pass, but the only teams averaging fewer yards per attempt than Army (5.46) were Toledo and UConn, and only three other teams managed to match the academy's dismal overall pass efficiency: Arkansas State, Florida International and Illinois. The passing game here remains pretty rank, and the main culprit in the nation's worst turnover margin.

This is going to end badly.
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The good news, if you're the half-full sort (or if you're a masochist): Pevoto and Williams have peeled their potatoes and return with redemption in their steely hearts with top rushers Wesley McMahand and Tony Moore in tow. They're not dangerous runners - the entire offense only generated 13 runs longer than 20 yards - but they're a fairly consistent pair of pluggers, whatever that's worth. Three of those big runs were on ends around to returning receivers Jeremy Trimble and Corey Anderson, all three touchdowns from midfield or thereabouts.

Lies, Damn Lies and the Easily Blocked: The secondary looks really good if you look at opponents' production in terms of yardage, the lack of which helped the Black Knights rank seventh in pass defense. There's a huge disparity, though, between that number and the team's finish in pass efficiency defense, which is all the way down at ninety-first. That gap is a result of the Knights' embarrassingly low interception total (4), a big factor in efficiency, and the lack of passing initiative from opposing offenses, a big factor in yardage. A schedule with Air Force (five pass attempts against Army), Navy (six attempts), VMI (eleven) and Texas A&M (eleven) will not result in a lot of receivers running downfield.

Except, remember, there were still a lot of tackles in the secondary, from which we can surmise that opponents didn't throw against Army because they didn't have to - backs were breaking through on a pretty consistent basis. The Black Knight front did a pretty good job against Baylor, the worst rushing offense in the nation, and was handled by literally everyone else for around four and a half yards per carry at minimum. That's not as egregiously bad as it could be - they're not Temple - but it adds up when teams are staying on schedule on first down week after week and don't have to take chances with the ball. And when teams actually wanted to throw, like Baylor, Tulane and Rice, they were more than accommodated. Sacks, tackles for loss and pressure in general were nonexistent, and as a result, so were turnovers. Again, almost everybody in the front seven will be new, and - half full! - can't be much worse.

Something Positive, Anything, From Our Future Fighting Men: He didn't get many, but Trimble was a threat on punt returns. He brought two back for touchdowns, in wins over Baylor and VMI, and wound up second to DeSean Jackson in return average, about two and a half yards better per return than the third-best guy. So that's something, if the defense can ever force anybody to punt more than twice.

Overly Optimistic Spring Chatter: It's all positive around West Point these days with Brock aboard, as it is everywhere every year - in one practice, the quarterbacks improved, the "impressive" offense "came out firing on all cylinders" and showed the ability to put the ball in the end zone, the cornerbacks are working hard, listening to the amazing coaches, putting depth to bed as an issue. Et cetera. And if you were wondering about that sparkling new $15 million Foley Athletic Center, valued donor, its recent reprisal of the General Washington role in last week's Valley Forge-like conditions should put those questions to bed, too:

Unseasonably cold weather gripped the Northeast on Thursday as a biting wind whipped through West Point and early spring snow flurries danced around the Michie Stadium complex. It was a day that in years past might have negatively impacted the productivity of Army's football practice.

That is not the case any longer thanks to the presence of the Foley Athletic Center. Army's sparkling new $15-million indoor facility proved to be a tremendous asset for the Black Knights throughout the long, cold winter months after opening its doors back in January. But the expansive, 77,000-square-foot training center will continue to provide a valuable climate-controlled environment in which to work throughout the spring, summer and fall months as well.
"It's such a great asset to have," explained head coach Stan Brock. "It takes all the guess-work out. We can be productive. We can come in and have good, quality teaching time. You can come in here and the players can concentrate on what they need to concentrate on. I can't put in words how grateful we are that we have this facility."

How cold was it on this day, this brutal afternoon that sends our hardened protectors seeking the nearest expansive shelter? Fourty-four degrees. You're the Army! Aren't there mountains in Afghanistan? North Korea? Against Air Force? You think Russia is really our ally now? Practice in the snow!

Army on YouTube: Not sure what's going on with the montage at the end of this video, but I've always been intrigued by the obsession in ancient fight songs with "the line." Most extoll their team to militarily hold, break or fight for that precious ground, but only Army as far as I know is musically instructed to "tear rip that line asunder":

Who are supposed to be the "sons of slum and gravy"? Appropriately rhyming Navy? If I didn't suspect it was actually a Depression Era paean to the blue collar spirit of the valiant Army boys, I'd say "sons of slum and gravy" is probably the best sports-related putdown on record.

See also: Do not dare miss B.J. Hall, Barracks Linebacker, who is easily better than any of Army's actual linebackers; Early thirties Army-Navy footage from the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium; a more modern tribute to Cadet football, culminating in that one amazing kick-n-catch from a couple years ago. You'll know the one I'm talking about.

It's the men, General...they're in desperate need of an expansive, 77,000-square-foot training center.
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Best-Case: Visits from Rhode Island, Tulane and Temple give the Black Knights a decent opportunity to match last year's three wins by mid-October, but it will take an upset to add a fourth win over the last six games. If it's able to pull an upset during that stretch, at Air Force maybe, the academy could hit four wins, matching its best season since its last bowl in 1996. It won't be get close to .500.

Worst-Case: Bowl Subdivision talent isn't exactly gravitating to the military in these troubled times, a gap that will be highlighted with little mercy by Wake Forest, Boston College, Central Michigan, Georgia Tech, Rutgers and Tulsa, none of whom should realistically be caught within single digits of Army (though one of them, like Iowa State in `05 and Texas A&M last year, probably will). Out of respect, I'll give them Rhode Island and Temple as sure wins, but that's the best I can do regarding the worst Army can do, which is 2-10.

Non-Binding Forecast: For a team that seems so destined for another 3-9 mark, I'm not sure there's any real suspense aside from beating Navy. The losing streak to the Midshipmen is at five years, which I'll guess is about how much time Brock could buy himself if he finally ends it, even if his team accomplishes nothing else. That game's only, what, eight months away? I won't get any more specific for now than 3-9.

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Previous Absurdly Premature Assessments...

March 12: Tulane March 13: Baylor March 16: UCLA March 20: Kentucky
March 21: Oregon March 22: Arizona State March 23: BYU March 27: Missouri
March 28: Troy March 29: Iowa State April 3: Alabama April 4: Akron
April 5: Cincinnati April 9: UL-Monroe