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A Reasonably Anticipatory Assessment of: Army

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A too-soon look at next fall, sans the inevitable injuries, suspensions and other pratfalls of the long offseason.
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What’s Changed. Todd Berry’s four-year administration of Army from 2000-2003 was at least a comparable disaster to George W. Bush’s, in football terms, not least because Berry scrapped the classic wishbone and option that had defined the academy for decades in favor of some amorphous West Coast-y scheme that strived for balance and achieved rank mediocrity in all facets. Bob Sutton had stuck with the Bone in the late nineties, despite diminishing returns after the Cadets’ surprising run into the final polls in 1996, and in 1999 Army was still among a handful of option teams (along with the other academies and Nebraska, Rice and Ohio U. of Ohio) that always topped the national rushing charts because they ran about five or six times as often as they passed. Berry’s maneuverings merely made the bad results more bland, until the offense eventually bottomed out at less than 64 rushing yards per game on two pathetic yards per carry in 2003, both dead last nationally, and Berry was fired for posting the worst record in the history of the sport: 0-13.

As you’d expect from an NFL guy, Bobby Ross stuck with the goal of a balanced passing game, with modestly better results (because they couldn’t be any worse) but mostly the same high degree of suck, resulting in an offense that could barely eke out a living on the ground but that was also very inefficient in the passing game. Stan Brock is an ex-lineman and therefore inclined to favor anything suggesting a smashmouth or overtly physical approach, so when his first offense finished 111th in rushing offense and 115th in scoring last year, he didn’t even wait for the final gun to declare the hell with balance:

The least you should know about Army...
2007 Record • Past Five Years
2007: 3-9 • 2003-07: 12-47
Five-Year Recruiting Rankings*-
2004-08: 121 • 118 • 117 • 115 • 109
Returning Starters, Roughly
9 (5 Offense, 4 Defense)
Best Player
Essentially by default, Frank Scappaticci fills this role, though I’d be surprised if a competent skill guy who didn’t exist last year fails to emerge from the new offense. Scappaticci’s main selling point is that he’s still around: he was third on the team in tackles last year, nothing special, but the rest of the leaders on defense left en masse. He’s active enough to move from outside to the middle, though this probably won’t help the perpetually porous defense at all.
We Are Not Impressed
Army is sometimes mentioned as a one-time power –– ahem, Phil Steele –– though that power was concentrated almost exclusively in the years of and immediately following World War II, when a huge percentage of the college-age male population fit enough to be on a football field was either flocking to West Point or marching in Europe or some terrible jungle in the Pacific. Between 1943-1950, when a lot of schools didn’t field teams at all, the academy was 64-5-5, went undefeated four times, won three mythical championships, beat everyone by huge margins, had Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, etc., but the teams they played then were mostly depleted units from the clearly declining Ivy League and makeshift war-time teams like Sampson USN, Coast Guard Academy, Louisville AAF and Melville USN. It did regularly play and beat (or tie, frequently) two of the other most successful teams of the era, Michigan and Notre Dame, but its time as power ended as soon as the fighting men came home and metriculated back into the universities. Army was not bad at all prior to the war (two of its three undefeated season prior to WWII were during WWI, in 1914 and 1916), though it didn’t compete for championships; it’s never been relevant on a national scale since.
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* According to Rivals.

Army football alums and faithful have been calling for a return to the option offense, and now they may get their wish.

Coach Stan Brock confirmed yesterday he is considering installing more option plays into his offense next season.

Brock said he will meet with his coaching staff on a retreat after the season to discuss a detour from the pro-style offense.

"There's a lot of things with the option that we like," Brock said. "What we are trying to do is take the knowledge that we have here and go out and get some other knowledge. It will be a part (of the offense). But you have to recruit people to do it."

Army has 17 wins in 91 games since it strayed away from an option-based attack in 2000.

This season, Army's offense is ranked 117th out of 119 Division I teams. It has scored 14 offensive touchdowns in 10 games.

Army is still looking for its first 100-yard rusher in a game and has 45 three-and-out drives this season.

"If I'm the people at Army running the Academy, if Stan Brock doesn't say to me on Dec. 2 that we are going to start to install the option offense in the spring, I go get a coach who will," said John Feinstein, a best-selling author who chronicled Army's 1995 season in "A Civil War."
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That was mid-November. In the meantime, I would have rethought the plan based on the Feinstein quote alone, because John Feinstein is constitutionally wrong about everything. But five months later, the same Times Herald-Record confirmed the switch from behind enemy lines in the spring, and said it’s not some wishy-washy package that may or may not see the light of day –– it’s a full-fledged, unabashed, raging Bone:

The Times Herald-Record has learned from several sources that the mystery formation Army has been installing behind the Foley Athletic Center's closed doors is the wishbone offense.

Army has practiced the wishbone since the first day of spring practice, although coach Stan Brock closed all practices to fans and media.
Brock wouldn't disclose the offense in an interview yesterday. When asked if the new offense would be the foundation for the 2008 season, Brock said, "Yes, that will be our offense."

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Sources? Brock will catch the leakers at all costs! Get G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North on phone...the Red Phone.
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For what it’s worth, the academy’s Scout site thinks the offense will be the spread option, which would fit with coordinator Tim Walsh’s experience in I-AA, but USA Today confirmed the wishbone angle, too, albeit in less BREAKING NEWZ! fashion than the Herald-Record; in May, Brock promised to unveil the new scheme before the opener against Temple. However it leaks, though, in whatever form it eventually appears, the return of the systemic option can only be positive –– if not for Army, specifically, then for the universe, generally, which benefits from any effort to re-establish to the fleeting state of perfect equilibrium it achieved in late 1993/early 1994. Success or failure is insignificant by comparison.

There is the not-so-insignificant matter of actually quarterbacking an option, since the presumptive starter remains Carson Williams, the obvious choice in the old system but not the kind of athlete you’d usually want trying to cut up the field for extra yards. To that end, Brock landed Paul McIntosh, allegedly a spread type QB who won Indiana’s "Mr. Football" award by running for 1,500 yards, passing for 2,500 and scoring five touchdowns in the state championship game, if that means anything. Again, though, the option is practically an academy tradition –- at this academy, and the ones relating to sea and air, respectively –– and plausibly mandated as such by the PATRIOT Act. That’s the kind of legislatively mandated deception I can get behind.

What’s the Same. This being a senior-dependent outfit, not much, except the subpar talent level –– in addition to the offensive overhaul, seven of the top ten tacklers are gone, including the entire secondary, two-thirds of the starting linebackers and the program’s only draft pick of the decade (Caleb Campbell). As usual, the secondary made most of the stops –– the top two and four of the top six tacklers were DBs –– despite opposing offenses’ running about two-thirds of the time, which was not out of the ordinary given the defense’s consistent struggles. That can probably be taken for granted.

If any component of the team counts as "experienced," it must be the offensive backfield: Williams returns along with last year’s four leading rushers. Obviously, that didn’t amount to much –– only one game (in the 41-6 loss to Rutgers) over four yards per carry, only six rushing touchdowns all season and an ineffectual committee whose three most prominent members, Tony Dace, Patrick Mealy and Wesley McMahand, fell short of 850 yards between them. All three were held under 3.5 per carry, a scandalously low number; McMahand, who had a solid sophomore season in ‘06, averaged a truly depressing 2.9. All of that needs to improve by about 60 percent if the wishbone –– or whatever –– is going to make a dent.

Mercy Rule. Usually I save any discussion of the schedule for the closing prognosis, but the major theme of Army’s season as I see it is the extreme reduction in degree of difficulty. Seven of the Knights’ nine losses last year were to teams that finished with eight wins or more, and one of the other two was at the more athletic hands of 7-6 Georgia Tech. For comparison, en route to their far superior records, Air Force faced five eight-game winners and went 2-3 against them; Navy faced four eight-game winners, and went 1-3, the only win coming over Air Force. To be clear, Army wasn’t all that competitive against either of its fightin’ service brethren –– 20-point loss to USAFA a year after shellacking the Falcons in ‘06, and a 35-point loss to Navy, the sixth Cadet loss in a row in that game –– but a large factor in the extremely divergent results on the season was that Boston College, Central Michigan and Tulsa, all Army losses, happened to have banner years relative to Duke, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, all Navy wins. Based on the NCAA’s tally of opponents’ winning percentage, Navy’s schedule ranked 113th (.409), Air Force’s 76th (.477) and Army’s 43rd (.544), mainly on the random fluctuations of the teams listed above.

Williams: Used to running for his life, so why not save time and make it part of the system?
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It must be with some optimism, then, that before the last two games against Rutgers and Navy, none of Army’s first ten opponents this year won more than seven games last year, and only one of them –– Texas A&M –– is from a BCS conference. Of that ten, only A&M and Air Force were in bowl games. This is by design: wisely recognizing that the best warriors avoid the losing battle, the program intentionally wriggled out of games with B.C., Georgia Tech and Tulsa. So on paper, at least, perennial doormats Temple, New Hampshire, Akron, Tulane, Eastern Michigan, Buffalo and Louisiana Tech are an opportunity to match or exceed last year’s spoils before November, without actually improving very much. And then there’s Rice...

Overly Optimistic Spring Chatter. Before McIntosh even arrives to compete and undergo his ritual hazing, quarterback was one crowded, crowded mess in the spring, during which the following names were all mentioned for the job:

• Carson Williams
• Chip Bowden
• Tony Moore
• Carlo Sandiego
• David Petraeus

The last one is a joke, though Gen. Dave, an ex-West Points star his own self, is scheduled to drop by to kick some ass into form after about the ninth game or so.

It was not an impressive display in the spring scrimmage: the defense, which intercepted all of four passes in the whole of 2006 and only seven last year, picked off their own quarterbacks three times in one afternoon. As far as I can tell, Bowden has no relation to the Bowdens, though their infiltration of the service academies is the next logical step in their slow, steady assault on America’s most beloved institutions; Chip scored on a scramble from ten yards out. Sandiego is a former running back, described as "diminutive," and hoping his speed wins the day in the new offense; Moore is another running back, though hardly diminutive: he comes in at 235 pounds. It seems most of what you need to know about this group is pretty obvious: they’re counting the days until the freshman gets there.

Army on You Tube. Go nuts for last year’s Army-Navy spirit video. Get it? Nuts? Just watch the video:

It’s always comforting to see that our best at brightest, at heart, are really just stupid college kids. Did I say ‘comforting’? I meant ‘terrifying.’ Those are our future officers in the Great China War of 2044. How are we going to kick a billion pairs of balls?

See Also: In the interest of equal time, one of the many Navy versions of the spirit video, predictably upping the ante on mascot violence. ... The only bagpipe-based entrance in college football. ... Two years before 9/11, al Qaeda gets to the railing in Veteran’s Stadium. ... And a little history lesson: the glory days classic against Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium in 1946. Kind of anticlimactic, that one.

Best-Case: Again, the team does not look much better, but the schedule does, in that fully eight games look winnable. The main goal is surely to gain some ground in the Commander-in-Chief standings, but the margins in last year’s games with the other academies suggest that’s a long way from realistic. If the Knights/Cadets can manage a winning record against the likes of Temple, New Hampshire, Akron, Tulane, Eastern Michigan, Buffalo, Louisiana Tech and Rice, though, five wins would be the most here since 1996.

Worst-Case: Army probably won’t lose to all of the above, but it’s still bad enough to go in as a probable underdog to Temple, Akron, Tulane, Buffalo, La Tech and Rice, which leaves it an upset by New Hampshire and/or Eastern Michigan from 1-11. The talent level is still low enough to resist a change in philosophy, since no scheme can instill actual speed.

Non-Binding Forecast: Beat the I-AA Team or Bust. The schedule suggests more wins, but it won’t be much more, even if five of six home games fall easily into the "optimistic" category. Realistically, they’d be doing well to split those six and steal one from Tulane or Buffalo on the road, and declare victory at 4-8. Unless Navy implodes completely minus Paul Johnson, the Midshipmen’s streak is in no danger whatsoever for the time being.