No. 72 Army
Army beat Navy last December. Though that's enough to call it a successful season, the huge victory almost overshadowed what was already a fantastic year.
Their triple-option offense returns four linemen and their top six ball carriers, and a stout defense returns seven starters. That should be enough to flirt with eight wins again in 2017.
2016 Record: 8-5 (Independent)
Army had won eight games in a season just once since the Reagan Administration, so their 2016 campaign was a really big deal.
The win over Navy garnered the most national attention but they also beat Temple (scoring 28 points against one of the best defenses in the FBS) and Wake Forest and narrowly lost to Duke, 13-6. Army had a three-game winning streak (two in fact) for the first time since 1996.
Head Coach: Jeff Monken (4th year, 14-23 overall)
Jeff Monken did something the last four Army head coaches couldn't do in the last two decades: win eight games in a season.
The longtime assistant of Paul Johnson took the Black Knights' job in 2014 and won just six total games in the first two seasons — though the three-win average was on par with his predecessors. He then led one of the most remarkable and unexpected turnarounds in recent college football memory by delivering an 8-5 mark, their second bowl game since 1996 and win over Navy for the first time since 2001.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Ahmad Bradshaw, RB Jordan Asberry, RB Tyler Campbell FB Andy Davidson, FB Darnell Woolfolk, WR Christian Poe, WR Jeff Ejekam, OT Brett Toth, OT Rick Kurz, G Mike Houghton, C Bryce Holland
Army had four players rush for at least 400 yards, all of whom return in 2017, led by converted linebacker Andy Davidson. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder gained 961 yards on 5.1 yards per carry for the nation's second-ranked rushing offense (339.5 yards per game).
Kell Walker also made a huge impact as a freshman and Tyler Campbell averaged 9.6 yards per carry.
Ahmad Bradshaw is their quarterback — for now. He's a capable runner (824 yards, eight touchdowns) but struggled as a passer. While the system doesn't require gaudy stats, his 44-percent completion clip and one interception per nine attempts were concerning.
“I’m happy with how I’ve improved since I’ve been here,” Bradshaw said in December. “I’m still making mistakes I shouldn’t be making, but I’m learning to protect the ball more. I’m not making simple passing mistakes like forcing the ball. (Quarterbacks) Coach Ware has done a great job of helping me learn from my mistakes and to protect the ball more.”
Bradshaw loses his top receiver Edgar Poe but Poe's brother, Christian, poe is back, as is senior Jeff Ejekam. The offensive line is absent just one starter and returns three seniors, including tackles Brett Toth and Rick Kurz.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Andrew McLean, DE John Voit, LB Kenneth Brinson, LB Alex Aukerman, CB Elijah Riley, CB Marcus Hyatt, S Rhyan England
Seven starters return for a unit that ranked sixth nationally in passing defense (170.2 yards per game) and fourth in overall defense (291.5 yards per game). Though they lost two disruptive inside linebackers, they return outside linebacker Alex Aukerman.
Aukerman exploded as a junior, appearing in all 13 games for the first time in his career, recording 59 tackles and a team-high 15 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He and Kenneth Brinson (7.5 tackles for loss, four sacks) will be tasked with locking down the edges.
Seniors Andrew McLean and John Voit anchor a deep defensive line. Voit had two tackles for loss and one sack in their 13-6 loss to Duke. And in the secondary, sophomore Elijah Riley is the emerging star. After taking over for Brandon Jackson after Jackson was tragically killed in a September car accident, Riley started 11 games and led the team with three interceptions. He'll be flanked by upperclassmen Marcus Hyatt at corner and Rhyan England at safety.
Notable Player Losses
WR Edgar Poe, G Justin Gilbert, LB Andrew King, LB Jeremy Tipf, S Xavier Moss
Edgar Poe and Justin Gilbert are gone from the offense but Army's biggest losses came on defense. Linebackers Andrew King and Jeremy Tipf, who combined for 208 tackles, 23 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, are gone. And do-it-all safety Xavier Moss (57 tackles, two interceptions, five passes defended) also graduated.
Notable Player Additions
RB Kjetil Cline
Like other service academies, Army doesn't have the typical additions of an FBS team. They do, however, have some sophomores that could see their first playing time in 2017, led by running back Kjetil Cline.
The 6-foot, 195-pounder from Minnesota by way of IMG Academy was a three-star prospect who passed on offers from Pitt and Western Michigan and interest from numerous Power Five programs to join Army. Cline is still buried on a depth chart with many experienced ball carriers but he'll be slowly worked into a rotation that he may lead as a senior.
Army opens with home games against Fordham and Buffalo before visiting Ohio State for the teams' first matchup ever. Both teams have been playing football for more than 110 years and they've never met.
|Friday, Sept. 1||vs. Fordham|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. Buffalo|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||at Ohio State|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||at Tulane|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||vs. UTEP|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||at Rice|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||vs. Eastern Michigan|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||vs. Temple|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||at Air Force|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||vs. Duke|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||at North Texas|
|Saturday, Nov. 9||vs. Navy|