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2010 College Football Preview: Army Black Knights

Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 5-7
Bowl Game:None
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'):NR, NR
Conference finish:N/A
Offensive rank: 117
Defensive rank: 16

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing:Trent Steelman, 706 yards, 5 TD; Patrick Mealy, 673 yards, 3 TD
Passing:Trent Steelman, 637 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT
Receiving:Alejandro Villanueva, 522 yards, 5 TD
Tackles:Andrew Rodriguez, 85 total tackles; Stephen Anderson, 83 total tackles
Sacks:Josh McNary, 12.5 sacks (11 solo, 3 assisted)
Interceptions:Donavan Travis, 4 interceptions (1 touchdown)

2010 Season Outlook


(* denotes conference game)

Key Matchups

The first three: After Eastern Michigan, Hawaii and North Texas, Army will still have winnable matchups against Tulane, VMI and Kent State. Duke, Temple, Rutgers, Air Force, Notre Dame and Navy, however, will prove harder to come away with victories. Starting 3-0 and taking care of business against Tulane, VMI and Kent State later would give the Black Knights a six-win season and a spot in a bowl game. This is not to say they won't take down a more formidable opponent, but if they slip up early, they'll have to rely on an upset sometime later in the season.

November 20 vs. Notre Dame: This one will be played at Yankee Stadium and will garner a national audience on NBC. The Irish will be favored, but an upset is not out of the question and would give the Black Knights awesome confidence to take into their regular season finale against Navy.

December 11 vs. Navy: The annual rivalry played in Philadelphia is one of college football's grandest traditions. Philadelphia has hosted the game 81 times now and Navy holds the all-time series lead 54-49-7. Following Army's 7-3 run through the 90's, the Midshipmen dominated the last decade, winning nine of the 10 games played including the last eight. Navy will be favored, but the Black Knights should not be counted out coming off their best season in years and returning a good deal of talent and experience.

November 26 @ East Carolina: The Pirates are rebuilding, but many still expect them to represent the East Division in the conference title game. Either way, this one could prove vital to SMU's quest to oust Houston as West Division champs.

Preseason Rankings (will not officially be released until August)



Key Losses

Victor Ugenyi, DT

Key Returning Players

Trent Steelman, QB; Patrick Mealy, RB; Zach Peterson, C; Josh McNary, DE; Mike Gann, DT; Stephen Anderson, LB; Andrew Rodriguez, LB; Steve Erzinger, LB; Donovan Travis, S

Offensive Overview

The triple option was introduced in West Point with some success. The Black Knights may have ranked 117th in the nation in total offense and dead last in passing offense, but they were 16th in rushing offense, averaging over 200 yards per game. It all starts with sophomore quarterback Trent Steelman, who was recruited for this system and played well as a freshman in 2009. Steelman is clearly an effective runner and should excel in running Army's triple option, but improvement in the passing game was a must following the season. He has improved in the offseason and should give Army an added element to the offense, even if they don't use it all that often.

The biggest news on the offense is the addition of fullback Jared Hassin, a transfer from Air Force who had to sit out last season. He'll emerge as a key to this offense's success up the gut. Patrick Mealy finished second on the team behind Steelman in rushing yards last season. Mealy worked out of running back and fullback in 2009 and with the addition of Hassin, who will command a great deal of attention on the inside, will get more opportunities to bust big runs on the outside. The other running back will be the speedy Jameson Carter, who will double as a receiver coming out of the backfield. Malcolm Brown, a converted wide receiver, and Brian Cobbs will also see playing time as outside runners with Jacob Bohn available as more of a blocking fullback.

Last year's leading receiver was a converted offensive tackle in Ali Villanueva (6'10, 283 pounds). Hey, whatever works, right? A couple of juniors in deep threat Davyd Brooks and underneath target Austin Barr are expected to get the start in Army's seldom-used passing game this season. The two combined for just five catches in 2009 for 68 yards. Kyler Martin moves back to receiver after spending time at linebacker last season and will serve as the team's third receiver. Steelman's progress in the passing game has some thinking the Black Knights could utilize the passing game more in 2010, but Hassin's arrival could throw a wrench in that notion. The job of an Army wide receiver has been for the last couple of seasons, and should continue to be, to block for the running game with a big catch peppered in here and there.

There are four seniors returning along the offensive line. Zach Peterson will anchor the unit from the center position with Jason Johnson and Anees Merzi resuming their roles as the starting tackles. Guard Seth Reed is a former defensive tackle who started every game at the right guard spot in 2009. He'll be joined by Frank Allen, a sophomore who some expect to excel as the team's top blocker despite his youth. He'll see a lot of action right off the bat from his left guard position. There are also some talented reserves who should see the field quite a bit this season.

Defensive Overview

On the defensive front, it all starts with Josh McNary, who recorded 12.5 sacks last season, tied for fourth in the nation, and 22.5 tackles for a loss, tied for second in the nation. Undersized for an end at 6'1, 225 pounds, McNary has proven an effective pass rusher and should once again be a force out of the Quick position on the end. Marcus Hilton will join McNary at the other end spot, while Jarrett Mackey could also see time as a pass rusher. Mike Gann will be relied upon to anchor the line from the middle. He'll need to be a big run stopper playing next to Hilton. Nate Combs, at 6'2 and 207 pounds, is a speedy lineman who could play linebacker, but will assume the Bandit position on the defense. The Bandit will play opposite McNary and will be counted on as a big time playmaker on defense.

Stephen Anderson will lead the linebackers corps from the MIKE spot provided his knee is ready to go following a late season injury that cut short an outstanding season. While Army expects him back by the time the season begins, whether he can resume his dominance is a question the Black Knights are holding their breath over. Joining him at linebacker will be Andrew Rodriguez, who returns to the WHIP position after leading the team in tackles last season, and Steve Erzinger resuming his role as the ROVER. Kingsley Ehie moves to linebacker from fullback to provide depth behind Anderson as he readjusts to game action. Chad Littlejohn should also see time as a reserve.

Donovan Travis will resume his role as the leader in the secondary at the free safety spot. He finished with 71 tackles and four interceptions last season and leads a secondary that ranked third nationally in pass defense. The SAM, or strong safety, will be Donnie Dixon. Dixon will share playing time with Jordan Trimble, who has started five games throughout his career. Richard King will return to the team after missing all of last season with a concussion. Joining him at the other corner spot will be Antuan Aaron. At 5'9, he's a bit undersized, but is quick and won't be intimidated by more physical receivers. He has even spent time at linebacker.

Special Teams Overview

Alex Carlton returns as the team's place kicker following a season in which he hit 18 of his 24 field goal attempts with a long of 51. He also hit all 13 of his extra point attempts. Matthew Campbell will handle kickoff duties and offers nice insurance behind Carlton. Jonathan Bulls averaged under 40 yards per punt a season ago, giving rise to concern over leg strength. He makes up for it, though, with some impressive accuracy. He placed 25 punts inside the 20 yard line in 2009.

Patrick Mealy and Malcolm Brown are listed as the team's kick returners following the spring. Mealy returned just four kicks last season, averaging just under 12 yards per return. That average should improve with more attempts and he'll be an important part of the team as he looks to give the offense good starting field position. At punt returner, Josh Jones returns to handle the duties after averaging just 5.8 yards per return in 2009. The return game needs to improve for a team that struggled to put up points on offense in 2009.

Head Coach: Rich Ellerson

Rich Ellerson's last FBS experience came as the defensive coordinator for Arizona from 1997 to 2000. He was previously the head coach at Southern Utah in 1996 and at Cal Poly from 2001 to 2008. In his first season at Army, he brought the Black Knights to their best record since the 1996 season when they went to the Independence Bowl. Upon his arrival, he installed the triple option at Army (the Black Knights ran an option offense in 2008 under Stan Brock) which helped the team improve to 5-7, just short of bowl eligibility.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Josh McNary, DE

Season Prediction

The Black Knights enter the season with hopes of a bowl berth. With six very winnable games, if Army can simply win the games they're supposed to win, they shouldn't have a problem returning to the bowl season for the first time since 1996. Bowl games have been sparse at Army of late, with their previous bowl game prior to the 1996 Independence Bowl coming in 1988 in a one-point Sun Bowl loss to Alabama.

In the second year under Rich Ellerson and his version of the triple option, with quarterback Trent Steelman with a year under his belt and with the addition of fullback Jared Hassin, the offense appears primed for a nice run in 2010. The defense has also seen changes under Ellison, adopting the Double-Eagle Flex defense. The pass defense was solid last season, although Army ranked 47th in pass efficiency defense, but stopping the run needs to be a focus for this team to be successful.

Army could grab an upset win or two to go along with their expected five or six wins against the softer part of their schedule, but a record consisting of more than seven wins seems unlikely. Not impossible, just unlikely. This is an experienced team, however, so making a push in 2010 will be a primary objective of this year's Black Knights. - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

Be sure to check the right sidebar daily for new NCAA Football 2010 Season Previews and NFL 2010 Season Previews as we'll be adding them almost every day until the September kick-off's.

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