2010 NCAA Football Preview: Army Black Knights

2009 Record: 5-7
2009 Bowl: None
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked
Head Coach: Rich Ellerson (5-7 at Army, 63-45 All-Time)
Schedule: at Eastern Michigan (9/4), Hawaii (9/11), North Texas (9/18), at Duke (9/25), Temple (10/2), at Tulane (10/9), at Rutgers (10/16), VMI (10/30), Air Force (11/6), at Kent State (11/13), Notre Dame (11/20), at Navy (12/11)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 15.3 points per game (117th in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 203 (16th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 71 (120th in Nation)
Total Yards/Game: 275 (117th in Nation) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 21.9 points per game (35th in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 152 (71th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 153 (4th in Nation)
Total Yards/Game: 305 (16th in Nation)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.42 per game (29th in Nation)
Penalties: 43 yards per game (17th in Nation)

Returning Starters
Offense: 8
Defense: 8
Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Trent Steelman, Soph (54 of 110 for 637 yds, 3 TD, 2 INT)
Rushing: QB Trent Steelman, Soph (202 carries for 706 yds, 5 TD, 3.5 ypc, 58 ypg)
Rushing: RB Patrick Mealy, Sr (110 carries for 673 yds, 3 TD, 6.1 ypc, 56 ypg)
Receiving: WR Jameson Carter, Sr (4 rec, 46 yds)
Tackles: LB Andrew Rodriguez, Jr (85); LB Stephen Anderson, Sr (83)
Sacks: DE Josh McNary, Sr (13.5)
Interceptions: FS Donovan Travis, Sr (4)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #85
Pre-Snap Read: #85
Sporting News: #79

2010 Pre-Season Bowl Predictions:
Athlon Sports: Armed Forces Bowl (vs. Wyoming)
Phil Steele: Armed Forces Bowl (vs. Tulsa)

In Rich Ellerson's debut Army went 5-7 last year and missed their first bowl trip since 1996. Ellerson has 16 returning starters on offense/defense and returns his leading passer, rusher, tackler, sack leader and interception leader. The big issue for Army last year was not the defense but a lack of offensive production and scoring. Army's schedule looks about the same as it did last year so I would think that they should be able to get to at least 6-6 and get to a bowl. Phil Steele calls this "easily Army's best team since their 1996 bowl squad." We wanted to find out more about Army football so we turned to the Army blog The Unbalanced Line.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of Army?


A. The Offensive Line: The line brings back four, which, after returning just one starter in 2009 should be a more effective unit in 2010. Four starters with a year of experience in the triple option and the addition of a new fullback suggest that the O-line should be an area of strength this year.

B. Defensive scheme/execution: Ellerson's defense really stood out last year. Army uses the Double Eagle Flex which seemed like it caused teams trouble in 2009 as none of Army's opponents had played against it before. Personnel-wise Army warmed up pretty quickly to the scheme and had players racking up stats.

C. Schedule: There are a lot of teams with low expectations appear on the schedule. Tests will come in the neutral site games against Navy, Rutgers and Notre Dame. Home games against Hawaii, North Texas, Temple, VMI and Air Force should afford Army a usable home field edge. The away games are all winnable, and I truly can't find a softer schedule in all of FBS. This schedule is the main reason Army has been in the bowl candidate conversation.


A. Army's most glaring weakness is the one-dimensional offense, last year the Black Knights attack was simply awful and the team relied way too much on the defense to keep them in games. We saw the offense gack games away at Temple and against Duke, and they were lucky to hang in the games they did. Army scored just 18 total offensive TDs in 2009. and averaged just 15.3 points per game. If those numbers repeat in 2010 the Black Knights will be lucky to win three games.

B. Kicking game: Spring practice revealed that Army's kicking game has taken a bit of a step back over the break. Last year's kicker Alex Carlton might have to compete for the placekicking duties as he has struggled with consistency over the spring. A positive is that Carlton and 2008 placekicker Matt Campbell (KO specialist in 2009) each have had success kicking during the regular season, but having such uncertainty going into the preseason practice is a little unsettling.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

I've remained pretty optimistic this offseason, and I'd like to think I have a good idea of what Army is capable of in 2010. There are some games that Army should definitely win and some games that look like sure losses. With that said, it's the toss-ups that have me biting my nails. A loss to Hawaii in the home opener could put Army's bowl hopes in a huge hole - keep in mind that Army will need six wins before the Army/Navy game to be bowl eligible. So just as Army can count on some wins, they can also count on some losses - but it's those 'toss-up' games that are going to make or break the 2010 season.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test and why?

Every game should be interesting, but the first serious challenge will be the away game at Duke. That game is just a tough situation for Army... an away game on grass and Duke will be coming off a home game against Alabama. Army hung with Duke last year and the Black Knights will have revenge on their minds. I look at this one as another one of those toss-ups: could be an important win... could be a tough loss.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

I've been impressed with the role that Chip Bowden has played under the new head coach. Bowden was being groomed as the starting quarterback before Ellerson took over and stepped in for Steelman in a few games last year when Trent was dinged up. He contributed on special teams in kick coverage until he was injured in the Air Force game. The injury (ACL) forced Bowden out of spring practice, but he should be able to practice in August. I haven't heard much about his recovery, but if he's anywhere close to 100% I would expect to see him find the field on special teams. The latest depth chart has Chip listed as the backup to QB Steelman, so I'm optimistic about his recovery.

Honorable mention:

ROV Steve Erzinger 71 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss.
DT Mike Gann 34 Tackles, 6 tackles for loss
SB Patrick Mealy 110 rushes, 673 yards 3 TDs

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

The best offensive player returning from 2009 is QB Trent Steelman. He is simply the most productive player from last year's offense. Trent cracked a rib in the first game of the season, but persevered and became the first freshman QB to start all 12 games for Army. His 2009 numbers were unspectacular - 706 rush yards (5 TDs) 637 pass yards(3 TDs), but his toughness and ability to manage the offense have been proven. He's going to be the QB for the next 3 years and considering his performance in 2009 we can count on Steelman having a breakthrough season sooner rather than later.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

Whether or not it was the Double Eagle Flex system that led to his individual success, Army's stand-out defensive player is Josh McNary. McNary ended up 5th in the nation in sacks last year finishing with 12.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss. He has been named to a number of preseason All-America teams and made the preseason watch list for the Ronnie Lott Trophy awarded to the national defensive player of the year.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

On offense the addition of transfer fullback Jared Hassin should make the offense more potent, but I'll touch on that in a minute. On defense one of the team leaders last year was Steve Anderson. Like Chip Bowden, Anderson suffered a knee injury against Air Force and like Bowden, Anderson also had offseason ACL surgery. Anderson flew around the field making plays last year and though he played in only 9 games, finished #2 on the team with 83 tackles. After the injury Anderson remained involved with the team by mentoring his backups through spring ball, but as long as he's healthy, Anderson's role on the field will be a lot more important for the 2010 Black Knights.

Who is the top newcomer that can make an impact this year?

There is a lot of hype surrounding soph. transfer Jared Hassin who should provide both speed and a physical presence at the fullback spot. The hope is that Hassin will root out yards on the inside which would make the triple option's outside runs more of a threat. Last year Kingsley Ehie played fullback, and he did a good job of finding holes (114 rushes, 473 yards, 2TDs) - in fact Ehie did well enough finding holes on offense that he has moved over to Linebacker this year to compete for downs on Ellerson's read/react defense.

Navy has beaten Army 8 straight times. What does Army need to do differently to have a shot at ending the streak this year?

I think Rich Ellerson is on the right track. Whether it's fair or not, the success of Army's program is to a large degree judged in comparison to Navy. In that respect the 2000's were an awful stretch for Army as Navy has enjoyed some spectacular success while Army has been just terrible. This year's team has had a full year with the triple option and Ellerson's defense has proven it can impact games. As long as there is stability with at the coaching spot Army is in good shape moving forward.

Can Army beat Navy this year? Sure. I don't think the Black Knights will be favored, but if the Cadets can eliminate turnovers and play sound ball control football, they can position themselves to win a close game.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

I don't usually do predictions, but I'm in this far, so...
The Black Knights will need to accumulate a lot of good fortune in order to finish 8-4. I think most people would agree that the 2010 team has improved in almost every phase from the 2009 team. Even considering the team's improvements an 8-4 year could be achieved only by playing absolutely flawless football. I'm talking zero injuries, +15 turnovers and a serious improvement in all phases of the kicking game. In light of that, I don't see 8-4 as realistic.

I didn't graduate from West Point so I don't consider Army's yearly success defined by a win over Navy. I think Army can go 6-6, but as I mentioned above Army needs 6 wins by November 20th in order to garner the Bell Helicopters Bowl bid. We might see a situation where Army goes into the Army/Navy game at 5-6, wins that game and still doesn't go bowling due to how the bowl contract was set up. To me that version of a 6-6 season would be a failure - but reverse that scenario... Army comes into Army/Navy at 6-5... loses to Navy, but backs into the Bell Helicopter bowl bid. I really can't say I prefer that situation either, so I think it's important for Army to have very high expectations of their season. For Army a 7-5 season is possible, but it leaves a very slim margin for error.

Next Preview: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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MWC- BYU Cougars,  Colorado State Rams, UNLV Rebels, Utah Utes
Pac-10- Arizona State Sun Devils, Oregon Ducks, Stanford Cardinal, USC Trojans, Washington Huskies
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Sun Belt- FIU Golden Panthers, North Texas Mean Green, Troy Trojans
WAC- Boise State Broncos, Fresno State Bulldogs, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, New Mexico State Aggies

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