Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.
1. A glimmer
One break per game. If Army had figured out how to generate one more break per game, the Black Knights could have started 2015 5-0.
- Against Fordham in Week 1, they recovered two of five fumbles and bombed a punt snap for a safety in a 37-35 loss.
- Against UConn in Week 2, they outgained the Huskies per-play by a 6.5-5.8 margin and recovered both of the game's fumbles to keep the game within 22-17, then got the ball back with two minutes left and a chance to win. They immediately threw an interception.
- Against Wake Forest in Week 3, they held a 7-0 halftime lead, recovered three of four fumbles, picked off the Demon Deacons three times, and won the field position battle. But they missed a 39-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, and Wake made a 47-yarder at the buzzer. 17-14, Wake.
- Against Penn State in Week 5, after an easy win over EMU, they trailed 13-0 but scored twice in 10 minutes and got the ball back with 6:48 left, down 20-14, despite losing three fumbles. They stalled at midfield.
They lost by seven to Rice, three to Tulane, 10 to Rutgers, and four to Navy. Only Duke beat the Knights by more than 17. The cadets were 1-7 in one-possession games, but if you're hungry enough for hope, that's what it looks like. With a super-young team in Monken's second year, Army proved it could stay close to decent teams by slowing the tempo, milking the clock, and kicking pretty well. They got good breaks to stay close against decent teams and bad breaks to end up close against bad teams.
From a drama standpoint, this was a happy development. Army lost three games by at least 20 points in 2014, three in 2013, four in 2012, etc. But it seemed like smoke and mirrors. Army was less efficient than its opponent, produced fewer points per scoring opportunity, and lost the field position battle, and while the Knights were able to spring big plays (32 gains of 30-plus yards, 43rd in FBS) and avoid allowing too many (26 of 30-plus, 54th), they were done in by little plays. Their adjusted scoring margin, per S&P+: minus-20.9 points per game. This was the fifth straight year that number got worse.
Still, if you're going to be a poor team on paper, you might as well be a poor team that will return a majority of your difference-makers and doesn't wilt. Keeping games close when you're outmanned requires tenacity, and that
Though the ceiling is only going to be so high, 2016 represents an opportunity to take a clear step forward. Army returns two interesting quarterbacks, eight of its top nine running backs, its main receiver, eight offensive linemen with starting experience, three of four defensive linemen, 10 of 11 linebackers, and six of eight defensive backs (plus a key contributor who missed 2015 with injury). They are among FBS' top 25 in returning production.
If experience leads to
|Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 0-12 | Final F/+ Rk: 108 | Final S&P+ Rk: 123|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|26-Sep||at Eastern Michigan||122||58-36||W||27%||62%||+21.8||+25.0|
|3-Oct||at Penn State||47||14-20||L||26%||28%||+22.9||-6.0|
|7-Nov||at Air Force||63||3-20||L||4%||0%||+5.1||0.0|
|Points Per Game||22.1||109||27.8||75|
2. Consistency: not always good
It really was like there was an inverse relationship between the quality of the opponent and the breaks Army got. Despite youth, the Knights were one of the most consistent teams in the country, and not in a good way. In terms of percentile performances, they were between 14 and 28 percent nine times in 12 games and were never higher. But good bounces gave them a shot against Penn State and UConn, and bad bounces took them down against Fordham, Rice, and Tulane.
Young teams aren't typically this even-keeled. In theory, if this large base of returning contributors improves, then this could result in higher-quality consistency. But it's hard to ride that logic too far when we don't really know the upside involved.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||41.5%||70||Succ. Rt. +||91.5||106|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||31.8||107||Def. FP+||33.8||121|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.6||53||Redzone S&P+||86.0||116|
|Q1 Rk||113||1st Down Rk||102|
|Q2 Rk||81||2nd Down Rk||86|
|Q3 Rk||112||3rd Down Rk||119|
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Ahmad Bradshaw||5'11, 198||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||23||48||429||5||2||47.9%||3||5.9%||7.6|
|Chris Carter||5'11, 170||So.||NR||NR||13||21||348||2||2||61.9%||4||16.0%||12.7|
|Joey Benden||5'10, 180||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR|
3. Step one: Find a QB
With both starter Ahmad Bradshaw and backup A.J. Schurr injured, Chris Carter took over at quarterback against Rutgers. The result was beyond intriguing. Carter rushed 19 times for 116 yards (not including one sack), and he completed four of his first five passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. His sixth was intercepted, which finished off any
hopeful comeback attempt in a 31-21 loss, but Army fans caught a glimpse.
Forced to watch Navy's Keenan Reynolds develop into the ultimate service academy option quarterback over the previous four years, fans of the Black Knights have been left to hope that their own offense might find its savior one day. Army has long had solid option quarterbacks -- Trent Steelman from 2009-12, Angel Santiago in 2013-14 -- but it's gone a long time without a Reynolds.
Carter went 9-for-15 for 208 yards against Navy. But once again, he was picked off in the fourth quarter, and on Army's last chance, a misguided trick play resulted in another pick.
Carter and Bradshaw finished spring listed as co-starters, and that makes sense. Bradshaw has shown plenty of potential in two years, and while Carter hinted at massive potential, he's still only a sophomore with two career starts.
Army coaches trusted Carter to throw more than Bradshaw, though. He threw 21 passes in two games compared to Bradshaw's 48 in eight. Bradshaw was the more efficient runner (39 percent of his carries gained at least five yards, compared with Carter's meager 34 percent), and while he fumbled too much (8.7 percent of his carries), Carter did even more (13.2 percent).
Having two interesting quarterbacks is a good problem. My theory is that, in case of a tie on the depth chart, you should choose the younger guy who might star for a longer period of time. But Bradshaw's still got a shot, and Carter showed enough upside to tell us that if Bradshaw's the first-stringer, the QB position's ceiling is awfully high.
|Ahmad Bradshaw||QB||5'11, 198||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||127||510||5||4.0||4.6||39.4%||11||4|
|Aaron Kemper||FB||5'6, 210||Sr.||NR||NR||101||544||3||5.4||9.8||25.7%||0||0|
|Drue Harris||FB||6'0, 220||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7726||46||176||2||3.8||4.4||23.9%||0||0|
|Chris Carter||QB||5'11, 170||So.||NR||NR||38||160||1||4.2||4.5||34.2%||5||2|
|John Trainor||SB-T||5'11, 190||Jr.||NR||NR||31||280||2||9.0||7.9||61.3%||1||0|
|Jordan Asberry||SB-A||5'9, 185||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7926||30||213||0||7.1||5.4||56.7%||1||1|
|Joe Walker||SB-A||6'0, 204||Sr.||NR||NR||27||203||1||7.5||7.5||59.3%||1||0|
|Christian Drake||SB-A||5'10, 178||So.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||17||138||1||8.1||8.6||52.9%||2||0|
|Tyler Campbell||SB-T||5'11, 170||So.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||17||118||1||6.9||3.7||64.7%||0||0|
|Nicholas Black||SB-T||5'8, 188||So.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||12||44||0||3.7||2.7||33.3%||2||1|
|Elijah St. Hilaire||SB-T||5'9, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||NR|
|Andy Davidson||FB||6'2, 220||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7533|
|Cole Macek||FB||5'11, 220||So.||NR||NR|
4. The balance was a little off
I assume Army fans get tired of Navy comparisons, but it's unavoidable.
See if you can spot the difference between Army's and Navy's option distribution and effectiveness.
Navy: 42% of carries, 4.9 yards per carry, 38% opportunity rate, 3.6 highlight yards/opp
Army: 35% of carries, 4.8 yards per carry, 28% opportunity rate, 6.4 highlight yards/opp
Navy: 39.0% of carries, 5.8 yards per carry, 40% opportunity rate, 6.2 highlight yards/opp
Army: 43.1% of carries, 4.2 yards per carry, 38% opportunity rate, 4.7 highlight yards/opp
Navy: 19.4% of carries, 9.1 yards per carry, 62% opportunity rate, 7.1 highlight yards/opp
Army: 22.3% of carries, 7.4 yards per carry, 57% opportunity rate, 6.5 highlight yards/opp
The option is about creating a vortex between the tackles. You pound away with the fullbacks up the middle and the quarterbacks off tackle, and if you're good enough at that, then when you eventually pitch to your slotback on the edge, he's got acres of space.
For Army, the biggest problem I see is that the fullbacks weren't gaining enough up the middle. Aaron Kemper is far more explosive (and
far smaller) than a fullback should be, and he's strong as an ox, but the fullback's role is to reliably gain small chunks of yardage, not serve as an all-or-nothing threat on the outside. Kemper and sophomore Drue Harris had an opportunity rate well under 30 percent, which just won't fly. Kemper's explosiveness is nice, but you have to have balance. And while Black Knight quarterbacks were pretty efficient, they had to take on a heavier load.
Navy quarterbacks also attempted 132 passes last year to Army's 109. That's not a huge difference -- 10.2 attempts per game to 9.1 -- but considering Navy spent most of the year leading and Army spent most of it trailing, the difference was perhaps more magnified.
Since Monken and the staff seemed to trust Carter to throw more, maybe that makes him the best option at QB? Because we might need to see what big Edgar Poe can do with more touches. He's quite a deep threat.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Edgar Poe||WR-X||6'4, 215||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7694||32||16||441||50.0%||33.7%||13.8||40.6%||50.0%||2.73|
|John Trainor||SB-T||5'11, 190||Jr.||NR||NR||12||8||176||66.7%||12.6%||14.7||75.0%||66.7%||2.03|
|Nicholas Black||SB-T||5'8, 188||So.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||7||3||41||42.9%||7.4%||5.9||42.9%||28.6%||1.81|
|Joe Walker||SB-A||6'0, 204||Sr.||NR||NR||6||3||85||50.0%||6.3%||14.2||50.0%||33.3%||4.31|
|Jordan Asberry||SB-A||5'9, 185||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7926||5||2||40||40.0%||5.3%||8.0||60.0%||40.0%||1.79|
|Tyler Campbell||SB-T||5'11, 170||So.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||3||3||57||100.0%||3.2%||19.0||33.3%||66.7%||2.31|
|Darnell Woolfolk||RB||5'9, 220||So.||NR||NR||1||1||18||100.0%||1.1%||18.0||0.0%||100.0%||1.58|
|Christian Drake||SB-A||5'10, 178||So.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||1||0||0||0.0%||1.1%||0.0||0.0%||0.0%||0.00|
|Aaron Kemper||FB||5'6, 210||Sr.||NR||NR||1||0||0||0.0%||1.1%||0.0||0.0%||0.0%||0.00|
|Jeff Ejekam||WR-Z||6'2, 199||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||1||0||0||0.0%||1.1%||0.0||100.0%||0.0%||0.00|
|Jermaine Adams||WR-Z||6'1, 211||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Christian Poe||WR-X||6'3, 200||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7694|
|Quinten Parker||TE||6'1, 225||So.||NR||NR|
|Kjetil Cline||WR||6'0, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8381|
|Caleb Auer||TE||6'3, 240||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Justin Gilbert||RT||6'7, 271||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||6||18|
|Mike Houghton||RG||6'4, 284||Jr.||NR||NR||9||11|
|Rick Kurz||LT||6'2, 265||So.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||8||8|
|Victor Nieves III||LG||6'4, 318||So.||NR||0.7667||6||6|
|Colby Enegren||LG||6'2, 279||Sr.||NR||NR||0||3|
|Brett Toth||RT||6'6, 259||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||2||2|
|Bryce Holland||C||6'2, 289||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7667||0||2|
|Lofi Tamasese||RG||6'1, 288||Sr.||NR||NR||0||0|
|Joshua Boylan||C||6'2, 273||Jr.||NR||NR||0||0|
|Mike Houghton||RG||6'4, 284||Jr.||NR||NR||0||0|
|Tim Gant||RG||6'3, 265||So.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||0||0|
|Trey Neville||OT||6'4, 250||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7667|
5. Lay off, injury bug
That Army's run-blocking numbers were decent was an accomplishment considering the shuffling on the two-deep. Eight different players started a game on Army's offensive line, and only two started more than nine games.
Injuries can hurt in the present tense and help in the future tense, and that could be said here -- Army loses two starters up front but returns five more who started for at least half the year. That said, the injuries only end up helping if they lay off at some point. By the end of spring football, four projected starters were sidelined, and Monken was left to only say, "I hope it won’t become a revolving door like it has been."
Continuity could turn a decent line into an excellent one, but there's no promise that continuity will come.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.1%||71||Succ. Rt. +||88.5||105|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||27.8||111||Off. FP+||25.8||123|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||5.0||111||Redzone S&P+||82.0||126|
|Q1 Rk||117||1st Down Rk||109|
|Q2 Rk||124||2nd Down Rk||121|
|Q3 Rk||99||3rd Down Rk||116|
6. Improvement in the front, regression in the back
I used one word to open my summary of the Army defense in last year's preview: "Yuck." In Monken's first season, the Black Knights ranked a dismal 127th in Def. S&P+ -- their third straight year ranked 119th or worse -- and the issues in the front seven were so pronounced that it was difficult to figure out short-term fixes.
The good news: despite iffy odds, and despite basically only playing three linemen all year, Army's front seven improved. The Black Knights weren't particularly disruptive, but they stiffened in short-yardage situations, and they improved from dead last in Rushing S&P+ to 88th.
Despite a slightly better pass rush, the pass defense got worse, falling from 118th in Passing S&P+ to 123rd. I thought the secondary could be decent, but that went out the window when star cornerback Josh Jenkins (four tackles for loss, 12 passes defensed in 2014) missed the season because of head injuries suffered during a Fourth of July altercation with a teammate. Freshman Brandon Jackson was thrust into a go-to role, and that rarely goes well.
The pieces could come together this year. Almost everybody from the front seven is back, and so is Jenkins. Including Jenkins, the D returns 10 starters, and while returning a ton of players from a bad defense isn't necessarily a great thing, Army could rank 115th or better in Def. S&P+ for the first time since 2011. Baby steps, right?
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|John Voit||DE||6'3, 247||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||12||41.5||7.1%||4.5||2.0||0||0||1||0|
|Jordan Smith||DT||6'3, 258||Sr.||NR||NR||12||33.0||5.6%||2.5||0.0||0||1||2||0|
|Eddy Ruzga||DT||6'3, 241||Sr.||NR||NR||8||5.0||0.9%||2.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Shawn Lemoto||DT||6'3, 263||Sr.||NR||NR|
|Andrew McLean||DT||6'4, 272||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7533|
|Spencer Welton||DE||6'1, 230||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Raymond Wright||NG||6'3, 265||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7778|
|Cordarrell Davis||NG||6'0, 240||So.||NR||NR|
|Chandler Ramirez||DE||6'0, 210||So.||NR||NR|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Andrew King||MIKE||6'0, 246||Sr.||NR||NR||12||73.5||12.6%||16.5||4.5||0||0||0||0|
|Jeremy Timpf||WILL||6'1, 225||Sr.||NR||NR||12||70.5||12.1%||5.0||1.5||1||2||1||0|
|Alex Aukerman||SAM||6'1, 228||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||12||26.0||4.4%||2.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Bayle Wolf||RUSH||6'0, 221||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||7||23.5||4.0%||2.0||2.0||0||0||1||0|
|Kenneth Brinson||RUSH||6'2, 225||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8464||12||13.5||2.3%||3.5||0.5||0||1||0||0|
|Scott Washle||MIKE||6'1, 238||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7744||6||8.5||1.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Cole Macek||LB||5'11, 220||So.||NR||NR||12||5.5||0.9%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Calen Holt||WILL||6'0, 210||So.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||12||5.0||0.9%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Gibby Gibson||SAM||6'1, 200||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8178||10||3.5||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Andy Davidson||WILL||6'2, 220||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7533||12||2.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Tyler L'Hommedieu||LB||6'0, 213||Jr.||NR||NR|
|James Nachtigal||RUSH||6'0, 205||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8111|
|Ryan Parker||LB||6'1, 205||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8154|
|Joe Ryan||LB||6'1, 215||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7778|
|Jack King||LB||6'2, 205||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7667|
|Ryan Grady||LB||6'2, 201||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7497|
|Jake Ellington||LB||6'3, 222||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR|
7. The best depth in quite a while
Limitations can be freeing. Army has almost no size up front, but when you don't have conventional size, you don't stick to conventional tactics. Army figured out how to stiffen in short-yardage despite a line that featured nobody heavier than 268-pound T.J. Atimalala, and the Black Knights improved as the game went on despite massive depth issues. This wasn't a good defense, but it overcame obstacles in finishing 120th.
In 2016, depth shouldn't be as much of a problem. Coordinator Jay Bateman will have no choice but to dip into his reserve of linemen with the loss of Atimalala, but that's basically the only loss. John Voit and Jordan Smith are back up front, and former star recruit Andrew McLean might finally be ready to contribute.
The linebacking corps should be a legitimate strength. Andrew King and Jeremy Timpf have combined for 44 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, and 13 passes defensed over the last two years. Plus, Rush ends Bayle Wolf and Kenneth Brinson (a former mid-three-star recruit) showed decent potential. If players like sophomore Gibby Gibson, McLean, and direct-admit freshmen like Ryan Parker are able to live up to decent recruiting hype, then Army might have enough play-makers to create havoc.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Brandon Jackson||CB||6'0, 170||So.||NR||NR||12||56.0||9.6%||5.5||2||3||5||0||0|
|Rhyan England||FS||5'10, 192||Jr.||NR||NR||10||51.5||8.8%||3||0||0||4||0||0|
|Xavier Moss||BS||6'2, 197||Sr.||NR||NR||12||50.0||8.5%||0||0||1||5||0||0|
|Steven Johnson||CB||6'0, 191||Sr.||NR||NR||10||8.0||1.4%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Max Regan||BS||6'2, 185||So.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||11||3.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Marcus Hyatt||CB||5'10, 170||So.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||12||2.5||0.4%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Gervon Simon||DB||5'11, 199||Sr.||NR||0.7000|
|Mike Reynolds||DB||6'1, 180||So.||2 stars (5.2)||NR|
|Casey Dionne||FS||6'0, 180||So.||2 stars (5.2)||NR|
|Elijah Riley||DB||5'11, 190||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR|
8. How much difference can Jenkins make?
Brandon Jackson got burned a lot last year. An unrated true freshman is not going to fare particularly well as an outmanned defense's No. 1 cornerback. But in the process, he also made 5.5 tackles for loss and defensed eight passes.
If Jenkins returns to full strength, suddenly Jackson becomes one of the more proven No. 2 corners around. With two experienced safeties (Rhyan England and Xavier Moss), that feels like a pretty good secondary. Or at least, a better secondary. And if that's accompanied by a deeper, more experienced front seven ... well, that sounds like an improved defense, doesn't it? "Improvement" could still mean 110th in Def. S&P+, but I see both sides of the ball improving this year.
|Marcus Hyatt||KR||5'10, 170||So.||29||19.8||0|
|Nicholas Black||KR||5'8, 188||So.||5||19.4||0|
|Edgar Poe||PR||6'4, 215||Sr.||18||5.8||0|
|Nicholas Black||PR||5'8, 188||So.||3||-1.3||0|
|Special Teams S&P+||87|
|Field Goal Efficiency||101|
|Punt Return Success Rate||77|
|Kick Return Success Rate||82|
|Punt Success Rate||37|
|Kickoff Success Rate||49|
9. Wanted: new field position legs
Punter Alex Tardieu and kicker Daniel Grochowski weren't good enough to prevent a field position disadvantage, but they were both solid and gave opponents few good return opportunities. They're gone, and all the members of a pretty shaky return unit are back. Not necessarily a fair trade. You never know how new kickers/punters are going to perform, but it's hard to imagine this unit improving much on last year's iffy No. 87 Special Teams S&P+ rating, not with the two best players gone.
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|29-Oct||at Wake Forest||74||-19.5||13%|
|12-Nov||vs. Notre Dame||11||-32.2||3%|
|Projected wins: 4.6|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-34.7% (121)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||126 / 126|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-11 / -14.5|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||+1.5|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||78% (71%, 85%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||3.6 (-1.6)|
10. Experience isn't an issue
Army has ranked 125th and 123rd in Monken's first two years. It probably isn't surprising that S&P+ projects the Black Knights 124th this year. Honestly, though, I expect something more like 105th. I would be pretty surprised if a team with this much experience -- and potential at quarterback -- didn't improve.
Even at 124th, Army is projected to have a shot at five wins thanks to two FCS opponents and four FBS teams projected 109th or worse. The Cadets would need to get to seven wins for traditional bowl eligibility thanks to the two FCS teams, but a team that ranked, say, 105th could easily approach six or seven wins.
I like the niche Army is carving out with its heavy load of Eastern-seaboard teams (mixed with stops in Texas -- ND-Army is in San Antonio this year), and I really liked the Monken hire. That it has taken him a couple of years to get affairs in order makes sense, and even if it was with smoke and mirrors, I think it was a very good sign that Army was able to keep games close and avoid blowouts. But the step after "be competitive" is "actually win," and Army hasn't done that. We'll see if this year is any different.