2012 Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Rich Ellerson (17-31 at Army)
Last Bowl Game: 2010 Armed Forces Bowl: beat SMU 16-14
Stadium: Blaik Field at Michie Stadium in West Point, NY (capacity = 38,000)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 21st out of 55 mid-major teams
Stats to Fear: gained only 14 turnovers in 2012 (111th in Nation), allowed opponents to score on 87.5% of trips to red zone (105th in Nation)
Stats to Cheer: converted on 46.67% of third downs (21st in Nation), gave up only 30.1 penalty yds/game (4th in Nation)
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 108th out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 9, Defense 8, Special Teams 0
Key Defensive Returnees: LB/S Geoffrey Bacon (136 tackles), LB/S Brandon Fusillier-Jeffires (88 tackles), LB/DB Alex Meier (71 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Raymond Maples (1215 yds rush, 5.45 ypc), RB Larry Dixon (839 yds rush, 5.99 ypc, 6 TD), WR Chevaughn Lawrence (21 rec)
Inside Scoop with The Unbalanced Line:
CFBZ: Army has seen diminishing wins the last two years. What has been holding Army back over this period?
Schurr had the added benefit of learning Ian Shields' T formation attack behind Steelman for a year, and the nature of the position as an option QB requires that the next man in needs to be ready to play for every game. I wouldn't be surprised to see him step in and play well, I'm willing to bet that in his first season as a starter he puts up more 100 yard passing games than Steelman did in his Senior year - that number stands at 1.
FS Geoffery Bacon had 136 tackles last year and will be a experienced part of the defense. I'm hoping as a safety he won't be called on to make so many tackles, but his numbers speak to his consistency. Through spring ball there have been some injuries in the linebacking corps, so it will be interesting to see who emerges as starters by September. Starting LB (Rover) Justin Trimble missed 6 games last year to injury and was held out for spring... his backup last year Alex Meier (also out for spring) should challenge for playing time or work his way onto the field at another spot.
The Unbalanced Line: It's hard to quantify success with a team that is so far removed from it. Army fans are pining for a win over the Navy. A CIC Trophy symbolizes success for the service academies, but sweeping both Navy and Air Force has been out of Army's reach. If Army splits those games I can see 6 wins, but the season never works out quite the way one sees the schedule in June... so 6 wins would be optimistic, but enough for me to set my mark for success at 6 wins and a bowl bid.
Army went just 2-10 last season. Stony Brook beat them by 20 and Temple put 63 on the board against them. This is not what Rich Ellerson was thinking when he took the job. Despite the lowest of lows there were some glimmers of hope such as a victory over Boston College, a one-point loss to a team that made a BCS Bowl (NIU) and they came the closest to beating Navy (four points) that they have since they last won a game in that rivalry in 2001.
Army will move on from four-year QB starter Trent Steelman. AJ Schurr looks like he's the next man up. Schurr will have plenty of weapons to choose from in the backfield as the Black Knights return five players that averaged more than five yards per carry. Rumor has it that Army might be throwing the ball around a bit more this fall so keep your eye on that development. Schurr returns his top three receivers but only Chevaughn Lawrence caught more than twenty balls last fall. The OL returns three starters so should be in decent shape but will be starting two players with minimal experience.
The defense gave up 6.72 yards per play last season (121st in the Nation). One reason for that is they gave up 34 plays of 30 or more yards (15 on the ground and 19 through the air). The DL loses Zach Watts but besides that they return just about everybody including Robert Kough (9.5 TFL) and Richard Glover (7.5 TFL). The LB/Secondary corps return a lot of players who made a bunch of tackles but they will miss Nate Combs (6 sacks, 3 FF, 12 TFL). There are definitely some question-marks on the defense (Alex Meier's health and Brandon Fusilier-Jeffiries academics) but as was stated in the Q&A, there is no place to go but up.
The most likely victories on this schedule are Morgan State, Eastern Michigan and Hawaii. The schedule isn't a killer but it will be hard for Army to see a dramatic improvement over last season. With a young QB and the question-marks on defense what you look for if you are Army is a game by game improvement. The schedule is tougher at the beginning (Ball State, Stanford, Wake, La Tech, BC). If they can get past that initial stretch there are definitely some winnable games on the backhalf of the schedule. After winning just five games in the last two years, it's critical that this team sees improvement. I look for three to four wins from this squad. If they steal one early (I'm looking at you Ball State and Wake Forest) they could be in for a much better run. If they start 1-5, it could be a tough hole to get out of for the Black Knights.
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews: