March 7th marks the start of spring practices for the Black Knights, ranked 19th after an impressive 2018 campaign. Army has enjoyed much success under head coach Jeff Monken during the past few seasons, I think the biggest question lingering in most Army fans’ minds is:
The 2018 season will be a hard one to top. Army won a program record 11 wins (back-to-back 10 win seasons), remaining undefeated at home for the second straight season (13-game win streak at home). The Black Knights extended their win streak over Navy en route to clinching the Commander in Chief’s trophy in back-to-back seasons. Finally, Army punctuated their third straight bowl game victory with an absolute blowout win against Houston, 70-14.
This year, Army is gearing up for 13 games, with notable contests against Michigan and Hawaii (both on the road), as well as a match-up against another military institution (aside from Navy and Air Force) in VMI. Last year’s only blemishes were a sloppy, season-opener loss to a decent Duke team and a heartbreaking OT loss to then-#5 Oklahoma. Obviously Michigan will be a tough opponent, but given how well Army has played up to this point, an undefeated season doesn’t sound like a pipe-dream.
However, to pull something like that off, you have to have the right guys on both sides of the ball. This leads us to the next question heading into spring practices
How will Army deal with replacing the graduating class of 2019?
Army Football’s class of 2019 was arguably one of the most impressive groups to grace the confines of Michie Stadium and their presence will be missed. There will be big shoes to fill on both offense and defense, as well as special teams. Mike Viti’s “stable” of fullbacks will be among the hardest hit, with the loss of captain Darnell Woolfolk along with Andy Davidson and Calen Holt. Army’s offensive line will also be taking a hit with the loss of center Bryce Holland who spear-headed Army’s vaunted triple-option rushing attack. John Abercrombie, one of the most reliable kickers the Black Knights have had in awhile, will also graduate.
On defense, Army will have to fill the void left by the likes of James Nachtigal, Kenneth Brinson, Mike Reynolds, and several others. Notably, the Black Knights will also enter the 2019 season without decorated coordinator, Jay Bateman. Bateman is recognized as one of the greatest defensive masterminds in football, and has guided the Army defense to huge success over the past several seasons. He will be joining North Carolina’s staff in the same position.
Despite all of these departures, the Black Knights still have a solid crop of rising underclassmen, including their returning quarterback - Kelvin Hopkins. Hopkins ran Army’s triple-option offense to near perfection last season, and his throwing ability really opens up a whole new dynamic for the Black Knights. Hopkins became the first Army player to throw and rush for 1,000 yds in a season. Expect Hopkins to pick up where he left off, especially with returning targets in Kell Walker, Glen Coates, and Artice Hobbs.
Defensively, the Black Knights will look to rising seniors such as Cole Christiansen, Elijah Riley, and Jaylon McClinton to fill the void and maintain Army’s formidable defense. John Loose, Jay Bateman’s replacement as defensive coordinator, got his feet wet during Army’s blowout win against Houston last season in the Armed Forces Bowl, and appears to have things well in hand.
Army's 56-point win over Houston is tied for the largest ever in an FBS bowl game.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 22, 2018
Army also secured its first 11-win season in school history. pic.twitter.com/LiIJHtuTmp
Each of the past few season under Jeff Monken, Army has graduated numerous record-setting players, each seemingly more irreplaceable than the last, and yet the next class always steps up to the challenge. The Black Knights seem poised to continue their winning ways going into the 2019 season. Speaking of winning ways, one final question to discuss for Army fans (and arguably the most important) is...
Will Army retain the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy for a third straight year?
In stark contrast to Army’s record 11-2 season last year, Navy and Air Force posted 3-10 and 5-7 records, respectively. Both Navy (American Athletic Conference) and Air Force (Mountain West Conference) have fairly tough conference schedules as well as marquee non-conference games. Navy will play Notre Dame on the road while Air Force will take on Colorado in a Rocky Mountain showdown.
Games between service academies are always close and emotional, regardless of overall record. This year should be no different. Expect a tough game against Air Force, hoping to erase the memory of Army’s 21-0 shutout win the last time they met at Falcon Stadium in 2017. Navy fans don’t seem too troubled yet, given they put up 14 straight wins against Army from 2001-2015. But there are a lot of issues to be addressed if the Midshipmen expect to snap Army’s current win streak.
Army fans, we’ve got our swagger back. The Black Knights have everything they need to ensure that the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy remains on the banks of the Hudson this year.
It’s going to be an exciting 2019 for Army Football, and it’s about time to get it all underway.
Spring practice is now officially less than a week away!