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2021 Army Football Preview: Can the Black Knights repeat their success?

The Black Knights ended 2020 with a 9-3 season and came home with the C.I.C. Can Jeff Monken’s side do it again?

AutoZone Liberty Bowl - West Virginia v Tennessee
Tyhier Tyler of the Army Black Knights runs the ball during a game against West Virginia Mountaineers at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on December 31, 2020.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Black Knights 2020 season was one to remember. Army had a few injury obstacles and new defensive play-calling, and a heavily altered schedule due to COVID-19. In the end, Jeff Monken’s side persevered. They rebuilt their schedule, went 9-3, and beat Air Force, Navy and Georgia Southern along the way. The Black Knights captured the C.I.C. and made a bowl game, giving West Virginia all it could handle in a three-point loss. By most standards, it was a successful season, especially considering the circumstances.

With 14 starters returning and a schedule that is pretty manageable (even with the additions of Wisconsin and Wake Forest), I think Army could have another strong season coming up.

Here’s a breakdown of what I’ll be paying attention to this fall.

A stable quarterback

It’s no surprise this is a big floating question. Jemel Jones, Tyhier Tyler, and even then-freshman Cade Ballard all got some time under center last year, following Christian Anderson’s season-opening injury and Jabari Laws being out for all games. It was often unpredictable who fans would see at quarterback. Entering summer camp, it was expected that Laws would regain his starting spot come Week One, but heading into the season opener vs. Georgia State, he isn’t listed on the three-deep depth chart. Tyler and Anderson are still competing for the starting nod.

Tyler led the team with 578 yards and five touchdowns last season, while Anderson was able to complete 20 of 47 pass attempts. We know we’re expecting a hard-charging run game whenever Army is on the field, but last year could be a preview to how Monken wants to rotate each quarterback’s strengths and keep opponents guessing this season.

A More Established Defense

I’ve spoken at length about how the addition of Nate Woody helped transform the Black Knights on defense. With the loss of Jon Rhattigan and Amadeo West, Army still has some major players.

Last year, Marquel Broughton ended the season leading with 40 solo tackles and two interceptions. Senior Cedrik Cunningham wasn’t far behind with 33 stops and one interception. Sophomore Andre Carter, though young, had a standout game against Georgia Southern and netted one fumble, one interception, and 14 tackles.

And there are still a number of veterans who will bring that aggressive attitude into the new season — hardly a group to keep your eyes off.

Could this be reminiscent of Army circa 2017 or 2018? It’s hard to say, but the way the team is currently stacked and I have high hopes.

Opener: Army vs Georgia State

Where: Center Parc Stadium, Atlanta , Georgia

When: September 4, 2021, at 12 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPNU

What to know: Like so many teams last year, Georgia State’s schedule was largely impacted by COVID-19. Even going 6-4, three of their games were canceled, including their marquee matchup against Alabama. I’d keep my eye out for running back Destin Coates, the senior who netted 767 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020. The team only passed for 273.7 yards last year but, of note, all 11 of their offensive starters are back. Surely this will make for a formidable Sun Belt opponent for the Black Knights right out the gate and on the road.