The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 111 Army.
Previewing Army’s Offense for 2014:
First-year coach Jeff Monken brings his version of the triple-option to West Point. There is a basic understanding of the scheme among returning players, but different terminology made for quite a learning curve during the spring.
Angel Santiago started 11 games last season and is the most experienced of the returning quarterbacks. A.J. Schurr, whose only career start was last year against Navy, is the better passer and frequently worked with the first team during the spring.
A groin injury cost two-time 1,000-yard rusher Raymond Maples most of last season, and an ankle surgery cost him the spring. Granted a fifth year of eligibility, the Academy’s sixth all-time leading rusher is expected to rejoin a ground attack that churned out 309.8 yards rushing per game in 2013. Senior Terry Baggett, the leading returning rusher (1,113 yards), should be good to go after injuries slowed him during the spring.
Xavier Moss emerged last season and was easily Army’s top receiver with 35 receptions. Chevaughn Lawrence and Kelvin White, who switched from QB in late spring, are in the mix. There are no experienced tight ends on the roster. An incoming freshman may ultimately be the answer when the formation requires one.
Ryan Powis, a three-year starter at center, moved to tackle late in the spring to accommodate Matt Hugenberg. However, Powis left the team in July. Monken felt Hugenberg, who has yet to start a game, was his best lineman in the spring and decided to put him at center. Guard Steve Shumaker and tackle Justin Gilbert are returning starters.
Previewing Army’s Defense for 2014:
Monken will stick with a 3-4 alignment for a defense that ranked 103rd against the run and tied for 107th in turnovers forced. Seven linemen with starting experience return, led by Mike Ugenyi and Robert Kough, who had a team-high eight tackles for a loss in 2013.
The linebacking corps lacks experience. Julian Holloway is the unit’s leading returning tackler with only 42. James Kelly saw action in every game last season, including three starts. Senior Derek Sanchez had a strong spring.
The secondary took a hit late during spring when Shaquille Tolbert left the team. Tolbert had been moved to corner after starting at safety. Still, there are some proven playmakers in the defensive backfield. Senior safety Geoff Bacon made the move from linebacker prior to last season and recorded 63 tackles to place second on the team despite missing four games. The top returning corner is junior Chris Carnegie, who started 20 games his first two seasons.
Previewing Army's Specialists for 2014:
Prior to taking over at Georgia Southern, Monken was the special teams coordinator at Navy. It is an area where the Black Knights are in desperate need of improvement after the unit placed 115th in punt returns and 121st in kick returns. Moss and Josh Jenkins could help in those areas. Kicker Daniel Grochowski drilled 8-of-11 field-goal attempts last season, while Alex Tardieu averaged a paltry 37.3 yards per punt.
Monken knows the triple-option and previously coached at a major military academy, key ingredients when taking over at Army. He is very intense and demands a lot of his team. He showed his frustration during the spring when his team lost focus. “I am not happy with how physical we are playing in every phase of the game,” he said at one point.
Monken inherits a team that won only three games last year and a total of eight in the past three years. But with a soft schedule that includes two FCS opponents, there is room for improvement. Bowl-eligibility isn’t likely, but the Black Knights should be competitive with most of the teams on their schedule.