After decades of watching Navy and Air Force win games and make bowl appearances, Army has now joined the fun. The Black Knights of the Hudson currently have a two-game winning streak against their biggest rival, have possession of the Commander-in Chief’s Trophy, and have won consecutive bowl games.
Jeff Monken has given the Army program momentum, and those at West Point expect another successful campaign in 2018. But in game one, the Black Knights will be facing a Duke team with its own revered head coach.
David Cutcliffe has led the Blue Devils to five bowl games in the last six years. In the 90 previous seasons of Duke football, the program had played in the postseason just eight times. While it is certainly easier to make a bowl game in the current college football environment, a strong case can be made that Cutcliffe is the best coach in Duke football history.
This Friday, the two acclaimed coaches will square off in Durham, North Carolina.
Army West Point at Duke
Kickoff: Friday, August 31 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Duke -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Army's quarterback play
Ahmad Bradshaw was the offensive player who made the Black Knights go in 2017. The senior quarterback completed only 14 passes over the entire season, but he ran for 1,746 yards and 17 touchdowns in leading the Cadets to a 10-3 record. Monken now has to figure out who will take the snaps this fall. Junior Kelvin Hopkins, last year’s backup, will most likely get the first call. Though he is considered a better passer than Bradshaw, Hopkins completed just 6-of-18 passes as a sophomore. Regardless, the system won’t change. Army will run and then run some more.
2. Daniel Jones
There are no questions surrounding the Duke quarterback situation. Junior Daniel Jones is a proven commodity, though hardly a consistent one. Jones was stellar during Duke’s season-opening four-game winning streak, slumped as the Devils lost six in a row (one of which was a 164-yard, no-touchdown, one-interception performance against Army), then returned to form while winning his last three games, including the Quick Lane Bowl over Northern Illinois. Cutcliffe hopes the good Jones, the one who is a threat both throwing and running, shows up for the entirety of the coming season.
3. Duke offensive line vs. Army defensive line
With a talented receiving corps catching Jones’s throws and two dangerous running backs in Brittain Brown and Deon Jackson, it is up to a relatively inexperienced offensive line to give the skill guys a chance. The three new starters along the Duke line will be facing an Army defensive front that has had its own personnel turnover. Where Army should excel is at linebacker, with James Nachtigal, Cole Christiansen, and Kenneth Brinson all returning. If Duke blockers can get to the second level in the running game and pick up blitzing Army backers when throwing, the Devils should be very successful on offense. Conversely, Army wants its linemen to tie up the Duke front, giving the linebackers room to run free.
Army is poised for another bowl appearance after this season, but it probably won’t start out with a win. The Black Knights' lack of balance will not matter against several teams on the schedule, but this year’s Duke defense is too talented and should be able to limit the run-only Cadets. Duke linebackers Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys are proven playmakers, and the Blue Devils also have some ability on the edge. Army loves to run fullbacks Darnell Woolfolk and Andy Davidson right up the middle and that is an area where Duke may have issues. As a result, Army will score some points, perhaps something similar to the 21 the Knights put on the board in last year’s game. But expect a better Daniel Jones this time around with T.J. Rahming and Jonathan Lloyd on the receiving end. Combine that with a capable running game, and Army will have a more difficult time stopping the Devils this year. In a game that’s close well into the second half, Duke comes out a winner in the season opener.
Prediction: Duke 31, Army 21
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.