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Army West Point Football: 2021 Black Knights Season Preview and Prediction

The Black Knights rank No. 80 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2021
Arik Smith, Army West Point Black Knights Football

Arik Smith and the Army West Point Black Knights are coming off of a nine-win season

Army returns 13 starters from a team that went 9-3 last season and fell just short of a win over West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl. Coach Jeff Monken’s defense held opponents to 14.8 points a contest last fall and has a strong foundation in place at every level. Offensively, the Black Knights need to find stability under center and restock the line. The schedule is manageable, which means Army should return to the postseason for the fifth time in six years. 

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2021

Previewing Army West Point's Offense for 2021

Christian Anderson opened last season as the Black Knights’ starting quarterback before injuries limited him to five starts. His setbacks provided opportunities for three other quarterbacks to start games, giving head coach Jeff Monken plenty of depth at the position heading into this year. The primary competition figures to be between Anderson, a senior, and junior Tyhier Tyler, who started four games and led the team with 578 rushing yards. Junior Jemel Jones made one start and could push for more time. Cade Ballard started twice as a freshman.

The top five rushers return from a triple-option attack that was fourth nationally on the ground (273 yards per game). A formidable fullback duo of 260-pound Jakobi Buchanan and 255-pound Anthony Adkins combined for 10 touchdowns. Slotback Tyrell Robinson had a productive freshman season (424 yards, 7.1 ypc, eight total touchdowns) and was third on the team in rushing behind Tyler and Buchanan.

The Black Knights must replace four starters on the offensive line with center Connor Bishop the lone returnee. However, there is some experience, as five other linemen on the two-deep have started at least one game during their careers.

Though a tight end was utilized with the starting unit only three times last season, senior Chris Cameron’s blocking was vital to the offense’s success and should continue to be.

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Previewing Army West Point's Defense for 2021

Six of the top eight leading tacklers return to a unit that held six of its 12 opponents to fewer than 10 points and yielded 14.8 points per game (No. 2 in FBS) and an FBS-best 275.3 yards per game. While linebacker Jon Rhattigan departed after tying for the team lead in total tackles and pacing the Knights in tackles for a loss, the player he was tied with in total stops, linebacker Arik Smith, returns. Smith also led the unit with 3.5 sacks.

Nose tackle Nolan Cockrill, corner Cedrick Cunningham Jr. and hybrid linebacker/defensive back Malkelm Morrison all return after combining for 22 tackles for a loss in 2020.

In addition to Cockrill, a veteran front includes ends Ryan Duran III, who started five of the Black Knights’ final seven games last season, and Kwabena Bonsu.

Previewing Army West Point's Specialists for 2021

Army’s seven blocked kicks led the nation last season, and Duran tied for the FBS lead with three. Robinson, who had 904 all-purpose yards, handled the bulk of the return duties and will likely do so again. Placekicker Quinn Maretzki saw more action as his freshman season progressed and is likely to assume the leading role this season. Senior punter Zach Harding was added to the Ray Guy watch list in midseason and averaged 43.3 yards per punt.

Final Analysis

Monken, entering his eighth season at the helm of the Black Knights and the longest-tenured coach at the academy since Bob Sutton (1991-99), has led Army to bowl games in four of the past five seasons, with wins in three of those four. Combine the Black Knights’ experience with a manageable schedule, and there is every reason to believe that the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy will remain in West Point and that Army will once again go bowling.

National Ranking: 80

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