Army's Black Knights No. 55 in 2018 preseason college football rankings
By MATT MURSCHEL | Orlando Sentinel | Published: July 3, 2018
(Tribune News Service) — The credit for Army’s recent resurgence clearly goes to coach Jeff Monken, who has managed to elevate the expectations surrounding the Black Knights.
The program has managed more wins (18) during the past two seasons than the previous five seasons, including back-to-back wins over rival Navy for the first time since 1995-96.
There enough established players returning in 2018 to help Army push for a third consecutive winning season. As a result, Army is No. 55 in Orlando Sentinel college insider Matt Murschel preseason 2018 college football rankings. Murschel ranked all 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff takes a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 129 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 55: Army
Coach: Jeff Monken (24-26, entering fifth season; 62-42 overall)
2017 record: 10-3
Look back: Army followed up its eight-win season in 2016 by putting together its first double-digit win season in more than a decade. The Black Knights used a punishing ground game and a stout defense to qualify for back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1984-85. The cadets also managed to secure the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy — awarded annually to the winner of a three-game series among the service academies — for the first time since 1996.
Offensive starters returning: 3
Offensive starters lost: 8
Defensive starters returning: 8
Defensive starters lost: 3
Key losses: QB Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Jeff Ejekam, WR Jermaine Adams, RB John Trainor, OL Rick Kurz, OL Joshua Boylan, OL Mike Houghton, OL Brett Toth, DE Alex Aukerman, DE John Voit, S Rhyan England
Top returnees: FB Darnell Woolfolk, RB Kell Walker, OL Bryce Holland, DT Wunmi Oyetuga, DL Raymond Wright, LB Kenneth Brinson, LB James Nachtigal, LB Cole Christiansen, DB Mike Reynolds, DB James Gibson
Strengths: Army led the country in rushing for the first time since 2012, with the Black Knights averaging 362 yards per game and six yards per carry. The offense has consistently improved under Monken, with the team averaging 30 points per game for the first time since 1996. An impressive backs Darnell Woolfolk (812 yards, 14 touchdowns), Kell Walker (629 yards, six touchdowns) and Andy Davidson (627 yards, five touchdowns) return in 2018.
Linebacker James Nachtigal is the team’s top tackler (103) and sack leader (5.0) from last season. He bolsters the middle of the defense along with fellow linebackers Kenneth Brinson (38 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss) and Cole Christiansen (84 tackles). They will get help from linemen Wunmi Oyetuga (28 tackles) and Raymond Wright (22 tackles).
Weaknesses: Ahmad Bradshaw set Army single-season rushing records after amassing more than 1,746 yards in 2017. The talented quarterback’s status was shrouded in uncertainty as he reportedly asked the NCAA for an additional year of eligibility. The team opted to move forward without his services, focusing instead on the development of junior Kelvin Hopkins, senior Luke Langdon and sophomore Cam Thomas.
A veteran offensive line provided Army with an overwhelming presence up front, allowing just one sack in 2017. The unit must combat the departure of a trio of starters who combined for more than 60 career starts. Senior Bryce Holland, a two-year starter, returns to the anchor the middle and must share the burden of developing a new group on the line.
Outlook: Army is looking for its third consecutive winning season, a first for the program since 1988-1990. Along the way, the cadets could qualify for their third straight bowl game for the first time in school history.
Identifying a quarterback is imperative if the team hopes to put together another winning season. The schedule features few challenges outside of a road contest at Oklahoma and rivalry games against Air Force and Navy.