Preseason Prediction: Army Football 2015

Army's 2015 football season is set to open on Friday against Fordham. Academy football analyst Jim Lawler shares his predictions for the Army West Point football team, game-by-game.

Jeff Monken leads Black Knights in his second season following his initial 4-8 season as head Army football coach. The good news is that Monken and his staff are laying the ground work for turning the program around. The improved strength and conditioning program saw a bigger, stronger Army team last year and this spring. Recruiting is vastly improved with Army adding higher ranked recruits, better speed and broadened recruiting. There will be over 20 freshmen on the varsity travel squad. Army will field an extremely young and inexperienced squad. This is the weakest senior class in recent Army football history where only cornerback Chris Carnegie, center Mike Hugenberg and guard Justin Gilbert can be viewed as top tier senior starters.

The familiar faces of Larry Dixon, Raymond Maples and Terry Baggett that defined some of the most productive rushing offenses the Black Knights have ever fielded are all gone. The Army offense is such an unknown. At the skill positions wide receiver Edgar Poe is the only returning starter. Sophomore Ahmad Bradshaw is leading the perpetually injured senior A.J. Schurr for the starting quarterback job. At slotback only junior starter Joe Walker was in the rotation last year. I liked that the staff moved John Trainor from wide receiver to slotback. Trainor is fast and was a playmaker at the prep school. Senior captain Matt Giachinta and junior Aaron Kemper won't make anyone forget Larry Dixon but Kemper has run well this summer. The positive up front on the offensive line is senior Justin Gilbert is healthy and back in the lineup. The return of offensive line coach Todd Spender will help.

Army's defense took a huge hit when they lost their best player cornerback Josh Jenkins when he was injured in a fight with former teammate Seth Combs. It cost the Black Knights two starters. Combs, who had won the starting Rush linebacker was kicked off the team. Jenkins is doing only conditioning works so it unclear when he will play again but he is expected to miss time. The inside linebackers are a strength with First Team FBS All-Independent team Jeremy Timpf and sack leader Andrew King returning as starters. John Voit impressed as a plebe and should be the best down lineman. Chris Carnegie will move to boundary cornerback and replace Jenkins while he's out. Army allowed 31 touchdown passes last year and need improved play from their safeties, sophomore Rhyan England and junior Xavier Moss who moved over from offense. Punter Alex Tardieu is very good but the Army kicking and return teams have been mediocre. Let’s look at the 2015 Army schedule.

Sept. 4 Fordham
The Black Knights open the season at Michie Stadium against the FCS Fordham Rams. The defending Patriot League champions Rams have a record of 23-5 the last two seasons. Coach Joe Moorehead has done a terrific job but he bring back only four starters from last season. The Rams do have talent in returning sophomore running back Chase Edmonds. Chase was named the FCS Freshman of the Year last season after rushing for 1,838 yards and 23 touchdowns. Linebacker Stephen Hodge, who missed last year, was the FCS Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. The Rams will move the ball like they did last season but should have trouble stopping the Black Knights running game. Army Win

Sept. 9 @ UCONN
Army beat Connecticut 35-21 at Yankee Stadium in dramatic fashion last year. UCONN (2-10 in 2014) mounted a furious comeback as they scored, recovered the ensuing on-sides kick and drove to the Black Knights six yard line. Chris Carnegie saved the day when he returned his second interception 99- yards for a touchdown. Former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco returns for his second season and needs more production on offense. UConn’s greatest strength is on defense where Florida State transfer E.J. Levenberry joins linebackers Marquise Vann and Vontae Diggs. This is a winnable game but the Black Knights have been one of the worst road teams in college football. Army’s last road victory on an opponent’s home field was against Kent State in 2010. The Black Knights were 0-4 on the road last season and were outscored 147 to 81. Army Loss

Sept. 19 Wake Forest
Army suffered a disappointing 24-21 loss to Wake Forest (3-9 in 2014) in North Carolina last year. Army took a 21-14 lead into halftime. The Black Knights should have won the game but two fumbles, penalties, mental mistakes and poor coaching decisions let a bad Wake Forest team beat them late in the fourth quarter. Army out gained Wake Forest but the turnovers and penalties cost the Black Knights a win. Wake Forest's defense was ranked 36th nationally in 2014 but they struggled on offense. Sophomore quarterback John Wolford (214 of 367 for 2,037 yards, 12 TDs, 14 INTs) has talent and should be a lot better this year with a year under his belt. Army plays a lot better at home and I think they win this one at Michie Stadium. Army Win

Sept. 26 @ Eastern Michigan
The Black Knights lost 48-38 to a previously winless Eastern Michigan the last time the traveled to Rynearson Stadium in 2013. Second year coach Chris Creighton's EMU team is coming off its third straight two-win season. The Eagles ranked near the bottom of almost every offensive and defensive category in the MAC conference. Exciting sophomore dual threat quarterback Reginald Bell Jr. offers hope. He led the team in passing and rushing scoring 13 total touchdowns. This is a winnable game but Army has lost to their last eight MAC opponents on the road. They were crushed by a bad winless Kent State team 39-17 last year. Army needs to prove they can win on the road. Army Loss

Oct. 3 @ Penn State
The Penn State Nittany Lions are rebuilding under James Franklin and dealing with the affects NCAA sanctions. Franklin did a nice job in posting a respectable 7-6 record. The Nittany Lions are a very good defensive team. They were ranked third in the nation allowing only 100.5 rushing yards per game. Defensive Tackle Anthony Zettel is a beast and the quality secondary is led by senior safety Jordan Lucas. The Nittany Lions offensive line struggled last season. However, Army is not Ohio State and Penn State will likely roll at home. Army Loss

Oct. 10 @ Duke
David Cutcliffe has done a tremendous job rebuilding the Duke program. Last year the Blue Devils posted a 9-4 record. The Duke's secondary with safeties Jeremy Cash and Devon Edwards is probably the best in the ACC. Duke has a great running back tandem in Shaquille Powell and Shaun Wilson. Cutcliffe's staff knows how to defense the option. They completely shutdown Keenan Reynolds and Navy's option attack 35-7 two years ago. Army Loss

Oct. 17 Bucknell
Bucknell returns 13 starters from last year’s squad that finished last season at 8-3. It was the Bison's best finish since 1997. They return quarterback R.J. Nitti (1,553 yards, 13 TDs), running back C.J. Williams (901 yards, 9 TD) who had attended NAPS and wide receiver Will Carter (53 rec., 959 yards, 9 TDs). The Bison were ranked behind Fordham in this year’s preseason Patriot League poll but may have the better team. The Bucknell defense will likely struggle to slow down the Army running game at Michie Stadium after the Black Knights play at home following three road games. Army Win

Oct. 24 @ Rice
Rice head coach David Bailiff did a great job in leading the Owls to their third consecutive bowl games the last three seasons. Rice has posted 25 wins from 2012-14 which is the most during a three-year span in school history. The Owls rebounded after losing their first three games to finish with an 8-5 record and a 30-6 win over Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl. Rice dominated the Black Knights 41-21 at Michie Stadium last year. The Army offense was unable to sustain offense as it struggled against Rice's 4-2-5 defense. Dual-threat senior quarterback Driphus Jackson returns to lead the offense. He passed for 2,842 yards last year. Rice graduated a lot of players but Army doesn't have the talent or speed to match up with them. Army Loss

Nov. 7 @ Air Force
Troy Calhoun did an amazing coaching job last year in producing a ten win season following a 2-10 record in 2013. Calhoun needs to replace quarterback Kale Pearson but Nate Romine has some game experience. The Falcons return leading runner Jacobi Owens (1,054 yards, 5 TDs) and their best wide receiver Jalen Robinette (806 yards, 4 TDs). The Falcons defeated the Black Knights 23-6 to win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy last fall. Air Force's defense limited Army to 169 yards of total offense. The Falcons lead the series against Army 34-14-1 and have won 16 of the last 18 in the series. The Black Knights haven't won in Colorado Springs since 2005. Air Force is better. Army Loss

Nov. 14 Tulane
Tulane struggled last season to a 3-9 record after moving from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference. Quarterback Tanner Lee threw more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (12). Lee had five interceptions returned for touchdowns last year. Tulane returns 15 starters from last year’s team but this isn't a very good team. Army beat Tulane 45-6 the last time they played. The Black Knights have won four of the last six games played at Michie Stadium. Army Win

Nov. 21 Rutgers
Rutgers went 8-5 in its first season in the Big Ten. They won five of their first six games and upset Michigan. The Scarlet Knights played in their fourth consecutive bowl game last season. Rutgers returns star wide receiver Leonte Carro who had 1,086 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014. The defense, led by defensive tackle Darius Hamilton and Steve Longa, is tough, fast and physical. The Scarlet Knights have played both Navy and Army a lot recently and know how to defend the option. They beat Navy in Annapolis last year and have held Navy below it rushing average the last six times they played. Army has played Rutgers tough the last three times with the last game in 2012, a 28-7 loss that was a lot closer than it appeared. Rutgers is probably the best team on the schedule. Army Loss

Dec. 13 Navy
Army lost to the Navy Midshipmen, 17-10, for the thirteenth consecutive year in America's Game played at M&T Bank Stadium last December. The Black Knight took and early 7-0 lead when Josh Jenkins blocked a Navy punt inside the Midshipmen's 10-yard line. Xavier Moss picked up the ball and ran it in for the score. Navy used the passing of quarterback Keenan Reynolds to pull even on a nine yard touchdown pass to Jamir Tillman late in the first half. It was the start of 17 unanswered points by Navy to secure the victory. It was a defensive struggle and Army's offense failed to score a touchdown. Navy's superb senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds leads the Mids who have the clear edge in experience, talent and speed. Army Loss

I am predicting the Black Knights match last year’s 4-8 record. Unlike last season, this fall will likely lay the groundwork for turning the program around as this very young team gains expe

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