Today we continue our preview to the preview series. Each week we will take three teams that Army will face in 2016 and quick hit on strengths and weaknesses of each. These mini-previews are going to be set out in the reverse order of the team’s projected strength for the 2016 season. Last week we checked out the three weakest teams on the schedule in Morgan State, Lafayette and North Texas. Today it is the turn of teams nine through seven.
- UTEP running back Aaron Jones is a dynamic and explosive playmaker. He was lost with an injury last season, but in 2014 he rushed for over 1,300 yards and had 14 total touchdowns.
- The run defense is solid. The unit led by linebacker Alvin Jones can compete with the best running games not in the Power Five.
- There is plenty of experience on hand after UTEP, much like Army, was forced to play countless underclassmen last year because of injury.
- The Miners big play threat from last season, wide receiver and kick returner Autry Golden, is gone. Replacing his production will be tough.
- UTEP scored only 20.7 points per game last season. That ranks 122 out of 127 teams.
- UTEP is vulnerable to the pass. They allowed 265 yards per game though the air to rank 110 in the nation in that category.
- UTEP was derailed by injuries as much as anyone in the country last year. Will their injury luck get any better in 2016?
- With UTEP being noticeable weaker through the air than on the ground will Chris Carter be the quarterback of choice?
Prediction – UTEP is game three of the season and will be a good early benchmark for Army. The Black Knights should have enough to beat a team still trying to find their identity.
- The offensive skill positions (other than quarterback) look to be in good hands. The Owls return four running backs who had 70 carries or most last year and seven receivers who were targeted at least 17 times.
- Rice returns three starters, and two experienced backups, from a line that was very solid when running the ball.
- The Rice defense was one of the worst in the nation last fall. The Owls gave up a stunning 7.1 yards per play and we blown out by both good and bad teams.
- Rice has no obvious quarterback in waiting to replace former start Driphus Jackson. With five three-star recruits competing for the job it may take some time to sort out a winner.
- Rice fell apart in the redzone last year with a redzone execution rate ranked just 86th in the country.
- Rice fell apart out of nowhere last year. Can the Owls bounce back given their high academic recruiting standards?
- Rice will target the Army game as a key one to win early on their schedule. How will that affect the play of the team?
Prediction – Army should have beaten Rice last year. This year the Black Knights will finish the job.
- The defensive front seven is good and improving. Duke Ejiofor can be a difference maker as he continues to improve.
- The team was very young for the last two years, but there was clear growth from 2014 to 2015. That means the coaches are doing their job.
- The quarterback play was very good over the spring. John Wolford, Kendall Hinton and Kyle Kearns combined to throw for 457 yards in the spring game.
- The run game still seems to be lacking explosive plays after averaging just 3 yards per carry last fall.
- There are no sure things on this team. A lot of the improvement is expected to come from experience, but it might be too much to expect all the units to improve over one off-season.
- This is the third season for head coach Dave Clawson and often it is in the third year that coaches turn the program around.
- The bye week before Wake plays Army will give the coaching staff extra time to put in a defensive scheme to slow down the option attack.
Prediction – I have a sneaky suspicion Wake Forest is going to be better than advertised. Army loses one where the Demon Deacons pull away late.