Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Six of Army's 12 games in 2016 come against established coaches

Half of Army football's 2016 opponents are schools led by established coaches. That's a broad statement to make, but when you unpack it, you'll find the game Army really needs to win this season.

It's fascinating how Army football's 2016 foes can neatly be divided into two categories as far as coaches are concerned. Six games come against either FCS opponents or FBS teams led by relatively inexperienced coaches. They merit examination, but on another day (next week). 

It's worth focusing for now on the six other games which comprise the Black Knights' upcoming schedule. "Half the Battle" is a reference to these six games against quality coaches, the ones who have gained a foothold in the profession. Army can't expect to win most of these games, but if it can win at least one, its chances for a big season will increase. If it can win two, a bowl bid becomes very realistic. If Army can win three, it just might have ownership of the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy when the season is done.

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Here's the roster of upper-tier coaches Army will face in 2016:

Brian Kelly is a superstar at Notre Dame. He very nearly guided the Fighting Irish to the College Football Playoff despite a boatload of injuries, including the skill positions. Notre Dame probably would have defeated Stanford had it not been for a last-minute face mask penalty. The Irish would have finished the season 11-1 and would have created a great debate with Oklahoma for the final playoff spot last December.

Matt Rhule's Temple Owls very nearly beat Kelly and Notre Dame last season. Rhule is a young coach, but by guiding Temple to the first American Athletic Conference Championship Game -- and moreover, containing Houston's super-powered offense in a road game -- he immediately transformed his reputation in the coaching profession. Rhule received interest from Power Five schools in the most recent coaching carousel. He should be able to win at least seven games with Temple this season, in which case he'll get another long look from bigger schools in search of a turnaround artist. Rhule might not be headed for stardom as a coach, but he's almost certain to get a shot at a Power Five program.

Duke's David Cutcliffe is Peyton Manning's mentor and one of the foremost teachers of quarterback technique in the country. People have been able to see his renewal project unfold at Duke for years, but that effort reached its pinnacle this past December when the Blue Devils won their first bowl game since 1961. Duke isn't a world-beater within the larger context of college football, but Cutcliffe gives the Devils a higher floor even if their ceiling remains relatively low.

Within the Commander-In-Chief Trophy series, Army fans need no introduction to Ken Niumatalolo of Navy or Troy Calhoun of Air Force. Both coaches have kept the CIC Trophy from West Point for a good long while.

The established coach which can be forgotten in this survey is David Bailiff. Not a member of the legal system, Bailiff led Rice to its first bowl win in nearly 55 years in 2008. More recently, he took the Owls to three straight bowl games, an unprecedented feat for a program which has played Division I football since 1914. Rice, though, is hardly a powerhouse program. The Owls were battered so badly from 2009 through 2011 that Bailiff's career record is under .500 (53-60). Rice's achievements are substantial when measured against the long sweep of history, but they're not imposing on an absolute scale.

Army very nearly beat Rice in Houston last season. This year, the Black Knights get the Owls at home in West Point. If Army can merely beat Rice, thereby avoiding a winless record against the six FBS teams with quality coaches, the Black Knights could lose one of the other six games and still reach the .500 mark, thereby earning a bowl bid. 

Jeff Monken shouldn't be expected to flourish in this half of Army's schedule, but as long as he can pick off one or two wins, he'll have done his job.


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