Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Winning matters. Winning the way a team ought to win matters even more.

It's only Lafayette, some will say. It's a game which shouldn't be scheduled in future seasons, some will say. It's a game which doesn't demonstrate clear growth as a team, some will say. The first statement is irrefutable. The second statement is debatable but carries a measure of argumentative weight. The third statement is simply not true.

When an FBS team devours an FCS cupcake, it's easy to not place much stock in it.

Moreover, let's not think that Army -- after a first half of a season marked by tumult of various kinds -- has completed a transformation or learned how to consistently, unceasingly, play the right way. The Buffalo-Duke stretch was too spotty (even if adjusted for weather conditions against the Blue Devils) to make Lafayette an overly binding verdict on this team and how high its ceiling should be.

Yet, one can be modest in assessing this game and still be impressed by what the Black Knights achieved on a day which -- unlike much of this season -- wasn't dark.

For once in 2016, Army wasn't chased by the literal dark clouds of a hurricane or the real-life dark clouds of losing a brother. This felt like a normal day of football, a normal time and place for football, freedom from something -- anything -- getting in the way.

The Lafayette Leopards picked the wrong time to play an Army team intent on taking advantage of calm and sunny weather conditions after so many weekends in which typical game preparations simply didn't (couldn't) exist. Army relished this opportunity, and the Black Knights played like it, up and down the roster. Sure, the opponent wasn't formidable, and it doesn't mean this team is ready to beat Navy or anything like that.

However, this game was a forward step. It's not an all-or-nothing equation in West Point.


This beatdown of an FCS team, by itself, shows how much the Black Knights have grown since the loss to another FCS team -- Fordham -- in the 2015 opener. One can point out that Fordham was a season opener, and therefore much more vulnerable to opening-week nerves, but Army's opener this season against Temple makes it harder to argue against the cleanness of this outing against Lafayette. Army has simply grown up in football terms (not even accounting for how players have grown as whole persons, something we've talked about in previous weeks of columns which dealt with topics beyond football).

Beyond the FCS dimension of this conversation, stop for a moment and ask yourself if Army was capable of ringing up over 60 points twice last season.

The Black Knights scored 58 points against Eastern Michigan in 2015, but they never eclipsed 35 points in a second game. Army has already demonstrated a level of offensive prowess in 2016 which greatly exceeds anything the 2015 team achieved. The quality of the schedule is not as daunting as 2015 (through Week 7), but not by an astronomical margin. More remains to be revealed about this team against the teeth of the schedule, which is coming just around the bend, but Army has clearly displayed a better ability to throw -- and land -- punches, clobbering an opponent once it establishes superiority. 

No, the relentless consistency isn't there yet, but a marked improvement in gameday habits -- manifested in the ability to maximize good stretches and minimize bad ones -- is more evident.

Enough about Lafayette, since an FCS game doesn't merit an overly long examination. This next tilt against North Texas will say more about the Black Knights. It's definitely a game they should win comfortably if they're truly on the right track.


Consider this about North Texas's results this season: The Mean Green defeated an FCS team, then Rice -- the only winless team in the FBS -- and then Marshall, a team which had lost four straight until it beat another one of the worst 10 to 15 teams in America (Florida Atlantic) this past weekend. North Texas lost to SMU, which has profoundly struggled again this season. The Mean Green didn't come close to Middle Tennessee and didn't manage a single point against Florida. This is a vulnerable team at the point of attack. UNT is an opponent Army should be able to control at the line of scrimmage. Army might have fattened up on an FCS cupcake this past weekend, but the win over Temple has already demonstrated this team can punch in a higher weight class.

You might not see another 60-burger against North Texas, but there's a very good chance that Army can crack 40 which -- as mentioned above -- is a number it exceeded only once last season. That's a good milepost (as is the ultimate win-loss result) for measuring the men of West Point in Week 8.

As for Week 7, for all the ways in which it might remain inconclusive, it still represented a highly positive development for the Brave Old Army Team.

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