Raised Expectations: The Battle Starts Now

Now that the Navy alma mater is fresh in the minds of the football players who will return for Army next season, the battle to get even better has already commenced. Sure, one season has just ended, but 2005 might as well start now. For a team that made progress in 2004 yet still finished just 2-9, the bar needs to be raised even higher. This past season, two wins was a huge improvement; a winless 2003 will do that for a program.

But as the relative successes of 2004 give way to 2005, another 2-9 season next Autumn won't cut it. Then again, with Bobby Ross at the helm, one shouldn't expect the Black Knights to remain stuck at two wins; instead, one should think that two MORE wins will define West Point football's upward march.

Just how much did Bobby Ross bring to Army football in 2004? The first and most obvious element was belief. After the sagging attitude of the Todd Berry years, under a coach who was a little bit in over his head, the Black Knights got a football MacArthur who inspired and motivated them. It was this improvement in attitude that enabled the Cadets to stick with it after the four discouraging losses that started the season. Just as equally, Ross' persistence wouldn't allow Army to dog it in the home stretch of the 2004 season, as the Brave Old Army Team fought like heck against every opponent, even in the games when nothing went right, at Tulane and East Carolina. Because his boys competed every Saturday, Ross—rewarded by his players' persistence—is now in a good position to shape his program.

When the competitive spirit is high every week, a coach of a losing team is able to identify weaknesses in talent and execution. When you're building from the ground up as Ross is, this is hardly a problem. A real problem for a coach of a losing team is when he has reasonable talent, only to see laziness contribute to substandard production. When a coach is forced to distinguish inferior talent from inferior effort in his attempt to diagnose his team's problems, that coach's ability to create a winning way out of mediocrity is hampered. Ross, however, isn't living in such a clouded and uncertain world. He knows his players fight every Saturday; now, he can clearly go about developing players and polishing their football instincts. After a 2004 season that necessarily had to establish some building blocks and install his overall system, Boss Ross can now solidify his presence in West Point as a developer of talent and as a chalkboard strategist as well. This two-pronged process seems doable, but more importantly for Army football, it's absolutely necessary as the program's focus shifts to 2005.

When looking back at the season, and especially the Navy game—it will be a priority for Army to at least play the Midshipmen close in 2005, for the first time in four years—Army clearly lacked a combination of offensive firepower and the adjustments needed to unleash a more potent offense. Army's two wins in 2004 were games in which the offense held its own in the second half (South Florida, in fact, was an explosion; Cincinnati wasn't spectacular, but still solid). Placed in a meaningful situation, with the outcome very much in doubt, those two games against the Bulls and Bearcats showed an offense that could perform under pressure. In no other games, however, was Army's offense—with Zac Dahman at the helm—able to dictate to an opposing defense coming out of the gate at halftime. In this key respect, the Black Knights—deficient in 2004—will need to improve in 2005.

Partly through a lack of endurance; partly because of deficient talent; and partly because a new coaching staff was somewhat limited in its playbook, the Cadets' offense struggled in money situations. Against the Midshipmen and almost everyone else on their schedule, the Black Knights just didn't have enough scoring punch. In particular, Army couldn't throw vertically with effectiveness to make use of the power running of Carlton Jones and Tielor Robinson. If the golfer's motto is "play for show, putt for dough," Army's motto in 2005—mindful of the just-completed 2004 campaign—will be "run for show, throw bombs for dough."

A consistent vertical passing game can do wonders for complementing a running game. Just look at how Jason Campbell finally supplemented Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown at Auburn this year. With better and more dynamic quarterbacking—just one example of the talent development that needs to take place this offseason—Army football can use 2004 as the springboard Bobby Ross knows it can become for 2005.

ArmySports.com Top Stories