The first game of the year matches the Army Black Knights (Sagarin 128, 2008 3-9) and the Mid-American Conference West Eastern Michigan Eagles (Sagarin 147, 2008, 3-9.) The Cadets lead the all time series 2-0 and won last years meeting 17-13. This is a significant game, simply because one of these bottom ranked teams will start the year 1-0. Army's new coaching staff represents the 4th regime change in a decade. Rich Ellerson brings perhaps the best turn-around resume and an unusual option offense that seems very well suited for the Black Knights.
Off Season Developments
Army's new coaching staff represents the 4th regime change in a decade. Rich Ellerson brings perhaps the best turn-around resume and an unusual option offense that seems very well suited for the Black Knights. Like most option attacks, Ellerson's version of the option will rely most heavily on a ground attack with all kinds of misdirection, deception, and an up-tempo, with ball control and avoiding turnovers the key. What is most unusual in this particular offense is that Army will probably throw the ball more often and more effectively than they did when they tried playing the spread. Perhaps no option coach ever has his team throw the ball out of the option more than Coach Ellerson. Also, in the same spirit he adhered to when he shifted a 6'-6" tight end to wideout and turned the player, Ramses Barden, into a record-setting touchdown maker and New York Giants third round draft pick, Ellerson has moved Ali Villanueva to wide out. Villanueva, Army's 6'-10", 300 lb starting left tackle from last season, is now their starting split end. Before you start laughing, he tore it up in spring practice. Guaranteed whichever side he lines up, the defensive ends and linebackers on that side will feel some of the most devastating crack-back blocks in all of college football, and that fear will spring him free for big pass plays downfield all season long, no matter what team they face. The Black Knights will start Freshman QB Trent Steelman who is said to have great quickness and a good arm, but this week Army's website announced that Chip Bowden, last year's starter, and Carson Williams, are both also expected to see action. Steelman led a good prep school team last year and was able to beat out Bowden and Williams for the start. Before we start counting Heisman votes however, this story rings very similar to pre season Reggie Nevels, Carson Williams and Mr. Indiana stories. The offense relies on timing and speed – a much different approach than the Berry, Ross and Walsh offenses. Offensive linemen have been moved and Army brings no one heavier than 265lbs to the line of scrimmage.
On defense, Army's coordinator, Payam Sadat, will bring a very aggressive, scheme oriented defense that will attempt to create turnovers and big plays. Known as the "double-flex", this is the defense Ellerson ran when he was a defensive coach during two stints at the University of Arizona in the 1990's. That defense, nicknamed the "Desert Swarm", was best known for stuffing the run and putting maximum pressure on the quarterback. Ellerson's Cal-Poly teams also played the double-flex and were notorious for creating havoc at the line of scrimmage, and for leading the bowl sub-division in fewest rush yards allowed and sacks nearly every season. In very untechnical terms, expect to see six, seven, or even eight men up on the line at every snap, and expect any of them to drop back into coverage or blitz the QB on any play from any direction. The scheme is designed to spring blitzers loose when the opposing offense fails to identify and block where the blitz is coming from. We have seen Army's talent level on defense improve dramatically over the last five years, with such returning players as DE Josh McNary and LB Steven Anderson playing extremely well in a far more passive defense. With this aggressive scheme, I would expect these guys to embrace it and produce spectacular results.
Eastern Michigan also has a new coaching staff, led by Ron English who was previously a defensive coordinator at Louisville and Michigan.
Like Army, Eastern Michigan aims to improve on both sides of the ball.
Who is favored?
Eastern Michigan is favored by 4.5 points.
What to look for?
Both teams have new personnel and new coaching staffs. However, both teams have expressed intent to open their offenses up. I expecting Army to be better prepared in their new schemes. Expect Eastern Michigan to run an offense dominated by the quarterback option Andy Schmidt.
If Army does not allow Eastern Michigan to stay in the game with turn-overs, they should win handily.
Final Score – Army 24 – Eastern Michigan 13
Game will not be televised but will be shown on Knight Vision.