Tag Archives: Jeff Monken

Should Army Consider Joining The AAC?

Jeff Monken celebrates during the 2018 Army-Navy game. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)

Should Army Consider Joining The AAC?

Army’s football team has posted three straight winning seasons with all three ending in bowl victories. 2017 saw the team’s first 10 win season in over 20 years when they finished 10-3. Army followed that up with an 11-2 record last season, which were the most wins in school history and finished ranked in the top 25. Most recently, Connecticut’s move back to the Big East has created a void in the American Athletic Conference. Should Army consider joining the AAC?

Let’s start by going to the past. The far past.

The Glory Days

It is of little surprise that all of Army’s national championships came around war time. With all the recruits being drafted into the Army, there was a complete arsenal on the gridiron.

Army won national championships in 1914 and 1916 going 9-0 during both season. The Cadets had a winning record each year from 1907 through 1938. Then came World War II. (The titles are not claimed by Army, but they are recognized by the NCAA).

Though the US had not formally entered into the Second World War, in 1939 and 1940 Army’s football prowess was definitely not on display. They went 3-4-2 in 1939 and 1-7-1 in 1940. However, the 1941 through 1943 seasons saw a return to winning ways as they went 5-3-1, 6-3, and 7-2-1.

The 1944 squad went 9-0 scoring 504 points and giving up 35 points. They were named national champions, a feat they would repeat in 1945 when they went 9-0 again while scoring 412 points and surrendering 46. The 1946 squad went 9-0-1 with the tie being to Notre Dame, who would be crowned AP national champions. The 1944 – 46 teams featured the overwhelming duo of Doc Blanchard (1945 Heisman) and Glenn Davis (1946 Heisman).

Army would have several more strong seasons in the late 1940s and Pete Dawkins would take home the Heisman in 1958 after an 8-0-1 campaign. There were a few good seasons sprinkled in the next several decades, but the Cadets have not reached those heights again.

Prelude to Conference USA

Army was not a remarkable team in the 1980s. They went 8-3-1 and 9-3 with back-to-back bowl wins in 1984 and 1985. They went 9-3 again in 1988 with a Sun Bowl loss to Alabama. Other than the 1988 season, the Cadets basically hung around .500 between 1986 and 1995 having between 4 and 6 wins each year.

In 1996, Army achieved a 10-2 record with the an Independence Bowl loss to Auburn. It was their first 10 win season in school history and they finished in the top 25 polls for the first time 1958. Army struck while the iron was hot because in March 1997 they decided to join Conference USA (possible paywall) beginning with the 1998 season.

The Conference USA Disaster

The 1997 season was Army’s last season as an independent before they went into a conference for the first time. They went 4-7, but that was actually the highlight of their time as part of Conference USA.

The Cadets time on the field in C-USA between 1998 through 2004 was abysmal. They never won more than two conference games and never won more than three total games in a season. Their totals for C-USA were:

Overall record: 13-67

C-USA record: 9-41

Their low point was the 2003 season in which they went 0-13 overall and 0-8 in Conference USA. The 2003 season was the first time in NCAA history that a program finished with an 0-13 mark. Todd Berry was head coach for the first six games before being fired and replaced by John Mumford. Berry was at the helm for three and a half seasons in which he decided the wishbone offense was no longer needed at Army. Ouch.

Back To Independent Status

For their final C-USA season, Army hired Bobby Ross to bring them back to a respectable level. Ross lasted only three seasons going 9-25, but had to undo what Berry did. When Army left C-USA, they cited scheduling flexibility as the main reason for their departure. Eight conference games, plus the obligatory Navy and Air Force games left only one or (now) two games they could schedule as they saw fit.

Ross was succeeded by his protégé Stan Brock who went 3-9 in two seasons. He was fired and replaced by Rich Ellerson who led the Cadets to their first bowl game in 2010 since the ten win 1996 campaign. Army soon went back to their losing ways going 3-9, 2-10, and 3-9 in Ellerson’s final three seasons.

Monken’s Momentum

When Army hired Jeff Monken in December 2013 to lead the program, it seemed like a good fit. Monken led Georgia Southern to three consecutive FCS Playoff Semifinal appearances using the triple-option offense that is employed by service academies. It took two seasons of 4-8 and 2-10 before it all came together in Monken’s third season.

Army went 8-5 in 2016 capping off the season with an overtime victory against North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. In 2017, Army went 10-3 with a 42-35 win over San Diego State in the Armed Forces Bowl. The best was yet to come as 2018 saw Army go 11-2 with an obliteration of Houston, 70-14, in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Monken was rewarded for the 2018 season by being named the Coach of the Year. He also signed a contract extension with Army through the 2024 season.

The future is bright and Monken has signaled his intent to stick around so… Should Army consider joining the AAC or another conference?

A Complicated Puzzle

The answer to the “should Army consider joining the AAC” question is nuanced. Some will point to fellow service academies Air Force and Navy successes in conference play. Others will point to keeping Army and Navy together as their rivalry is deeply intertwined with the fabric of college football. Perhaps Army’s own previous conference history, albeit short and disastrous, provide clues.

Let’s start with how Navy and Air Force have fared in their respective conference. Navy is simple as they have been in the American Athletic Conference for only four seasons. In that time, Navy has been co-champions of the AAC West twice, played in one AAC championship game (lost 34-10 to Temple in 2016), and had three winning seasons. 2018 was very poor at 3-10, but there were some close games as well. The jury is still out on Navy’s decision to go to the AAC despite some differing opinions (possible paywall).

Air Force has a much longer history of being in a conference. They were part of the Western Athletic Conference from 1980 until 1998 and then joined the Mountain West in 1999. In the 39 years since having a conference affiliation, Air Force has gone to 23 bowl games and have had consistent success since Troy Calhoun took over in 2007.

Part of Air Force’s success has been their geography. Even in the WAC, they were still relatively close to their opponents. Navy has the oddity of being the now second most eastern team in the AAC, yet were somehow placed in the west division where they still reside. Still, they have shown success in their brief AAC tenure.

Potential Destination

If Army were to consider joining a conference the one that makes the most sense is the American Athletic Conference. They would be situated close to Connecticut, Navy, and Temple. The AAC might have to re-draw their divisions and the absence of Connecticut actually makes this interesting.

Had UConn remained, instead of having Navy be part of the “west” they could change the divisions to north and south. The north would have been comprised of Army, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Navy, Temple, and East Carolina. The south would have included Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, Tulsa, and South Florida.

Without UConn in the mix, it becomes murkier. The east cluster of Army, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Navy, and Temple is clear. The west cluster is Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, and Tulsa. Then, there are the two Florida schools in UCF and USF. Here, they could just split UCF to the east and USF to the west. In this scenario, there are balanced divisions, though somewhat awkwardly.

(Ideally the two Florida teams would be in the same division, but unless the AAC is going to go the super-expansion route to 14 teams this partition will do. Besides, it stays in line with conference’s confusing geography philosophy).

Another problem is the Army-Navy game tends to be played all by itself with the potential of the entire college football audience watching. Being part of a conference would cause this to be played during November (or earlier) because it could impact the conference championship game. While it would be amazing for the winner of Army-Navy to determine the AAC one or possibly two title representatives, is it worth foregoing the spotlight of being the sole football game on TV in December?

One work around: Allow Army-Navy to keep it’s preferred time slot as a non-conference game. The AAC would probably agree to this and it would not impact the regular season title race. However, it would eliminate another week of flexibility from Army’s schedule. Speaking of scheduling…

A third problem is that Army clearly likes their scheduling flexibility and it has been favorable for them. It is not a mistake that Army’s last three seasons have been the best in over two decades. They had five home games in 2016, six in 2017, and six in 2018 while 2016 and 2018 both saw an additional game within the state of New York (at Buffalo both times). Also factor in the neutral site game against Navy, which gives Army 7 or 8 home/neutral site games that are relatively close to West Point.

Army gets complete control over 10 games a season, which allows them to play a few big teams for paychecks while still playing a few FCS opponents to get closer to bowl eligibility. Mix in several group of 5 teams who are beatable along with fellow independents and Army has a recipe for at least 6 to 7 wins each season as long as they are competitive.

Summary

Army’s short stint in Conference USA was a terrible mistake as they moved to a more restrictive schedule while moving away from the wishbone offense. That led to a terrible product on the field as they were not competitive at all.

Army’s return to independent status did not bear fruit until the last three seasons with Jeff Monken at the helm. Army has seen their best success in decades thanks to Monken’s leadership. Now let’s answer the question posed in the article’s title.

Should Army Consider Joining The AAC?

Absolutely they should consider it. They are stable with the proper offensive scheme (as opposed to their C-USA time) and their head coach, who clearly has the right ideas for the program. They would be a good geographical fit for the American Athletic Conference while preserving their annual rivalry tilt against Navy.

Should Army Join The AAC?

This is tougher to answer, but no they should not. They clearly value scheduling flexibility and if the likes of Massachusetts and smaller group of 5 teams continue to schedule Army, why deviate it from a successful formula? Going to a conference automatically removes 8 games from their scheduling control and with Air Force in the rotation, the Cadets will only have 3 games of their choosing. They will have additional AAC TV revenue, but will it cover the additional travel expenses? If not, Army might need to schedule more Power 5 teams potentially leaving them short of bowl eligibility.

For now, Army should remain as an Independent. This could all change in a few years when conference realignment kicks off again (or sooner if UConn proves to be the domino).

Visits: 33

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 25 Through 21

Army broke a 15 year drought against Navy. What will they do for an encore in 2017? (Rob Carr/Getty Images North America)

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 25 Through 21

The 2017 College Football season is right around the corner and that means it is prediction season. We will do something different than last year. In 2016, we made 5 predictions for each conference for a total of 55 predictions. The final total was 30.5 predictions correct for 55.5% hit rate.

This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week starting with this article. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).

Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.

Predictions 25-21: July 26 (Sun Belt, C-USA, Independents)

Predictions 20-16: August 2 (MAC, MWC, AAC)

Predictions 15-11: August 9 (Big 12, Pac-12)

Predictions 10-6: August 16 (Pac-12, ACC, SEC)

Predictions 5-1: August 23 (SEC, Big 10)

Predictions 25 Through 21

25. Appalachian State will win the Sun Belt – We start with  a team that has done very well since moving up from FCS to FBS. The Mountaineers went 4-8 in 2013 (their final FCS season), however, their three seasons in the FBS have resulted in winning records. 2014 saw them go 7-5, they went 11-2 in 2015, and went 10-3 in 2016. App State tied for the Sun Belt title last year with Arkansas State after both teams went 7-1 in conference.

This year, the Mountaineers return 7 starters on both offense (scored 29.2 points per game) and defense (allowed 17.8 points per game). The real key is their schedule: no Arkansas State, no Troy, and no South Alabama. Their biggest test is at home versus Louisiana in the final week of season.

24. (Sun Belt) New Mexico State’s bowl drought will extend to 57 years – We made the same prediction last year and sure enough the Aggies did not disappoint going 3-9. There are some positives with 7 starters back on offense and 9 back on defense, which makes them the 12th most experienced team in the FBS.

The real reason for putting this prediction here is the brutal schedule New Mexico State faces. In the non-conference slate, the Aggies play Arizona State, New Mexico, and Arkansas on the road and also take on UTEP at home. In the Sun Belt, NMSU has App State (away), Georgia Southern (away), Arkansas State (home), Louisiana (away), and South Alabama (home). If the Aggies manage to get to 6 wins, it will be a well deserved bowl appearance.

23. (C-USA) The four teams wearing green will not win 25 games combined – Here we have an out of the box prediction. The four teams that wear green are Marshall, Charlotte, North Texas, and UAB. UAB is back to playing football after a 2 year hiatus. The other three teams went a combined 12-25. So this is a slam dunk, right? Not so fast, though we are confident the four teams will not average over 6 wins per team.

Marshall went 3-9 last year in their first losing season since 2010 when Doc Holliday was in his first season. The Herd are one of the favorites in the C-USA East division and could manage hit 10 wins in 2017. Charlotte is an intriguing team because they are in their third full season of FBS football. They went 2-10 and 4-8 the first two years while returning 6 starters on both offense and defense. A similar pattern of progression might move them close to the 6 win mark, but that will take a big improvement on defense (allowed 34.6 points and 453 yards per game).

Over in the West division we have North Texas and UAB. North Texas went 5-8 last year and, thanks to an oversupply of bowl games, they were able to play a 13th game despite being 5-7. 2016 was the first year of Seth Littrell and year two has 6 starters back on offense and defense. The Mean Green could contend for a bowl game if they can pull a few in-conference upsets.

For UAB, they have the uphill battle of assembling a competitive team. As one would expect, they have very few starters still around with only 4 returning and all of them on defense. Their most winnable games will be versus Alabama A&M, Ball State, and Coastal Carolina. Beyond that, with no competitive games in three years, it is tough to envision them getting close to 6 wins.

We think the four teams mentioned about will end up with roughly 20 wins. With a few upsets, or a big surprise from a team not named Marshall, all four teams they might come close to 25 wins,

22. (C-USA) Both FAU and FIU will make a bowl game – The two Florida schools in C-USA welcome new coaches though both men have previous head coaching experience. Lane Kiffin is now leading Florida Atlantic while Florida International welcomes Butch Davis to the helm. What both teams have going for them is a bevy of returning starters.

FAU has 9 starters back on offense and 8 back on defense. Despite returning their 2016 starting quarterback, the Owls have former Florida State player De’Andre Johnson. He should do well in the Kendal Briles system as should the rest of the offense. Defense is a bit more of question mark as they return 8 starters off a squad that allowed 39.8 points and 514 yards per game. Having a lot of starters back on a porous defense is not always a good thing. If they can improve 10 points and 100 yards per game then they have a decent chance of making a bowl game assuming the offense takes a big step forward in the new system.

FIU has 7 starters back on offense and 8 on defense. All the skill players return on offense except for the #2 receiver, but there is more than enough depth to replace him. The defense has 8 starters back after allowing 34.8 points and 434 yards per game (5 starters back). They should improve on those numbers even with a new defensive coordinator.

Both squads will probably need an upset to reach 6 wins, but both are more than capable of doing so. C-USA East looks very competitive, which means the potential for both teams to exceed (or miss) the expectations.

21. (Independent) Army will reach a second straight bowl game – Last year we liked Army to beat Navy and win at least 6 games. They did both as they defeated Navy for the first time in 15 years while finishing 8-5 with a bowl win over North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

The schedule sets up pretty well again for Army to reach a second straight bowl. The open with Fordham and Buffalo before back-to-back road games at Ohio State and Tulane. Their next four games are versus UTEP, Rice, Eastern Michigan, and Temple with only the Rice contest taking place on the road. The first 8 games will take place without a bye week.

The final four games will be completed over 6 weeks starting with a road game at Air Force on November 4. Duke goes to West Point the following week before another road game at North Texas. The final game is, of course, the annual title versus Navy on December.

What really helps Army this year is the plethora of returning starters with 9 on offense and 7 on defense. The offense put up 29.9 points and 414 yards per game with the points being the most since 1996. The defense allowed 19.8 points and 291 yards per game and part of that was due to the easier schedule. However, the confidence should be high on both sides of the ball in their fourth year under Jeff Monken.

With the combination of experience and a manageable schedule, Army looks poised to reach a second straight bowl game. That would mark only the second time in school history that Army reached back-to-back bowl games (1984-85).

That concludes the first five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for predictions 20-16.

Visits: 32

2015 College Football Preview: FBS Independents

Malik Zaire is the future for Notre Dame at quarterback. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)
Malik Zaire is the future for Notre Dame at quarterback. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: FBS Independents

We have reached the ninth and final single digit in this 2015 College Football Preview with the FBS Independents. Also part of this release is the Sun Belt Preview, which can be found here. Below is a schedule of all the previews from those already published to those in the future.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

Sun Belt – July 28

FBS Independents – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s take a look at the three teams that comprise the FBS Independents.

1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Brian Kelly led Notre Dame to through their fantastic 2012 season, which culminated in a crushing 42-14 loss in the National Championship. Outside of that 12-1 season, Kelly has not won more than nine games, nor lost less than four. The pressure may be on Kelly to get the Irish back into the national spotlight.

The offense returns seven starters, but one of them is not quarterback Everett Golson. Malik Zaire will be at the helm after a very nice starting performance in the Music City Bowl against LSU, finishing the season with 266 yards and a touchdown in only seven appearances. He will have both Tarean Folston (889 yards and 6 touchdowns) and Greg Bryant (289 yards and 3 touchdowns) in the backfield again this season. More importantly for Zaire is that he will have the top four receivers from 2014 back led by Will Fuller. Fuller had 76 catches for 1,094 yards and 15 touchdowns while easily becoming the most productive receiver last season. The Irish put up 32.8 points and 445 yards of offense per game in 2014 and if Zaire protects the ball better than Golson, they will do even better this year.

The defense had its worst season in 2014 under Kelly. With four starters back, the gave up 29.2 points and 404 yards per game. The defense in 2015 will have 10 starters back and the one replacement is KeiVarae Russell, who was a starter in 2012 and 2013. The defensive line starters all had at least 39 tackles and a sack in 2014. The linebackers are led by Jaylon Smith. Smith had 112 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss on his way to 2nd Team All-American accolades. The secondary has three starters back as well as the aforementioned Russell. The defense will be much better in 2015 and makes the Irish a serious threat to reach the College Football Playoffs.

Notre Dame has several tough games in 2015. They open with a home game against Texas, but also face Georgia Tech (home) and Clemson (road) in the first five weeks. USC will travel to South Bend on October 17 as well, but the final five games of the Irish schedule look manageable. It looks very possible that Notre Dame will be back near the top of the national rankings again this year.

2. BYU Cougars

BYU went from the Mountain West in 2010 to independent status in 2011. It looked like the right move as they went 10-3 in 2011, but have subsequently had three straight 8-5 seasons. 2014 started off great for BYU until the injury to star quarterback Taysom Hill. What will 2015 have in store for the Cougars?

The offense has eight starters back including quarterback Taysom Hill. Hill was have an excellent year in 2014, but his injury forced Christian Stewart into action. Stewart did well in place of Hill by throwing for 2,621 yards with 25 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The running game was not as strong with Jamaal Williams leading the team with 518 yards and 4 touchdowns while also having injury issues throughout the seasons. Mitch Mathews is also back after grabbing 73 passes for 922 yards and 9 touchdowns. Despite the injuries, BYU still managed to put up 37.1 points and 460 yards of offense in 2014. Now that Hill is back for 2015, the BYU offense could go even higher.

The defense has only five returning starters and three of those reside on the defensive line. The line allowed only 122 rushing yards per game and only 3.3 yards per carry. The lone returning linebacker is Manoa Pikula and he finished 2014 with 49 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and an interception. In the secondary, only Michael Davis is back after having 43 tackles and 6 pass breakups last season. The back eight have a lot of inexperience so the Cougars may be playing in quite a few shootouts this year.

BYU has a tough schedule in 2015 as they open with three road games in the first four weeks. They face Nebraska (road), Boise State (home), UCLA (road), and Michigan (road). The middle portion of their schedule is a bit easier with games versus Connecticut, East Carolina, Cincinnati, and Wagner with all of those at home. After a bye week, they will face San Jose State (road), Missouri (Kansas City), Fresno State (home), and Utah State (road). It will be tough for BYU to reach double digits in the win column for 2015 even with Taysom Hill back.

3. Army West Point Black Knights

Jeff Monken took over Army in the offseason prior to 2014 and managed a 4-8 record with 14 starters back. This offseason, Army rebranded itself as Army West Point, but we will still refer to them as just Army. Will the second year of Monken and a new name help Army back to a bowl game?

The offense returns only five starters. Quarterback will be a battle between the oft-injured AJ Schurr and Matthew Kaufmann. Schurr is likely to get the job if he is healthy considering he had 320 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns in addition to his 242 yards passing with a touchdown and interception. The running game has been hit hard by the loss of Larry Dixon (1,102 yards and 9 touchdowns) with Aaron Kemper (158 yards and a touchdown) and Matt Giachinta (152 yards and a touchdown) the top returning rushers behind Schurr. Edgar Poe had 10 catches for 199 yards and a touchdown in 2014, but the passing game is not the focal point of this offense. There are three starters back on the line as well as others who have seen time at multiple positions. The offense put up 24.9 points and 359 yards of offense in 2014 and could produce similar numbers this year as well.

The defense also has only five starters returning. The defensive line has been raided by losses with no starters returning after they surrendered 193 rushing yards per game last year. Linebacker is strong with two starters returning led by Jeremy Timpf. He had 117 tackles, 1 sack, 13.5 tackles for loss, and three interceptions. He will be joined by Andrew King (63 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 tackles for loss). The secondary has three starters back including former wide receiver Xavier Moss. Josh Jenkins will be one of the cornerback spots (64 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 8 pass breakups, and 4 interception) with Chris Carnegie at the other corner position (54 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 7 pass breakups, 3 interceptions).

Army will face Fordham (home), Connecticut (road), Wake Forest (home), and Eastern Michigan (road) to start the season. It gets tougher from there with Penn State (road), Duke (home), Bucknell (home), and Rice (road) in the next four games. Games against Air Force (road), Tulane (home), and Rutgers (home) all lead into the Army-Navy game on December 12 in Philadelphia. Army has lost 13 straight to Navy and even if that is the only game they win in 2015, they will a successful season. It does, however, look like it will be a 4 to 5 win season for Army.

Overview

The FBS Independents are easy to sort out for 2015. Notre Dame is clearly the best team while BYU will have another solid season. Army is probably still a year away from being a bowl contender. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Notre Dame

2. BYU

3. Army

Be sure to check out the Sun Belt preview and check back on Friday for the Big 12 preview.

Visits: 24

Army’s A.J. Schurr Will Miss Spring Practice

A.J. Schurr against Ball State in 2014 (Danny Wild/USA Today Sports)
A.J. Schurr against Ball State in 2014 (Danny Wild/USA Today Sports)

Army’s A.J. Schurr Will Miss Spring Practice

Army Black Knights’ quarterback A.J. Schurr will miss all of spring practice after having shoulder surgery. He originally injured his shoulder after the end of the 2014 season.

Army head coach Jeff Monken confirmed the news on Thursday that Schurr would not participate in spring practice. Schurr is expected to be back in August before the season starts.

Schurr went 12 of 28 for 242 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception through the air. He ran for 320 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season as well. He started 2 games and played in all 12. His two starts came against Yale and Ball State.

The loss of Schurr for spring practice is both good and bad. The good news is that a trio of quarterbacks will battle to get first team reps in Schurr’s absence. The bad news is that none of the players have played a snap in college.

The three other quarterbacks on the roster are Ahmad Bradshaw, Seth Gonzales, and Matthew Kaufman. Bradshaw is a sophomore while the latter two are both freshmen.

As stated before, this will be a great chance for these three players to get rare first team snaps. Army starts spring practice on March 12.

Visits: 3