We’re 50 days away from the 2019 season opener, but it’s never too early to talk college football. We kick off our 11th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25 as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists ranked 1st, 2nd, 8th and 13th in our 2018 poll.
Our No. 18 team: Army
The Black Knights’ best-case scenario: Showing the form that led to an overtime loss at Oklahoma and a 70-14 win over Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl, Army throws the College Football Playoff selection committee into a tizzy with a perfect regular season.
And their worst-case scenario: Worst case? A rebuilt defense with seven new starters can’t match last season’s production, and service-academy rivals Air Force and Navy — who lost by a combined 10 points to Army last season and are familiar with slowing the Black Knight’s option attack — score enough points to pull off the upsets.
Army didn’t crack our preseason top 25 poll last year. Heck, Army hasn’t opened a season ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 since 1959.
Inside the Black Knights
Coach: Jeff Monken (6th year, 35-28; 73-44 overall, 9 years at Georgia Southern and Army)
2018: 11-2 (beat Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl). After winning only six games in 2014 and 2015, Army has 29 wins over the last three seasons.
Returning starters: 6 offense, 4 defense
Shoes to fill: RB Darnell Woolfolk (956 yards, 14 TDs); RB Jordan Asberry (leading receiver); LB James Nachtigal (led in tackles, sacks)
Spring cleaning: While quarterback Kelvin Hopkins triggers the potent option offense, Monken and his staff wanted to find a new fullback to soften up defenses. Rashaad Bolton stepped up in the spring game, scoring two touchdowns and a physical style typical of the Knights’ option attack. … Monken kept his coaching staff almost entirely intact. And why not? The Black Knights, who had one winning season in the 17 years prior to Monken’s arrival, have had three consecutive winning campaigns and are coming off their first 11-win season in school history as well as their highest final ranking in the AP poll (No. 19) since their last unbeaten season in 1958.
PASSING: Kelvin Hopkins Jr. (led team), 51-93-1,026 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs
RUSHING: QB Kelvin Hopkins Jr. (1st), 208-1,017-17
RECEIVING: RB Kell Walker (2nd), 11-170-1
TACKLES: LB Cole Christiansen (2nd), 77
SACKS: DL Edriece Patterson (T-3rd), 2.0
INTERCEPTIONS: DB Jaylon McClinton (2nd), 2
Big Chiefs: Nothing matters more in the world pf service-academy football than winning the Commander In Chief’s Trophy, which recognizes the top football team between Army, Navy and Air Force. The Black Knights beat both last season and won the outright trophy for the second straight time. After 14 consecutive losses to Navy, the Black Knights have now beaten their arch-rival in consecutive seasons.
Stiff-arming the competition: Can a service academy player ever win the Heisman Trophy again? Navy’s Roger Staubach last pulled off the feat in 1963, and Army’s last Heisman winner was Pete Dawkins in 1958. But Hopkins could emerge as a dark horse candidate; in 2018 he became the first player in school history to run and pass for more than 1,000 yards in the same season, and that trip to Michigan looks like the only significant hurdle until the season finale against Navy.
Saluting the locals: Not surprisingly for a service academy, Army’s long recruiting reach extends to every part of Texas. Austin is no exception; Vandegrift’s Spencer Jones, a 2018 all-Centex linebacker selection, signed with Army this past year, and the Black Nights have an offer out to current Bastrop quarterback Desmond Young. Army’s roster also includes running back Dominic Distefano from Hendrickson, defensive back Max Regan from Vandegrift, offensive lineman Holton Greenfield from Vandegrift and defensive lineman Jacob Covington from Liberty Hill.
2018 national stat rankings
Scoring: 36th (32.8 ppg)
Total offense: 76th (392.5 ypg)
Passing: 127th (80.1 ypg)
Rushing: 2nd (312.5 ypg)
Red zone offense: T-31st
Time of possession: 1st (38:33)
Scoring defense: 10th (17.7 ppg)
Total defense: 8th (295.5 ypg)
Pass defense: 21st (188.8 ypg)
Rush defense: 10th (106.8 ypg)
Red zone defense: 20th
Turnover margin: T-11th
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Sept. 7||at Michigan|
|Sept. 14||at UTSA|
|Sept. 21||Morgan State|
|Oct. 12||at Western Kentucky|
|Oct. 19||at Georgia State|
|Oct. 26||San Jose State||W, 52-3|
|Nov. 2||at Air Force||W, 17-14|
|Nov. 16||Virginia Military Inst.|
|Nov. 30||at Hawaii||W, 28-21|
|Dec. 14||at Navy||W, 17-10|
The key game? Sept. 7, at Michigan. While games against Air Force and especially Navy always matter the most to the Army faithful, a win at the Big House in the second week of the season would immediately brand the Black Knights as a threat to crash the College Football Playoff.
The last 5 years
|2014||4-8 / —||— / —||No bowl|
|2015||2-10 / —||— / —||No bowl|
|2016||8-5 / —||— / —||Heart of Dallas Bowl, W|
|2017||10-3 / —||— / —||Armed Forces Bowl, W|
|2018||11-2 / —||— / 19th||Armed Forces Bowl, W|
|Total||35-28 / —||3 bowl games (3-0)|
Our Top 25 — so far
No. 18: Army
Our Top 25, by conferences
Big Ten — No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 22 Northwestern, No. 24 Nebraska
Pac-12 — No. 21 Washington State, No. 25 Stanford
Independents — No. 18 Army
SEC — No. 19 Auburn
ACC — No. 23 Syracuse
Coming tomorrow: Our No. 17 team
Want a hint?
It’s our first Big 12 team in this year’s poll.