2009 CFN Army Preview
Army WR Ali Villanueva & QB Carson Williams
Army WR Ali Villanueva & QB Carson Williams
Posted Jun 19, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Army Black Knights

Army Black Knights

Preview 20

By Pete Fiutak

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- 2009 CFN Army Preview | 2009 Army Offense
- 2009 Army Defense |
2009 Army Depth Chart
- 2008 Army Preview |
2007 Army Preview | 2006 Army Preview

Head coach: Rich Ellerson
1st year
10th year overall: 60-41
Returning Lettermen
Off 12, Def 17, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 46
Ten Best Army Players
1..DE Josh McNary, Jr.
2. LB Stephen Anderson, Jr.
3. DT Victor Ugenyi, Sr.
4. LB Andrew Rodriguez, Soph.
5. CB Mario Hill, Sr.
6. QB Chip Bowden, Jr.
7. FB CeDarius Williams, Soph.
8. FS Donovan Travis, Jr.
9. DT Mike Gann, Jr.
10. OT Mike McDermott, Soph.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2009 Record: 0-0

9/5 at Eastern Mich
9/12 Duke
9/19 Ball State
9/26 at Iowa State
10/3 Tulane
10/10 Vanderbilt
10/17 at Temple
10/23 Rutgers
11/7 at Air Force
11/14 VMI
11/21 at North Texas
12/12 Navy

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record: 3-9

8/29 Temple L 35-7
9/6 New Hampshire L 28-10
9/20 Akron L 22-3
9/27 at Texas A&M L 21-17
10/4 at Tulane W 44-13
10/11 Eastern Mich W 17-13
10/18 at Buffalo L 27-24 OT
10/25 Louisiana Tech W 14-7
11/1 Air Force L 16-7
11/8 at Rice L 38-31
11/22 at Rutgers L 30-3
12/6 Navy (in Phil.) L 34-0

If nothing else, this is going to be a whole bunch of fun.

As always during every college football offseason there are a slew of new coaching hires. Army's change flew under the radar, but it might have been the steal of all steals with a move that could signal a turning point in the same way that Navy's fortunes changed around when Navy hired Paul Johnson.

Rich Ellerson wasn't exactly the hottest coaching prospect on the block, but he should've been after doing big things with Cal Poly at the FCS level. His Mustang team might have been the most fun in college football last season with the nation's No. 1 scoring offense, among FCS teams, the No. 1 total offense, the No. 3 rushing offense, the No. 2 offense in pass efficiency, and the No. 2 defense in sacks. Cal Poly beat San Diego State in the opener and would've beaten Wisconsin had it not been a for a miraculous string of missed kicks in a 36-35 overtime loss.

Ellerson runs the triple option, but unlike Navy or Georgia Tech, there's more of a passing element to the mix. Jonathan Dally led the FCS in passing efficiency while Ramses Barden finished his career with 206 catches for 4,203 yards and 50 touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Double-Eagle Flex defense attacks, attacks, and attacks some more, and while it might take a while for everything to click in, there will be more pressure into the backfield and more overall disruption.

Essentially, with the hiring of Ellerson, Army is making a great push to become a mid-level player again in the college football world, at least at the same level Navy has been able to achieve. As the Midshipmen, and Air Force, have shown, running the option is the best way to go when there's a limited recruiting base and considering the talent-level will never be quite up-to-snuff with the top teams. Meanwhile, Ellerson's defense is perfect for an undersized group that's quick, smart, and has players willing to go 100 miles per hour all the time.

Now the concern is whether or not the schemes will actually work this season. Army was able to shift over to a pure rushing attack last season and finished ninth in the nation. It came at a price, the passing game was the worst in America, but the players proved they could make changes on the fly.

Going into the fall, the defense is closer than the offense. Eight starters are back on D and there's a ton of depth to play around with. The offense is going to need every rep at every practice to figure out what it's doing considering timing and precision are vital.

It's going to take most of this year to get the systems in place, but once they are, watch out. There will be a reason to get excited about Army football again for the first time in more than a decade. Ellerson will eventually make the program a winner, and he might actually bring a win over Navy.

What to watch for on offense: Ali Villanueva. Of all the things the new offensive style has to worry about, including the struggling quarterback situation and the lack of experience at running back, the big news since Ellerson took over was his decision to move the biggest player on the team to ... wide receiver?! In one of the most interesting position switches in college football history, 6-10, 283-pound Ali Villanueva, the team's starting left tackle for all 12 games last year, will move to receiver, and it's not a gimmick. With his size, his stunning athleticism, and his hands, he really is going to line up at wide out and will have passes thrown his way. Unstoppable on short passes and around the goal line, he'll get plenty of work. He'll also be used like a tight end and a third tackle for the running game, but don't be shocked if he leads the team in touchdown catches.

What to watch for on defense: The line. The linebackers are going to be terrific by Army's standards, and the secondary should have chances to make more than their share of big plays in the new defense, but it's the line that has stood out the most since the regime changes was made. A not-that-bad group against the run last season, now it'll do more to get into the backfield with end Josh McNary about to blow up as a top-shelf pass rusher. The tackles are undersized, but quick (a theme throughout the defense), while there are nice backup options at all four spots.

The team will be far better if … the quarterbacks didn't stink. Fine, so that's a bit strong, but Army won't do much if the quarterback play isn't far, far better. That's a big question mark. Chip Bowden is the top option after starting for most of last year, and while he's a great runner, his passing skills are mediocre at generous best. Carson Williams is the most talented pure quarterback, but he's been screwed up over his star-crossed career by an almost yearly change in offensive schemes. Max Jenkins and Trent Steelman, both runners, will also be in the hunt. After Army threw for 555 yards and three touchdowns as a team, any production would be an improvement.

The Schedule: There are enough winnable games to hope for this to be one of the team's best seasons in years. The toughest games are at home with Rutgers and Vanderbilt coming to West Point, while there's a trip to Iowa State and a date with Duke to round out the BCS portion of the slate. Road games against Eastern Michigan, Temple, and North Texas are as manageable as they get, but the Air Force game is in Colorado. There aren't two true road games in a row all year ( the Navy game is a neutral site date in Philadelphia). From September 12th (against Duke) to November 7th the Black Knights leave New York just twice.

Best Offensive Player: Sophomore FB CaDarius Williams. Call this an up-in-the-air choice since it seems like the coaching staff isn't quite sure who the best players are yet. The offense still needs a lot of work and a lot of reps. The hope is for one of the quarterbacks to be the star, but that hasn't happened yet. Williams is only 5-11 and 203 pounds, and he isn't a true thumper, but he has the look of a fullback who can carry the ground game for long stretches.

Best Defensive Player: Junior DE Josh McNary. Linebacker Stephen Alexander will be in for a special season in the middle and Mario Hill might be the team's most indispensible player at the field corner, but McNary is going to put up huge numbers in the new defense. Only 6-1 and 225 pounds, he still finds ways to hold up against the run. Part linebacker, part end last season, he was third on the team with 69 tackles to go along with 4.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. He'll be camped out in the backfield now that he's full-time at the Quick End.

Key player to a successful season: Senior CB Mario Hill. The starting quarterback, whomever that turns out to be, will be the make-or-break player for the season, but the defense needs Hill to be the star of the show. In Ellerson's defense, the Field Corner, the one who has to occupy the most space on the field, is left on his own most of the time. Hill has to be able to handle everyone's No. 1 receiver without a whole bunch of safety help. He'll get torched here and there, but he has to win his share of battles.

The season will be a success if ... the Black Knights finish 6-6. If the schemes start to work by late September, there will be just enough time to pull off wins over Tulane, Temple, VMI and North Texas to have a nice base of wins. Beating a rebuilding Ball State isn't asking for much and pulling off a season-opening win at Eastern Michigan wouldn't be a shocker. An upset or three along the way might be needed to come up with the first winning record since 1996, and there can't be any slip-ups along the way against the mediocre teams on the slate.

Key game: Dec. 12 vs. Navy. Enough is enough. Army might not be better than Navy again this year, but the big game has to at least be interesting. Not only has Army lost seven straight in the series, but the last two were by a combined score of 72-3 and only one of the seven was even remotely competitive.

2008 Fun Stats: 
- Second quarter scoring: Opponents 105 - Army 28
- Passing yards: Opponents 2,333 - Army 555
- Fumbles: Army 36 (lost 24) - Opponents 20 (lost 9)

- 2009 CFN Army Preview | 2009 Army Offense
- 2009 Army Defense |
2009 Army Depth Chart
- 2008 Army Preview |
2007 Army Preview | 2006 Army Preview