Happy Friday, folks!
Last Saturday was a big, mostly triumphant day for Army Sports. However, we’re in the absolute nadir of the college football offseason, so if football is all you care about, you might have to bear with me this week.
Top 10 college football players who are under 6 feet (247 Sports)
10. KELVIN HOPKINS JR. – ARMY BLACK KNIGHTS
Only six FBS players had more rushing touchdowns during the 2018 season than the Army Black Knights quarterback. All of the players ahead of Hopkins Jr. are running backs. The rising senior, who is listed at 5-foot-10, racked up 1,017 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground in Army’s triple-option offense. The quarterback threw just 93 times all season, but it wasn’t a huge issue with the way the Black Knights were running the ball. Hopkins helped Army go 11-2, with its only losses coming to eventual College Football Playoff participant Oklahoma (28-21) and Duke in the season opener. Expect similar production from Hopkins next season.
It’s good to see the team’s quarterback getting some love, but real analysis would maybe talk about how the coaching staff should have gained trust in their rising firstie QB last season, meaning that we ought to see them tailor their offense a bit more to his specific strengths in 2019. That is certainly what we saw them do with Bradshaw in his firstie season.
New Army Strength Coach Rusty Whitt is a Badass
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) February 19, 2019
Meet Rusty Whitt. Army’s new assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach. He served as a Green Beret for almost 6 years, in between his coaching career in the NCAA, and deployed to Iraq. Welcome to West Point, Rusty. Beat Navy. pic.twitter.com/fSdYRPFgD0
— Drunk Old Grad (@DrunkOldGrad) February 19, 2019
Notes on the Upcoming Schedule
— Coach Brent Davis (@coachbrentdavis) February 14, 2019
The Spring Game is April 12. We don’t have a time yet, but past Friday games have started around 7:00 pm.
— Stadium (@Stadium) February 20, 2019
For whatever reason, folks started talking about the Michigan game Wednesday on Twitter with various hot takes putting the line at either Army (+28) or–per the above–as a pick ‘em.
I personally think Army’s got a real chance but that they should still be a decided underdog. I’ll translate that to mean Army (+10.5) with the understanding that a line is supposed to balance the action not predict the final score. I think my line would balance the action.
Men’s Lacrosse Climbs in National Polls (GoArmyWestPoint)
The Army West Point men’s lacrosse team is 2-0 against nationally ranked opponents this season and climbed in this week’s national polls. The Black Knights were voted 13th in the Inside Lacrosse Media Poll, while earning the 15th slot in this week’s U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Coaches Poll.
Army jumped up from the 19 slot last week after topping Rutgers, 10-9, on Saturday who was ranked 8/10 at the time.
It was the second week in a row the Black Knights earned an upset victory over a ranked opponent.
Not sure what it is with these top ten teams putting their barnburner matchups against Army behind a paywall, but for whatever reason, it happened again. This time it was the Scarlet Knights putting this past Saturday’s game on BTN2GO+, meaning that virtually no one saw what was probably the most electric 2019 college lacrosse matchup to date.
— Army M.Lacrosse (@ArmyWP_MLax) February 18, 2019
Not surprisingly, Army put two players on this week’s Patriot League Team of the Week. Granted, All-American Defenseman Johnny Surdick was not exactly a surprise, but plebe Attacker Brendan Nichtern has been a revelation for the Black Knights. An Army team that struggled to find the net at times last season suddenly has an offense to match it’s defense, and don’t look now, but college lacrosse has definitely noticed. Patriot League rival Loyola currently stands #1 in the nation, so all of a sudden, Army’s in-conference slate looks a good bit spicier than it did just a few weeks ago.
The team followed Saturday’s success with a decisive victory over Marist on Tuesday, and since this was Army’s home opener, I finally got a chance to watch at least part of that game via the Patriot League Network on Stadium.
Final score: Army 10, Marist 4.
I don’t know that the 2019 edition of the Army Men’s Lax is more talented than the 2018 edition was, but folks, they are a Hell of a lot more aggressive. This team doesn’t necessarily win faceoffs clean, for example, but they bring Surdick in from the wing off the start to fight for possession, and that led to a lot of early turnovers off ground balls despite the Red Foxes raking the ball consistently off the start. Similarly, Army contested every inch of ground in Tuesday’s contest–think full court press in basketball–and it led to goals like this one:
5:53 4th | High pressure turned GOAL!
— Army M.Lacrosse (@ArmyWP_MLax) February 19, 2019
Marist had trouble getting clears out of its own end, much less maintaining possession to mount any kind of offense. With that, Army gained an advantage of maybe 7:1 in shots on goal, and while that gave the Black Knights just a one point advantage heading into halftime, they put the hammer down in the third quarter.
I’m excited for this team. They play their third ranked opponent this Saturday in Syracuse, and amazingly, I think Army ought to be favored. Alas, that game will be on the ACC Network, which means that it’ll probably wind up behind a paywall too, but if Army can come away with a victory, we’re looking at a top ten start to the season.
Women’s Lax absolutely murdered Hartford on Saturday 22-5, and they followed it up with a 12-4 victory over Sienna this past Wednesday. They look really good. Fast, very physical, and much better at ball-handling than they were in previous seasons. It’s a marked improvement over what we saw in 2018, and although the Army Women haven’t really played anybody yet, it’s hard not to be excited for this fourth varsity season of Women’s Lax.
The team looks legit, and I think they’re feeling it. They’ve got an excellent shot at making their first Patriot League Tournament appearance this year.
Wowza what a weekend for Army sports….
1) Ladies hoops beat Navy
2)Track & Field = Patriot League champs *also beating Navy*
3) Men’s Lax stuffed #8 Rutgers
4) Men’s and Women’s Tennis at Nationals
5) Softball secured the ?
6) AHF skated to victory
7) I hit the gym for once
— Drunk Old Grad (@DrunkOldGrad) February 18, 2019
Army Women’s Hoops looked good in their victory at Annapolis. Army and Navy both have some talented young players, but the Mids don’t have anybody who can match firstie Madison Hovren, and that was pretty much the difference in the game. Meanwhile, Men’s Hoops had some chances, but they got cold coming out of halftime, and that was that.
Army Baseball also started hot, beating Air Force 17-2 on Friday before losing to #1 ranked LSU by a just single run the next day. They kind of booted the game Sunday against UL-Monroe, but what can you do? They won yesterday’s double-header handily, so they’re back above .500 at least. Anyway, these games will mean more once we get into Patriot League play. Still, this early season start has to be encouraging, especially in terms of the team’s offensive production and top-of-the-order starting pitching.
An academy-record 11 wins last season for Army and a final ranking of No. 19 in the AP Top 25?
“I don’t know if it’s been a boon (for recruiting). It’s still the same challenges,” coach Jeff Monken said after crisscrossing the country in search of talent. “You’ve got to go and win the recruiting battle. Winning certainly helps you get their interest, but I don’t know if winning a lot of football games helps anybody understand any more what West Point is. Some people don’t realize that our guys are in college. ‘Do they just get the soldiers to play? How does that work?’ You’d be surprised how many times you’ve got to explain it.”
Me too, Coach. Me too.
*** Below the Fold ***
If you follow me on Twitter, you may already know that I fell and bruised my ribs racing my daughters at Ski Butternut a few weeks ago. In fact, I thought I’d actually cracked those ribs at first, but I seem to have bounced back in just a couple of weeks. A legit crack would have been a minimum three-week injury, I think. Granted, I’m still a little sore, but I got out on Mount Snow’s North Face last weekend, and despite telling myself–and my wife–that I’d take it easy, I wound up racing my buddies down Chute on Friday afternoon.
Good news: Despite taking one pretty good fall, I didn’t puncture a lung.
Also: There is no substitute for victory. But my buddy’s friend is a really good skier, so I did have to work for it. Alas, we then went out on Freefall, an ungroomed slope with moguls, where I got my ass kicked.
Seriously, though, those moguls are tough on a snowboard.
With the midweek snow we just got, we’ll be back out at Ski Butternut this Saturday. Because, friends, if you don’t ski, these Northeastern winters can be absolutely unbearable.
The AAF reportedly needed a $250 million bailout to stay afloat after just one week (Washington Post)
According to David Glenn of the Athletic (subscription required), the AAF needed a $250 million investment from Carolina Hurricanes majority owner Tom Dundon simply to make payroll after its first weekend of games Feb. 9-10. In return, Dundon will be introduced as the league’s new chairman Tuesday, Glenn reports.
“Without a new, nine-figure investor, nobody is sure what would have happened,” an unnamed source told Glenn. “You can always tell people their checks are going to be a little late, but how many are going to show up on the weekend for games when they don’t see anything hit their bank accounts on Friday?”
I’m hoping that this is just a cash-flow issue not a legit “we nearly ran out of funding” issue, but I’ve read that the AAF has already faced down more than a dozen would-be Extinction Level Events, so who knows? The fact that they got $250M seemingly pretty easily makes me wonder if they didn’t have some idea that they were going to need follow-on funding as a matter of course, making this less a last-minute save than a pre-planned investment, but again, we may never know.
My sense is that if they can just get this thing off the ground, it’ll have some legs. However, these initial years look tough. For one thing, the shortened game format allows for fewer commercials, and although that makes the viewing experience exponentially better, it’s got to hurt revenue. Plus, the flagship games are on either CBS Sports or the NFL Network, neither of which is gonna deliver an outsized audience to advertisers. The AAF probably needs to supplement those streams with a digital delivery deal through Amazon Prime (or something similar), but I know CBS Sports has already balked at competition from the AAF’s in-app streaming system, and that has neither sound nor game-detail graphics.
The AAF’s Week 2 slate featured a bunch of close games with exciting, come-from behind finishes. This started with Birmingham at Salt Lake, where the Iron got off to a slow start but managed to stay in the game with defense. I didn’t love it. I mean, I’ve got no issue with defensive football, but this game featured any number of dropped passes and busted running plays, and with the strength of these teams’ D-Lines, neither squad could get much going. That wasn’t just because of good defense. We’d see a first down or two followed by a negative yardage play, and that gave us a bunch of punts and a few field goals. Birmingham finally put a touchdown drive together at the end of the contest to take the victory, but though they’re 2-0, they have yet to put together a complete game on offense.
I want to like the Birmingham Iron, but man, they’ve got show me a little more than that.
Arizona also came from behind to beat Memphis. The good news is that Express coach Mike Singletary seems to have realized that he’s not going to win with the power of QB Christian Hackenberg’s arm. Express RB Zac Stacey looks like the Alliance’s best back, and at one point Hackenberg himself was 0/1 passing with something like 3 or 4 carries for ~5.5 yards/carry. Not surprisingly, that zone-read style offense really worked. But the Express went away from it in the second half, just as Arizona QB John Wolford and the Hotshots’ offense caught fire.
I continue to think that Wolford has been the Alliance’s best player this season, though Orlando’s QB Garrett Gilbert has also been very good. Still, I think Wolford has shown enough to get some real looks this summer from the NFL.
Speaking of Gilbert, he looked like a legit Steve Spurrier quarterback in the Orlando Apollo’s super-impressive come-from-behind victory over San Antonio. The Commanders got up by two touchdowns early, but they couldn’t convert either of the mandatory two-point conversions, and that left the door open just enough for the Old Ball Coach and company. Down 12, the Apollos went vertical, and the Commanders flat could not cover down the field. From there, the game became a high-flying shootout—and one of the top five most entertaining professional football games I’ve seen in the last six months or so. San Antonio held a massive time-of-possession advantage through about the middle of the third quarter, but they couldn’t sustain offense down the stretch. They then gave up a fumble-six deep in their own territory, and that was pretty much it.
Definitely a fun contest, though. I really enjoyed it.
Finally, I missed the San Diego-Atlanta game, but the Legends suck. I’m not sure the Fleet know what they have just yet, but that Atlanta team is garbage for sure.
Saturday's Week 3️⃣ action. #JoinTheAlliance
— The Alliance (@TheAAF) February 20, 2019
Sunday's Week 3️⃣ lineup. #JoinTheAlliance
— The Alliance (@TheAAF) February 20, 2019
Sadly, the AAF’s Week 3 slate looks nowhere near as strong as Week 2’s. Arizona (-4) at Salt Lake could be good if Salt Lake’s D-Line can get pressure on QB John Wolford, but the Hotshots are 2-0 and the Stallions are 0-2, and those trends look likely to continue. Maybe the Stallions can keep it close early, but I feel good about predicting the Hotshots pull away late and eventually cover the spread. Similarly, Memphis (+14.5) at Orland might work, but unless Singletary commits to a full-on zone-read-style running game for four full quarters, his team is gonna get absolutely gobsmacked. If the Express can legitimately dominate time-of-possession, they have a chance. If they try to let Hackenberg throw again, though, this one will finish early. And Spurrier will absolutely run up the score.
Sunday’s early game is dog-meat. I’ll take Birmingham (-6) to not only cover in Atlanta but to actually get their second shutout as well. If you really want to make some money, play Under 40, too. Sunday’s late game looks a little better—San Antonio Commanders (+2) at the San Diego Fleet. The Commanders aren’t particularly great on either offense or defense, but they’re decent on both, and that consistency has been hard to come by in the AAF. San Diego certainly hasn’t found it, hence my pick.
That’s all folks. Enjoy the weekend!