Graduation has come and gone for the Class of 2023. The remaining Black Knights now find themselves firmly entrenched in whatever summer training has in store for them, while the new class anticipates R-Day in just a couple of weeks. Summer Camp will be here soon enough, and with it comes the anticipation of another Army Football season.
Friends, I can’t wait!
Expectations vs. Predictions
We’ll discuss both ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) as well as SP+ down below. Both metrics seek to measure a team’s ability against an “average” team, such that a team with a score +5.0 would be a five-point favorite against a theoretical “average” team on a neutral field. A team with a score of -5.0 would be a five-point underdog. We can therefore use these rankings to set initial betting lines; indeed, that is probably their best use right now. Thus, the rankings create preseason expectations, which then change during the season according to on-field performance.
We should note, however, that FPI and SP+ have different purposes. FPI seeks to predict which teams will make the College Football Playoff. It therefore contains a strongly positive Power 5 bias alongside a negative bias towards the smaller G5 conferences. By comparison, SP+ attempts to be conference-neutral, but it strongly favors explosiveness over consistency.
As noted, these rankings are useful in discussing preseason expectations. However, expectations can be notoriously fickle, and anyway, crazy things happen all the time in college football. We are therefore not predicting anything. We’re just trying to understand the season. With that said, any game where the predicted line is less than a touchdown ought to be considered distinctly “winnable” at this point in the preseason. There’s too much error involved and the margins are too small to take any of this too seriously at this stage.
2023 Season Preview: First Quarter
Week 1: at Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks
2022 Record: 4-8 (3-5 in the Sun Belt-West)
SP+: -19.6 (129th)
FPI: -15.2 (127th)
The Black Knights open on the road again this year, but this year’s match-up should be much more winnable than was last year’s opener at Coastal Carolina.
The Warhawks look to start QB Jiya Wright, a career backup who’s finally getting a chance. Wright looked good during Spring Football, finishing 6/13 for 115 yards, 2 touchdowns, and just 1 sack in the Warhawks’ spring game. WR Justin Kimber finished with 3 catches for 66 yards, including a one-hander that went for 49. The offense struggled once Wright left the field, however. In fact, the Warhawks defense held their offense to a total of just 204 yards overall on a whopping 58 plays.
The Warhawks struggled running the ball last season, especially in short yardage situations. They then lost some running backs to the transfer portal. They return a relatively experienced offensive line, bolstered by a pair of junior college transfers, and that may help. If they can improve on last year’s 120.6 rushing yards/game (104th), they can probably also improve on last year’s 22.3 points/game (104th), which would go a long way towards improving their overall record. Still, what they have right now is more a collection of experienced pieces rather than an experienced unit overall.
Final note: ULM just installed new field turf. I’m not sure why a team from Louisiana isn’t playing on grass, but the new turf is presumably better turf.
Projected Line: Army (-11.7)
Week 2: Delaware State Hornets
2022 Record: 5-6 (2-3 in the MEAC)
The Hornets have just welcomed a new head coach in Lee Hull, formerly of Morgan State, but they also just lost incumbent starting QB Jared Lewis to the transfer portal right before their spring game.
Coach Hull might well help the Hornets improve overall and even win more games in the MEAC. However, he’s got some work to do right here and now. This is definitely a game that the Black Knights ought to win.
Projected Line: N/A
Week 3: at UT-San Antonio Roadrunners
2022 Record: 10-3 (8-0 in Conference USA; Lost to Troy in the Cure Bowl)
SP+: +2.9 (57th)
FPI: +0.2 (61st)
College eligibility has clearly gone crazy because this year’s UTSA team will field most of the same players that Army first saw way back in 2020. And these guys were veterans back then! So yeah, QB Frank Harris returns. WRs Zakhari Franklin, J.T. Clark, and Joshua Cephus return. Even S Rashaad Wisdom ought to return. The biggest question on UTSA’s entire roster is, “Who’s gonna backup Harris at quarterback?”
If there’s good news here, it’s that UTSA wasn’t quite as electric in the running game last year without the one player who’s actually moved on, RB Sincere McCormack (now with the LV Raiders). Without McCormack, the Roadrunners finished with “just” 175.6 rushing yards/game (50th) alongside fully 300 passing yards/game (13th). Granted, a lot of that came against some rather suspect C-USA rushing defenses. Still, Frank Harris finished 3rd on the team in rushing with 128 yards on 4.7 yards/carry, meaning that he himself did a lot of the work here. Rising sophomore Kevorian Barnes led all rushers with 851 yards on 6.3 yards/carry, but Barnes was the only player to average more than 5 yards/carry overall.
UTSA has had a good team for a while now, and playing them on the road was never gonna be easy. Still Army has beaten them once since their national-level improvement, and the Black Knights probably would have beaten them again last year absent a muffed punt at the goal line. So although the line suggests that this is *not* a winnable contest, recent experience suggests that it probably ought to be.
Projected Line: Army (+13.3)
🚨SCHEDULE UPDATE🚨— UTSA Football 🏈 (@UTSAFTBL) June 8, 2023
UTSA's home opener vs. Texas State will kick off at 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 9 at the @Alamodome and air on ESPN+
🔗 https://t.co/TPXSlCCtEp#210TriangleOfToughness #LetsGo210 | #BirdsUp 🤙 pic.twitter.com/x4YqXmgVR4
We’ll learn a lot about this year’s Army Team right in these first three games. We start with two contests that Army really ought to win, including the opener at ULM which looks like a must-win given the way the schedule shakes out, followed by a game against a team that’s as good as any on the schedule save LSU. If the Black Knights come out hot in all three games, then I think we can feel good about this season. If they struggle to move the ball or stop the run at ULM, however, we might be in some trouble.
Can't wait to see what this group does in the fall!— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) June 9, 2023
Our defense finished as one of only three units in the nation to allow fewer than 175 passing yards in nine games last season.
Our defense also ranked No. 3⃣ in the country allowing only 160.0 passing yards per game.
The good news is that there is no way the Warhawks’ staff will have spent the entire offseason preparing for Army’s new shotgun triple-option offense. No one’s seen it yet. However, the bad news is that the Black Knights struggled to consistently stop the run up the middle last year, and if they can’t find a way to get better push on defense, it’s possible we’ll see that again.
Army has the playmakers to make this a special season, but there are a lot of unknowns heading into 2023. For better or worse, we’re gonna get some answers right off the bat.
Go Army! Beat ULM!!!
Cover image via Army Football on Twitter.