Jeff Monken is on quite a roll with Army West Point football. With the team’s first win in 2022, he will move into sole possession of second place on the All-Time Wins list at Army, trailing only Hall of Famer Earl Blaik. Monken’s squads have amassed 58 wins in his 8 seasons on the banks of the Hudson River. That includes 5 bowl games, as many as all other Army coaches combined. But Army’s success under Monken hasn’t always garnered the attention some feel it merits. The Black Knights won nine or more games in four of the past five seasons, yet have only been ranked in the AP Top 25 for a total of 3 weeks.
Army’s Chance to Make a Statement
The reality is Army’s previous schedules didn’t carry a lot of weight with voters. But that can change in 2022 if Monken and his cadets can keep up their winning ways.
Upgrading The Schedule
The 2022 schedule represents a significant upgrade in opponents. It’ll be a challenge, but Army has a chance to put itself squarely in the national conversation, alongside programs like BYU, Appalachian State, and Houston as the top non-P5 schools. Voter’s hesitation to rank Army over the last five seasons is because of a relatively weak schedule.
And that’s really what 2022’s opportunity is about — going from a surprising upstart or feel-good story to establishing itself as a consistent, legitimate football program.
An Uphill Battle
Army opens with an extremely competitive first two-thirds of the schedule. The first six FBS teams that Army will face had a combined record of 56-23 in 2021. Five of those teams earned bowl berths and four of them won their bowls. Three of Army’s first four opponents spent time in the AP Top 25 last season.
Coastal Carolina has one of the nation’s hottest coaching prospects in Jamey Chadwell and quarterback Grayson McCall is in a position to set the NCAA career mark for Passing Yards per Attempt. Making the trip to South Carolina at the end of summer won’t make the task any easier. The Chanticleers peaked at #14 in the Top 25 last season. Army currently sits as a field goal underdog for the opening tilt.
UTSA has finally found its footing after fits and starts under Larry Coker and Frank Wilson. Army’s defense will face another dynamic quarterback in Frank Harris. Jeff Traylor‘s squad went 12-2 last season and spent five weeks in the Top 25, peaking at #15. As much as McCall will test the Black Knights secondary, Harris’ mobility will test Army’s containment defense.
Without a doubt, Army will be able to make an early statement with success against these two up-and-coming programs. Wins against both of these programs put Army squarely in the national conversation for best Group-of-Five/Independent Schools.
Army gets the first of its FCS opponents, Villanova, in Week 3 and has the first of their two bye weekends in Week 4.
Georgia State visits the Hudson Highlands in Week 5. That will be another test for Army. The Panthers expect to be much better than last season when Army went into Atlanta and dominated 43-10. Former South Carolina head coach Shawn Elliott returns three rushers with over 660 yards from 2021 and his starting quarterback. Georgia State was 8-5 last season with three of their losses to teams in the final AP Top 25. This is a classic trap game – it would be a mistake to look past this team.
Army’s biggest test of the season comes the following week with another trip to the Carolinas. Wake Forest was 11-3 last season and won the ACC Championship. Sam Hartman is currently out with an undisclosed injury, but there’s a possibility he’ll be back before the Black Knights arrive in Winston-Salem. The Demon Deacons put up a smooth 70 against the Army defense last year in West Point. There’s no better example of Army’s chance to make a statement in 2022 than this game.
Army gets its second FCS opponent, Colgate, in Week 7 and follows that up with ULM in Week 8. ULM was 4-8 last season and shouldn’t challenge Army at West Point.
They wrap up the meat of their schedule with Air Force in Week 9, again in Arlington, Texas. The Black Knights squeaked out an overtime win against the junior Service Academy last year. But the Falcons return five of their top six rushers back in 2022, including senior quarterback Haaziq Daniels. Army is coming off of a bye, as is Air Force. This game will be as much about where Army is mentally at this point in the season as it is about scheme and strategy. A strong start against Coastal and UTSA, and this could be a Top 25 match-up. Early falters, and Army could be staring at their fourth loss in Arlington.
The good news for Army is that the backend of the schedule is much more manageable. Army’s last four opponents, Troy (5-7), Connecticut (1-11), Massachusetts (1-11), and Navy (4-8) were a combined 11-37 in 2021. But again, for Army’s chance to make a statement this season, they must take care of business with these teams.
And that includes Navy, which escaped with a win against Army last season, even with five fewer wins on the season. Every Army fan knows that the most important thing — by far and every season — is beating Navy.
Why Army Needs to Make a Statement
Army’s chance to establish itself is this season. And it’s important that it capitalizes on this chance. The College Football landscape is changing. The Big Ten and SEC are not done growing and an FBS split from the NCAA is now inevitable. Army must position itself as a desirable commodity moving forward. Army’s rights deal with CBS Sports, their portion of the Army-Navy contract with CBS Sports, and their portion of the CFP payout (~$300,000) is far behind what comparable programs can command with the growth in conference rights deals.
That’s another story for another day for the program’s administration. For Monken and his team, Army’s chance to make a statement starts next week. And it might be a chance they can’t afford to miss out on.