The first game of the year matches the Army West Point Black Knights (Sagarin 60) and the Atlantic Athletic Association Coastal Duke Blue Devils (Sagarin 39). Duke leads the all-time series 13-11-1. Last year, Army beat Duke 21-16 at Michie Stadium, highlighted by a blocked punt for a touchdown. Duke held Army to 268 yards of total offense, but Army was even better, holding the Blue Devils to 253.
This is supposed to be a great year for Duke. They return seven offensive and eight defensive starters and they feel they have a chance to compete for the ACC Championship. Quarterback Daniel Jones and Wide Receiver Johnathan Lloyd return, but they will have to replace three on the offensive line.
The Blue Devil defense, only gave up 20.2 points per game last season, but also surrendered 332.6 yards per game. They were hurt by the big play, giving up 21 plays for greater than 40 yards. Their long time Defensive Coordinator, Jim Knowles, left the program for Oklahoma State. He is replaced by Ben Albert and Matt Guerrieri who will share the position.
Duke has a respected coach and talented team heading into the 2018 season, but they will play Miami, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech in the ACC’s Coastal Division. A win against Army is essential to a good start.
Army comes off the best season since 1996. They won 10 games for the second time in school history, won the Commander in Chief’s Trophy and beat San Diego State in the Armed Forces Bowl, which was one of the better Army games in my lifetime.
Army loses eight offensive starters, most notably Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw and four from the Offensive Line, Rick Kurz, Joshua Boylan, Mike Houghton and Brett Toth. Kelvin Hopkins and Luke Langdon should be able step up at Quarterback. Darnell Woolfolk, Andy Davidson and Connor Slomka return as fullbacks. Kell Walker and Jordan Asberry return as Running Backs. The Offensive line returns Bryce Holland and Jaxson Deaton, both of whom are greater than 300 lbs. The Black Knights have four underclassman that were 285 lbs. or greater at the end of the Spring.
Army’s defense held opponents to just 22 points a game last fall and should be solid once again. Army only lost three starters on defense, but Safety Rhyan England will surely be missed. He was out for five games last year, which allowed Max Regan, Mike Reynolds and Jalen Sharp to gain a lot of experience. The defensive line is a little undersized and young, but they may have enough beef in Seniors Raymond Wright, Cordarrell Davis and Emmanuel Ukhueligbe to stand up to Duke. Jr. Cole Christiansen and Sr. James Nachtigal return to lead a very athletic team of linebackers.
Who is favored?
Duke is favored by 13 points
What to look for?
Aside from Oklahoma, Duke will be best defensive team that Army will play all year. They were fairly successful in containing the option last year and they return most of their starters. Duke will be practicing for the option coming into the game and it should not take them by surprise. However, Jim Knowles, Duke’s former Defensive Coordinator, departure can only be a good thing for Army. Army replaces four linemen and will have a new quarterback against this stout, disciplined defense.
Army performed very well against Duke’s offense last year and it is nearly the same match up.
If Army wins the time of possession and runs 60 plays, they will have a chance to win. Army will need to limit Duke to eight possessions and their offense will need to score 21 points to win. Last year it was a blocked punt that made a difference.
Army began the 2016 season under very similar circumstances. They opened up on the Friday night before Labor Day as a 13 point underdog to the Temple Owls, in Philadelphia. Temple was coming off a 10-win season, where they played in the AAC championship and Boca Raton Bowl. Army was very focused and prepared and beat them handily 28-13. Last year, Army opened the season with a route over Fordham 64-6. This is evidence that Monken and the cadets perhaps play their best football in week one, when injuries and studies have yet to take their toll. While other offenses take a few weeks to get into rhythm, the option continues to grind efficiently with little loss in cadence.
On paper, Duke wins by two touchdowns. If Army turns over the ball and has a couple of bad breaks, Duke will win easily. If you believe in Army – this is going to be a fantastic game. Army can prove to themselves and the football world that they are a legitimate top 25 team, rush for 300 yards and win.
Final Score – Army 21 – Duke 14 (predictions in 2017, 8-5)
Game will be shown on ESPNU, Friday night @ 4:00 PM EDT.