Army is what we thought they were.
It's true. In 2015, the Black Knights played, according to FPI, like a 2-10 team...and finished with a 2-10 record. Sometimes it's really that simple. A team isn't very good at home and loses all but one of its games there, and it isn't very good away from home either and it loses all but one of its games away. "Nothing to see here, carry on," as they say.
But maybe you don't carry on. In this case, you would see a team that finished third among independents, way, way behind Notre Dame and BYU, and which only beat Bucknell and Eastern Michigan.
You'd also see that this same team also hung tough against a quite formidable Navy team, and that's probably all that matters.
The Black Knights played 12 games in 2015 and scored 265 total points or a little over 22 per game. That's not great and ranks 109th in the FBS but in ideal conditions, it could have been enough. Army didn't do much better in total yards, ranking 108th, while S&P+ will say the team's offence was even worse than that at No. 115.
While Army was great at converting third downs, which shouldn't be a surprise from a team that runs the ball so much, the team also had too many turnovers (i.e. 22 in total) and was too inconsistent in the red zone to have any real success offensively.
If sophomore Ahmad Bradshaw started the season behind center for the Black Knights, it's Chris Carter who finished entrenched as the starting quarterback. (Senior A.J. Schurr also saw game action.) Neither Bradshaw nor Carter threw for many yards, but the latter did complete almost 62% of his passes and gained a great 16.57 yards every time he threw the ball. Edgar Poe was the main receiving target, leading the team with 16 catches, 441 yards and six touchdowns.
But throwing the ball has never been Army's preferred way. In 2015, the team only gained 94 yards per game through the air; the rest came on the ground. Aaron Kemper, Matt Giachinta, John Trainor were three of 11 players with at least 118 rushing yards this season. Yet, for a team that throws so rarely, or one that relies so often on its rushing attack, that it finished ranked 12th in the FBS in rushing is a disappointment.
On defense, the Black Knights didn't fare much better. Sure, they allowed 334 points in 12 games, for an average of 27.8 points per game and the 75th rank, but S&P+ actually puts the Army defense at No. 120, which is not good.
But where does that No. 120 come from? Cumulative statistics show that Army ranked 58th in rushing defense, and 47th against the pass and for yards allowed. Army was doomed because they couldn't force turnovers (i.e. only 11 in the entire season), or reliably stop the opponent on third or fourth downs, and in the red zone.
The Xavier Moss, Jeremy Timpf, John Voit and Jordan Smith of the Army defense weren't necessarily bad, but that doesn't mean the defense excelled.
It's difficult to deem successful any season where a football team wins only two of its 12 games and where it ranks No. 123 (or the sixth worst team in the FBS) by comparison to its peers.
But there are relative positives. For example, the Army defense did allow fewer than 30 points in half of its games. Likewise, the Army offense reached 31 points or more in a third of the games. More concretely, the Black Knights did beat a team ranked ahead of them in 121st-ranked Eastern Michigan; even better, they held a lead in the third quarter against the best Navy team in 50 years.
There are no moral victories, but maybe there should be.
Regardless of who the team picked as its MVP, my choice is Andrew King. The junior linebacker led the Black Knights with 92 total tackles, 16.5 of which went for a loss, as well as with 4.5 quarterback sacks and two fumbles recovered. Fellow linebacker Jeremy Timpf was just as good, so you could talk me into this choice too.
Moving forward, the Army Black Knights will look to avenge yet another loss to Navy; the team has now lost 17 of the previous 19 games, including 14 in a row. It's become so bad that the Midshipmen have moved ahead by a comfortable margin in the all-time series.
There are reasons for optimism, notably the return of quite a few players at skill positions, but one game stands out above all.