By Bo Carter
Army West Point football in 2018 is approaching records some observers never thought would be broken as the Black Knights prepare for the 16th annual Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Saturday, Dec. 22, at 2:30 p.m. (CST) at TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium against 8-4 Houston of the American Athletic Conference.
The Black Knights will seek to break the 10-win barrier for the first time in school annals, and this includes national championship teams of 1944 (9-0 overall record), 1945 (9-0) and 1946 (9-0-1) – three unbeaten teams with a composite mark of 27-0-1.
It is the second straight Army West Point squad under head coach Jeff Monken to tie the school mark of 10 wins by the 1996 Black Knights of coach Bob Sutton (10-2). The 20 victories in back-to-back seasons stands as a West Point milestone and the 28 over three years is also a new standard.
Due to the fact that the academy chose not to go to bowl games until the 1984 Cherry Bowl in New Jersey, and fans can see how the 10- or 11-triumph standard has been doubly tough to establish.
Army West Point’s program also has been in the news in recent days with the Heisman Trophy recognition of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. Murray and 2017 Heisman recipient Baker Mayfield are the first consecutive Heisman winners from the same school since (you guessed it) Army West Point’s National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame 1-2 punch running backs Doc Blanchard in 1945 and Glenn Davis in ’46 (after he was the runner up in Heisman voting in both 1944 and ’45).
Yet another milestone is the Black Knights' almost uncanny percentage on fourth-down conversions. The Knights were an astounding 31-of-36 (an average of three fourth-down attempts per game) for a .861 success rate. Texas was a distant second nationally by converting 10-of-13 tries (.769). Among the top 50 teams nationally in fourth-down conversion rates, only Air Force tried more (40) but made fewer (24). Oregon State was the nearest to Army West Point in successes with 25 on 36 total attempts.
In addition, the team is coming off a third consecutive victory over traditional rival Navy. It is the first time the Black Knights have taking three in a row since topping the Midshipmen five straight times from 1992-96. The 17-10 verdict in Philadelphia gave Army eight consecutive wins since dropping a 28-21 overtime setback at now No. 4 Oklahoma on Sept. 22. It is the team's longest winning streak in 22 years. The win over Navy also gave Army the coveted Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for intra-service academy competition for the eighth time since it was established in 1972 and for the first time ever in back-to-back years.
The Black Knights also have the distinction of being the only undefeated team in three bowl games in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex prior to this year’s LMAFB. Army West Point’s last three postseason appearances all have been in the DFW area – a 16-14 win over SMU in the 2010 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (played at SMU’s Ford Stadium while Amon Carter Stadium was undergoing renovations), a 38-31 triumph in overtime over North Texas in the then-Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl (now the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl) at historic Cotton Bowl Stadium and last year’s 42-35 thriller over San Diego State in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.
Monken knows and appreciates the hard work his student-athletes put in during classroom, football practice and meetings and in games against vastly-larger opponents, and cherishes the bowl experiences.
“I know everybody in the AAC complains about playing Navy because they're tough and play hard and low,” he said at a recent news conference. “Hopefully people are complaining about us for playing that way, too. Our players have worked hard to get here, and this is a good reward and great way for our seniors to end their careers.”
Something tells the casual observer that Houston has been devoting extra time to studying how to defend Army West Point’s complicated triple-option offense. The Black Knights have attempted only 96 passes this year, completing 48 of them for 956 yards, six touchdowns and just three interceptions in ’18, and working on mental toughness as kickoff approaches Dec. 22.