Dr. Saturday - NCAAF

An absurdly premature assessment of the 2010 Black Knights.

Why they might look familiar: They're the Army, for one thing. Eisenhower played here. And we all watch the Army-Navy game whether we really want to or not, because America! and there's never anything else on the second weekend in December.

Fun Army factoid: Cadets are required to attend all football games, a policy some certain other schools might want to take up. They also stand for the full duration of the game (also something certain other schools might want to take up).

Less-fun, more-badass Army factoid: The staff occasionally awards, for superior on-field effort, something known as the BLACK DEATH AWARD.

Previously on: The win-loss record under first-year coach Rich Ellerson may as well have been decided by lawn darts. The Black Knights beat the dregs of the schedule (Eastern Michigan, Ball State, Virginia Military and North Texas), but only one of them by more than seven points. They lost to the less-dreggy of the dregs (Iowa State, Tulane and Duke). They fell at the hands of Navy, 17-3, for the eighth year in a row, and went down against Air Force for the 12th time in 13 years. But the Knights found the wherewithal to upend Vanderbilt in mid-October, and the fact that UCLA had to wait on the Army-Navy result to accept a bid to the EagleBank Bowl was the most relevant Army has been to the postseason since Bill Clinton's first term as Commander-in-Chief. The final mark, 5-7, was the academy's best since 1996.

The option-based offense managed to finish with the nation's 16th-ranked rushing attack, though that came at the expense of a passing game that finished dead last at just under 72 yards per game through the air. Altogether, the Knights were 117th in total and scoring offense, in stark contrast to the 16th-ranked total defense, its best performance of the last decade by far.

Encounters in the wild: The Cadets take the East Coast tour to Duke on Sept. 25, to Rutgers on Oct. 16, and to the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia to liven the mid-December doldrums after the conference championship games. But the main attraction is clearly on Nov. 20, when assorted Northeastern hype machines converge to welcome Notre Dame for the first football game in the new Yankee Stadium, reviving the most storied rivalry of the 1940s. 

Stock characters: With a name like Trent Steelman (TRENT STEELMAN!), there's little doubt this skinny sophomore was born to play quarterback for a service academy. Steelman was the team's leading rusher out of the wishbone, posting spotty numbers that ranged from the truly dreadful (eight yards passing, 20 yards rushing against Eastern Michigan) to the commendable (87 yards passing, 132 yards rushing against North Texas), though he enters his second season still in search of his first 100-yard passing game agaist a I-A defense.

He'll get the most help on offense from two fellow sophomores: Running back Jared Hassin, who sat out last year after transferring from Air Force, and ace kicker Alex Carlton. All should be well served by a line that returns four senior starters. The relatively stalwart defense is anchored by tackle-machines Andrew Rodriguez, Stephen Anderson and Steve Erzinger at linebacker and stars end Josh McNary, who was fourth in the country last year with 12.5 sacks.

Prognosis: Unreasonably optimistic, though we're not quite sure why – when a program considers not quite breaking .500 as significant progress, you have to look at things from a "baby steps" perspective. The Black Knights are on an upswing but are swinging on a short rope: They're still settling into the option system, and they're still riding a 14-year losing streak. A ready-made invitation to the Armed Forces Bowl awaits if they can make it to 6-6, but breaking even will probably require winning two of three in toss-ups against Hawaii, Duke and Temple in the first half of the season. However they get there, ending the drought would be something to celebrate, preferably by shooting very large guns into the air.

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Previous Absurdly Premature Assessments (alphabetically by team): Akron ... Arkansas State ... Boston College ... Central Michigan ... Clemson ... Colorado State ... Connecticut ... East Carolina ... Florida Atlantic ... Florida State ... Fresno State ... Georgia ... Hawaii ... Houston ... Iowa ... Kansas State ... Kentucky ... Louisiana Tech ... LSU ... Marshall ... MemphisMiddle Tennessee State ... MissouriNevada ... North Texas ... Oregon State ... PittsburghSan Diego State ... Stanford ... UAB ... UCLA ... UTEP.

Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.

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