Coach: Bobby Ross (2nd season, 2-9) 2004 record: 2-9 C-USA finish: 2-6 (t-10th) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 36th (175.9 ypg) Passing: 70th (205.7 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 115th (249.4 ypg) Passing: 91st (240.7 ypg)
at Boston College
at Air Force
Depth Chart: Offense
5 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
6 returning starters in red
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Following his team's 42-13 loss to Navy that concluded last season's 2-9 campaign, Cadet quarterback Zac Dahman sat before assembled media and reflected on the state of the program.
"We've become a better team, even though the record doesn't show that," Dahman said. "We believe and we know that we are heading in the right direction. We are going to make a pact with ourselves and do better next year. We are on the right track."
That direction will no longer be mapped out by a Conference USA schedule. Instead, the academy ditched its seven-year marriage to conference affiliation in favor of an independent status that will again allow the program desired scheduling flexibility and more sensible rivalries.
"I'm excited about our return to independent status," said coach Bobby Ross, entering his second season on the banks of the Hudson. "We're a national school. We should not be restricted to playing in a certain area of the country like we were with the conference affiliation."
The switch should definitely benefit a program that has some top-notch returning players to go with the usual set of question marks.
Entering Ross' first season a year ago, there were questions as to who would play quarterback. There are no such questions entering the 2005 campaign, as Dahman has earned the trust and confidence of teammates and coaches after assuming the helm early last season. Known as a pocket passer, Dahman was running a little option during spring practice, leading many to believe that the offense could provide for more than a few wrinkles this season.
Senior Jacob Murphy and sophomore Jeremy Trimble are the leading returning receivers with plenty of players behind them, including speedy sophomore Corey Anderson. At tight end, senior Jared Ulekowski has exceptional hands and is a quality red-zone target.
Last season, behind the efforts of senior tailback Carlton Jones, an exciting ground attack netted 175.9 yards per game. This year, depth is not a problem as Scott Wesley moves from receiver to tailback, where he impressed during the spring. Though fullback Tielor Robinson left the academy, scrappy Mike Viti looks to take over at fullback.
A year ago, the offensive line was a team strength. But after being decimated by graduation, the lone returning starter is senior Pete Bier and even he will assume a new role by moving from guard to center. Otherwise, none of his four line mates has started a game.
"As a returning starter, I know I have to help bring them together and be sort of a mentor," said Bier. "We need to work on the mental part of the game, but I think everything has come together pretty well."
Ross and defensive coordinator John Mumford installed a 4-3 scheme, replacing the 4-2-5 system that was in place. The starting linebackers from a year ago graduated, meaning there will be three new faces starting in the middle of the defense. Cason Shrode is expected to handle the middle with Barrett Scruggs and Luke Pell among those vying for starting assignments on the outside.
There is some experience on the defensive line, led by end Cameron Craig, who played well in eight starts last season. Ross expects Craig to be a leader of a line that also boasts tackles Seth Lotts and Tommy Ryan, a pair of seniors who have started a number of games.
Graduation struck a blow to the secondary, and to ease the burden senior Dhyan Tarver was shifted from free safety to corner. Tarver should have plenty of help behind him with sophomore strong safety Caleb Campbell, who played at rover in '04 but was impressive at his new position during the spring.
"I am pleased with how we are doing with the new alignment," Ross said. "Our tackling has been a lot sharper than it was last year."
Both Austin Miller (place-kicker) and Tom Dyrenforth (punter) struggled in '04. Their jobs will be on the line during preseason camp.
The fact that Army put two nice wins on the board last season and lost four games by 10 or fewer points is all the proof anyone needs that Ross' presence is rubbing off. More important, the 68-year-old coach has his team believing in itself and what it can do with hard work and a positive attitude.