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2015 MAC football non-conference previews: Army Black Knights

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Army West Point visits Rynearson stadium on September 26.

Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

The Army West Point Black Knights are regular visitors of Rynearson stadium at Eastern Michigan. The two teams have played each other three times since 2010, and twice it has been at EMU. Army won the match up at Eastern in 2010 by a 31-27 final, EMU won at home in 2012 by a 48-38 final, and Army won the last meeting in 2013, which was at home, 50-25.

The two did not face each other last season, but Army took on three MAC foes in Buffalo, Ball State, and Kent State. The Cadets went 2-1 against the MAC with home wins over Buffalo (47-39) and Ball State (33-24) before being blown at at Kent State by 22 points.

Eastern Michigan played both Buffalo and Ball State in 2014 as well. The Eagles sent Buffalo's Jeff Quinn packing with a 37-27 win over the Bulls, but later lost 45-30 at Ball State.

Army lost over half of its starters on each side of the ball following a 4-8 campaign in 2014. Ten total starters return; five on offense, five on defense. At quarterback will likely be A.J. Schurr, who has battled injury throughout his career. The senior would have been the starter in each of the past two seasons, but suffered an injury in August in both seasons.

In the option based offense, Schurr is the leading returning rusher. He gained 320 yards last season on just 45 carries for an average of 7.1 yards per carry and three touchdowns. After Schurr, the next best returning rusher is senior fullback Matt Giachinta, who rushed 46 times for just 152 yards in 2014 for only 3.3 yards per carry.

The big losses on offense are Tony Baggett, Angel Santiago, and Larry Dixon, who all combined for 2,316 rushing yards in 2014. The halfbacks lost to graduation a year ago were responsible for over 9,000 total yards in their careers. It will likely be a year to rebuild the offense for second year head coach Jeff Monken.

Just five starters are returning from last year's 3-4 defense that gave up 193 yards per game on the ground last season. The defensive unit that lost the most experience is, by far, the defensive line. The losses include 33 combined starts last season, and only 35 career tackles return along the line, forcing Monken to try and rebuild another part of his team.

The linebacking corps is in much better shape at a glance than the defensive line. It was a young group in 2014, but should be much improved with experience. The gem of this unit is junior Jeremy Timpf, who was first team All-Independent in 2014 with 117 total tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 3 picks. Another standout returning at linebacker is 2014 second team All-Independent linebacker Andrew King, who recorded 63 tackles in 11 games last year.

Another unit that may struggle in 2015 is the secondary. It's naturally difficult for Army's secondary to defend the pass because they practice against an offense that runs the option most, if not all of the time. The most important returners in the secondary are second team All-Independent defensive backs Josh Jenkins and Chris Carnegie. Carnegie recorded 54 total tackles in 2014, along with 6 deflections and 3 picks, including a 99 yard pick-six against Connecticut. Jenkins put up great numbers last year as well. He made 63 tackles (including 13 total, 10 solo at Kent State), deflected 8 passes, and made 4 interceptions. With Xavier Moss switching from receiver to safety, the Army defensive backfield is impressive for primarily facing nothing but the run during practice.

Head coach Jeff Monken has a tough task ahead of him in his second season as head coach at Army West Point. He's running an option offense with little returning experience, and he has a defense that gave up a lot of points last season. Only ten total starters are returning to a team that went 4-8 last season, so there is possibility of improvement, but that may be a couple of seasons away.

A bowl game and a win over Navy would be amazing accomplishments for this team. A win against a Reggie Bell led offense at Eastern Michigan will be a tall task for an inexperienced team like Army. They will have to hope that athleticism alone will help them enough to win a few games in 2015.