Army football settles in with Gun Option, South Florida should be excited: G5 mailbag

WEST POINT, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 9: Army players celebrate a touchdown by Bryson Daily #13 of the Army Black Knights against the Delaware State Hornets at Michie Stadium on September 9, 2023 in West Point, New York. (Photo by Edward Diller/Getty Images)
By Chris Vannini
Sep. 19, 2023

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It’s Week 4, and the Group of 5 looks wide-open across the board after a fun weekend. Let’s get into your questions.


Note: Submitted questions have been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

How about that Army shotgun triple-option? The slow mesh seemed to have the far more talented UTSA team lost. Is Army using the next evolution of the triple? — Cory E.

Two weeks ago, I was asked in this mailbag if Army and Navy should be concerned long term after rough starts to the season. I said it was too early to jump ship, and we needed to see how Army’s Gun Option offense evolved throughout the season. Two weeks later, Army is 2-1 after walking into UTSA and beating the (Frank Harris-less) Roadrunners.

Now we see what Army had planned when it tweaked its offense in the middle of last season and through the offseason to react to new rules further limiting low blocks. It turns out it looks pretty good when you hold on to the ball. In Week 1, the Black Knights had five turnovers and Louisiana-Monroe rallied late for a 17-13 win. Against UTSA last week, Army committed zero turnovers and held the ball for more than 44 minutes. It averaged only 3.9 yards per rush, but it had scoring drives last 8:37, 7:28, 5:51 and 4:46. Army also converted all six of its fourth-down attempts, keeping drives alive. That looked like the old Army.

Elsewhere, Air Force is 3-0, although it typically has run a bit of a different version of the offense, and Navy nearly beat Memphis last week while throwing 20 passes. It’s clear that the triple-option offense has to throw the ball more than in the past, and all three teams have adjusted in different ways to do so.

It’s good timing for Army, which on Monday extended head coach Jeff Monken with a new contract through 2027 worth an average of $2 million annually, according to a school source. The American Athletic Conference and Army remain in deep conversations about the Black Knights joining the conference, according to league sources. Monken’s contract extension is a further sign of optimism of getting that done.


There are some hurdles the AAC and Army need to work through. Among them, Army transitioning as an independent has a lot of games on future schedules it needs to get out of as soon as next year. CBS Sports also has the TV rights to Army home games through 2028, a deal that was extended last year.

The Army-Navy game is expected to remain in its slot the week after conference championship games and is expected to remain a nonconference game, per a league source.

Alex Golesh’s first South Florida team is 1-2 after losing 17-3 to Alabama on Saturday. (Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA Today)

How excited should I be as a South Florida fan after Saturday and in general? With a much easier schedule than years past and a top G5 recruiting class, is USF back? — Nabil B.

There really are many reasons to be excited at USF right now! The school recently achieved AAU designation, a new on-campus stadium has been approved and is going through the last red tape, the 2024 recruiting class ranks No. 1 in the AAC, and the team just went toe to toe with Alabama. A lot is finally trending in the right direction.

But I also need to see a bit more this season before other declarations on the field. Let’s not forget, USF nearly beat Florida last year and still finished 1-11. Western Kentucky outscored USF 24-7 in the second half after being tied at halftime in Week 1. But there have been signs of life, absolutely.

Alex Golesh has improved the roster, and the team is clearly playing with a belief we haven’t seen in quite a while. Outside of Tulane, the AAC might be more wide-open than we thought. Perhaps USF springs some upsets to impact that race. This is definitely a team to keep an eye on. It’s why it moved up in my 133-team rankings despite losing.



The Athletic 133: Where does Alabama belong in rankings?

What are the top four teams in the Mountain West? Reigning champion Fresno State seems to have not missed a beat. Boise State had preseason hype but has not delivered, nor has coach Andy Avalos proved he can consistently win close games. Air Force is also undefeated and consistently good. Wyoming beat Texas Tech earlier and is 2-1. San Diego State had some preseason hype for a rebound season, and even UNLV just won a shootout over Vandy and is 2-1. Colorado State took Colorado to overtime and lost to Wazzu, so its 0-2 record might be deceiving. — Cade L.

Right now, I have to go with the order I ranked them in the 133: Fresno State, Wyoming, Air Force, San Diego State. Boise State will get back into the mix as the season goes on. We went into Boise State’s issues in last week’s mailbag.


You’re right about Fresno State, Cade. We’ve got to stop doubting Jeff Tedford, right? The Bulldogs lost Jake Haener, Jordan Mims and Jalen Cropper, yet they’re 3-0 with two Power 5 wins (and an overtime FCS win), led by UCF transfer Mikey Keene, who is completing 65 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Tedford is 39-18 at Fresno State, with two conference titles, another division title and three 10-win seasons. The dude can coach.

Overall, the league looks a lot stronger top to bottom after the conference seemed to hit rock bottom last year. The bottom of this league is stronger with teams like Colorado State and UNLV. Nevada got crushed by FCS Idaho but bounced back to take Kansas into the fourth quarter.

Hawaii took Vanderbilt to the wire. At the top, Fresno State and Wyoming weren’t the teams we expected to necessarily be there, but their consistency is winning out thus far.

Is there a real possibility that the MAC championship game will be an 11-1 Toledo versus an 11-1 Ohio? — Ryan M.

It feels … quite possible, believe it or not. Looking at their schedules, Ohio probably will be favored in all of its remaining games, and the same may happen for Toledo. But this is also the MAC, which famously beats itself up during conference play. There’s not a wide talent differential between anyone in this league. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ohio and Toledo both drop a game or two before then. The last MAC team to go 8-0 in conference play was 2016 Western Michigan.

But what if we get 11-1 Ohio versus 11-1 Toledo? There’d be a real chance the MAC could get the New Year’s Six bowl spot again, as Western Michigan did in 2016. Ohio would have the better case with a Power 5 win over Iowa State and the excuse that Kurtis Rourke missed much of the loss to San Diego State. Toledo lost to Illinois on a last-second field goal.

I picked these two teams to win their divisions entering the season, and a rematch looks favorable, especially considering how good both have looked in nonconference play. How about the MAC? It went 2-0 against the Big 12 this past weekend.

What do you make of South Alabama? It looked stagnant in Week 1, slow to start in Week 2 and came out firing on the road in Stillwater in Week 3. Can this team win the Sun Belt? — Cameron L.

The South Alabama we saw Saturday, beating Oklahoma State 33-7, is the South Alabama I expected to see this season. This team got very good, very fast under Kane Wommack, and it has some dudes. La’Damian Webb rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, quarterback Carter Bradley was an efficient 10-for-16 passing with two touchdowns, and the defense held the Cowboys to 208 total yards.


That’s why I was so surprised Tulane whipped the Jaguars 37-17 in Week 1. Maybe it was Week 1 rust, or maybe Tulane is just that good (I believe it might be this). But with Troy starting off 1-2 and dropping a key game to James Madison this weekend, the Jaguars should be the Sun Belt favorites right now, although there’s a long way to go.

What’s wrong with UConn? There was so much excitement and hope after last year’s success, but it appears that it has gone back to the UConn of old. Was last year just a flash in the pan? — Djimy J.

It feels like this downturn is something not many people have noticed yet. Jim Mora took the Huskies from 1-11 to 6-7 and a bowl game in his first year. It was a great story. Now they’re 0-3 with losses to NC State, Georgia State and FIU. Entering the year, I thought there was a good chance the Huskies would get back to a bowl game, but Georgia State and especially FIU were games I expected in the win column. It’s still possible to find six wins in the remaining nine games, but nothing so far would give one confidence in that.

Last year’s UConn season was interesting. On paper, it was not a good team — 117th in scoring offense, 62nd in scoring defense — but it beat the teams it should and snuck in upsets of Fresno State (without Haener) and Liberty. This year’s team has dropped to 126th in scoring offense and 92nd in scoring defense, and it’s losing games it should win. It’s also minus-3 in turnover margin. Zion Turner was last year’s starting quarterback with ups and downs as a true freshman, but he lost the job in camp to Joe Fagnano, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against Georgia State. His replacement, Penn State transfer Ta’Quan Roberson, completed 15 of 32 passes against FIU. Turner hasn’t played this year. None of the QB play has been good. There’s still time to turn it around with a weak schedule, but this isn’t the Year 2 I expected.

What do you think Western Kentucky takes away from that loss to Ohio State on Saturday? — Charles W.

That Marvin Harrison Jr. is really, really fast. I would not look much into that game. Ohio State is just so much more talented at every position, the Hilltoppers never had a chance and they weren’t expected to.

WKU needs to move past that game quickly with a big trip to Troy this week. The Troy defense looks good again, and WKU quarterback Austin Reed and company will be tested.

Group of 5 Top 10

1. Tulane (2-1)
2. Fresno State (3-0)
3. James Madison (3-0)
4. Wyoming (2-1)
5. SMU (2-1)
6. Memphis (3-0)
7. South Alabama (2-1)
8. Air Force (3-0)
9. Coastal Carolina (2-1)
10. Troy (1-2)

Just missed: Western Kentucky, Rice, Appalachian State, San Diego State, Ohio, Liberty, Boise State

Games of the Week

American: SMU at TCU (-6)
Noon ET, FS1
Pick: TCU


CUSA: Western Kentucky at Troy (-3)
Pick: Troy

MAC: Ohio (-10) at Bowling Green
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+
Pick: Ohio

Mountain West: Appalachian State at Wyoming (-2.5)
7 p.m. ET, CBSSN
Pick: Wyoming

Sun Belt: Virginia Tech at Marshall (-7)
Noon ET, ESPN2
Pick: Marshall

(Top photo: Edward Diller / Getty Images)

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Chris Vannini

Chris Vannini covers national college football issues and the coaching carousel for The Athletic. A co-winner of the FWAA's Beat Writer of the Year Award in 2018, he previously was managing editor of Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisVannini