If there's a team in America facing a more daunting challenge this week than Army, it's difficult to imagine.
Fifth-ranked Stanford (1-0), with its power run game and imposing defense, visits Michie Stadium Saturday and that doesn't bode well for the Black Knights (1-1). Since the heydays of its Heisman Trophy winners — Doc Blanchard (1945), Glenn Davis (1946), and Pete Dawkins (1958) — Army hasn't fared very well against the top teams in the country. Its last victory over a ranked team was a 17-14 triumph over No. 15 Air Force on Nov. 4, 1972.
Now, try this on for size.
Stanford has one of the biggest and best offensive lines in the country — left tackle Andrus Peat (6-foot-7, 312 pounds), left guard David Yankey (6-5, 313), center Khalil Wilkes (6-3, 286), right guard Kevin Danser (6-6, 296), and right tackle Cameron Fleming (6-6, 318). Ends Mike Ugenyi (6-3, 257) and Kyle Maxwell (6-5, 231) are the most physically imposing players on the Army defense.
"They are going to challenge you physically like you've never been challenged," Army coach Rich Ellerson said. "They are a powerful football team. They have what we've seen before, but they are going to do it in larger proportions. My goal for the football team is going to be to lean forward and come out of your shoes at these guys."
Stanford coach David Shaw remains wary.
"You can look at the numbers and say that, especially up front on both lines, we're bigger," Shaw said. "The problem is, when you're going against smaller guys, a lot of times smaller guys are quicker. They move, and it's hard sometimes for big guys to get down."
After a solid game to open the season — no fumbles and no penalties in a 28-12 win over Morgan State — Army fell apart a week ago at Ball State, losing 40-14 amid two lost fumbles and eight penalties. Stanford started its season by beating San Jose State 34-13 last Saturday.
Here are five things to watch when Stanford plays Army before a sellout crowd at Michie Stadium:
RUN, RUN, RUN: With school-rushing leader Stepfan Taylor gone, Stanford can rotate up to six running backs. Tyler Gaffney excelled against San Jose State, running for 104 yards and two scores. Army has an array of backs, too, in its triple option, led by fullback Larry Dixon (110 yards per game). "What we really need to do is make sure our fullback is on his track and is seeing the action," Ellerson said, "and our quarterback is confident and precise."
WHO'S GOT THE BALL? Army's triple option can be complicated, and the Black Knights have had a penchant for fumbling. Quarterback Angel Santiago took over this year for Trent Steelman and the Black Knights reverted to their drive-killing ways last week. "What we need to do is get the ball off the ground and try to do the right thing on the next snap," Ellerson said.
DEFEND THIS: Army has led the nation in rushing the past two seasons and is averaging 329 yards per game. The Cardinal led the Pac-12 in total defense, scoring defense, and rushing defense last season. The Rose Bowl champions returned nine of 11 starters on defense. Last week, the Cardinal held San Jose State to 35 yards rushing.
MORE NUMBERS: The last time a team ranked in the top-five played at Michie was in October 1962, and Army knocked off No. 3 Penn State 9-6. The last time Army hosted a nationally ranked opponent was a 28-21 loss to Iowa State on Sept. 23, 2005.
DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY: Stanford traveled to West Point early, arriving Thursday at the picturesque campus. The academy motto — duty, honor, country — was sure to catch the eye of the Cardinal. "We're playing against young men that are willing to do some of the things that we're not willing to do down the road," Shaw said. "Our freedom is in their hands. We love them, we appreciate them."
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/
AP Sports Writer Antonio Gonzalez in San Francisco contributed to this report.
Reach Kekis on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/Greek1947