Army football coach Jim Young doesn't want to talk about next year until next year.
Asked after Saturday's 29-28 Sun Bowl loss to Alabama whether he thinks he'll have a Top 10 team next season, Young shrugged and refused to make a prediction.But it's a valid question, because the Cadets almost upset 18th-ranked Alabama by running right through the Crimson Tide defense. And all of Army's potent backfield will be back.
Ben Barnett, the only junior in Army's starting wishbone backfield, rushed for 177 yards in 14 attempts. Quarterback Bryan McWilliams and running backs Mike Mayweather and Calvin Cass - all sophomores - ran for 75, 80 and 34 yards, respectively.
But their efforts were overshadowed by those of Alabama's David Smith, who completed 33 of 52 passes for 412 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Alabama's defense tightened midway through the fourth quarter and snuffed out three Army scoring drives. Alabama's Derrick Thomas kept the game close in the first half by blocking two field goal attempts.
Army's promising start - a quick touchdown on its first possession, good defense against Alabama's run and a 14-13 halftime lead - startled the Crimson Tide and set up the Cadets for disappointment.
"We didn't expect to have to pass this much, but we had to when they stopped the run," Smith said. "I didn't mind - I had a great time throwing all those passes."
One pass Smith didn't have a great time throwing was an interception late in the third quarter that O'Neal Miller returned 57 yards for a touchdown. The score put Army ahead 28-20.
"I was thinking it would be a letdown for them and get us up a little," Miller said.
But Alabama responded halfway through the fourth quarter with a 32-yard field goal by Philip Doyle. David Casteal added a 2-yard touchdown run with 4:01 remaining; a two-point conversion failed.
Meantime, Army failed to convert on three consecutive third downs. McWilliams threw his third interception of the year on a third-and-16, and Alabama ran out the clock.
"We just came apart on a few third downs," Barnett said. "We had momentum in the first half, but we came out in the second half and lost our momentum."
Alabama coach Bill Curry said Army did what the Crimson Tide expected, "but it was the first time we had faced the wishbone in several years, so it took us a whole first half to get used to it. We didn't make any adjustments at halftime - we just started tackling."
The Cadets were 14-point underdogs going into the game, but Young said he doesn't believe in moral victories.
"If we could have kicked a couple of field goals, we could have won," Young said. "I told (the team) it was a respectable effort. It wasn't a winning effort. We weren't there to make a good showing - we were there to win."