WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — Army is very much at home on the banks of the Hudson.
The Black Knights take a 13-game winning streak over two seasons into Friday night's season opener against Rice at Michie Stadium.
"It's been a good run and I hope it will continue," Army coach Jeff Monken said. "That is a source of pride. That's something we talk about as a program and make a goal that we want to go undefeated at home."
The Black Knights, who finished last season ranked No. 19, also have won nine straight games. That's the second longest active winning streak in college football, behind only national champion Clemson.
"I think this team can be very special," Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. said. "It's a lot of guys that want to leave a good legacy."
This will be the ninth time the teams have played. The Owls lead the series 4-3-1, but the Black Knights have won the last two. In the previous meeting in 2017, Army forced six turnovers and won 49-12 on the road, the largest margin in the series.
Second-year Rice coach Mike Bloomgren was on the Stanford staff when the Cardinal defeated Army two straight times — 34-20 at Michie Stadium in 2013, Rich Ellerson's last season at Army, and 35-0 in 2014, Monken's rookie year at the school. Stanford was ranked both times and Army was stuck in a five-year rut that produced just 14 wins against 46 losses.
A lot has changed.
Since the start of the 2017 season, the Black Knights, with their ground-control option attack, have won 21 of 26 games — an .807 winning percentage — and posted back-to-back seasons of double-digit wins for the first time, including a program-record 11 last season, capped by a stunning 70-14 victory over Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl .
"What coach Monken and his staff have done to get better talent than they ever have and to play better than they ever have, it's so impressive to me," said Bloomgren, who guided the Owls to a 2-11 record last season. "This is a different team, night and day, from when we played them at Stanford. Just the talent level. It's so much different. They are really good at what they do, to say the least."
Other things to know when Rice visits Army on Friday night:
A year ago, Monken had to replace star quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, the catalyst that helped Army snap its 14-game losing streak to archrival Navy in 2016. He chose Hopkins, who responded by becoming the first player in academy history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 1,000 yards.
He's a senior team captain now.
"We're in an entirely different position right now than we were a year ago," Monken said. "A year ago we didn't know if he'd be the starter. I had no idea that he would be capable of doing that. He earned the job, had a great season, and so at this point just the confidence that we have and his teammates have in him as a leader and as a performer makes it different."
THREE IS NOT NECESSARILY A CROWD
Rice had three starting quarterbacks last season. Wiley Green threw for 621 yards and three scores with four interceptions in four games as a freshman and has earned the start against Army, with graduate transfer Tom Stewart (Harvard) and Evan Marshman at the ready.
"I think Evan and Tom have thrown the ball extremely well. They've earned this staff's trust," Bloomgren said. "Their leadership is what we want from all three of those guys."
EFFICIENCY A MUST
Army led the nation in possession time last season (38:33), epitomized in an overtime loss at Oklahoma . The Black Knights had the ball for 44:41 and ran 87 plays to Oklahoma's 40.
That sort of play leaves little margin for error.
"You can't waste plays against this team because it's all about negative plays," said Bloomgren, who has added seven graduate transfers to the roster with a total of 202 games of college experience. "If they get you in negative plays and make you go three and out, you may not get the ball for 12 minutes. They've proven that time and time again on film."
LET'S GET PHYSICAL
Army thrives on its physicality and aims to wear down opponents in the fourth quarter. It's what the Black Knights train for at the end of every practice.
The Owls figure they'll fight fire with fire.
"I think it's the only way to play Army," Bloomgren said. "I think Army absolutely feasts on finesse teams. That's what they want. They want people that aren't willing to stand in front of them and throw punch after punch after punch. What they're going to see is that we are going to be willing. We're going to fight."
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