The start of the season is upon us. How do you feel?
Compared to last year, this season should fill you with dread. Maybe disillusionment.
Looking from last July 26th, I was reasonably pessimistic about this 2011 season. Papa Dodge had loaded up for one last hurrah in 2010 and much depended on it. Multiple draft classes had failed to blossom. The roster was loaded with JUCOs and BCS-castoffs who had yet to prove their hype. Todd’s job depended on it.
It failed him.
The team that should have been the best of the four-year term only managed to lose valiantly in the opening games. Canales stepped up and arguably steered the ship to a finish we could be proud of — yet one that looked a lot like the start.
It is difficult to be optimistic. The QB spot is either going to be filled by JUCO Brent Osborn or newbie Derek Thompson. With only 24 snaps of experience on this level between the two, neither inspires confidence. Lance Dunbar is going to face stacked fronts and for all his breakaway ability, asking him to carry such a load in a winning campaign is ridiculous.
The defense showed signs of life but is still stocked with guys recruited by Papa Dodge. There is more hoping and wishing.
Really, if any of the three units play like they did under Canales, I am sure we will be satisfied. That is the odd thing. All optimism comes from Danny Mac and his coaching staff. We are all hoping that he can magically motivate, coach and conjure up a decent squad despite even despite his words of reason.
How much of the slight improvement that the 2010 team showed will carryover and how much of it can be attributed standard New Coach Motivation is up for debate. It doesn’t matter. Mac can motivate. His introductory press conference and history in the coaching ranks has more than proven that he can coax effort from a college athlete. That effort mixed with a modicum of decent defensive scheming has me expecting a half-way decent squad less prone to allowing 50-yard trots through the middle of the park.
Things are looking up.
Unfortunately, there will be no shocking the world this season –at least not over the long haul. A surprising win here, a close loss there, maybe a late-season long mathematical chance at snatching the Sunbelt crown may be all the drama and hope we can expect.
Danny Mac is not hot young prospect with a crazy high-octane offense. That isn’t what we need right now. He is a guy that will, as Bret Vito has said, get us looking like an honest-to-goodness college football team.
We can expect more of the same from Mike Canales: Spread offense with tight-ends to open up holes in the running game. He mixed in some stuff that Brian Kelly uses at Oregon and so we will likely see more runs and fakes from the QB spot. Stuff that Brent Osborn does well. Derek Thompson will likely start and that doesn’t change much. Any coordinator worth a damn will modify his offense to suit the players on the roster. We saw some Nate Tune read options in his brief appearances.
It will all funnel through Lance Dunbar, of course. The guy projects to 1400 yards and 15 scores rushing along with 300 or so and a couple scores receiving. Did I mention that he has something like ten or eleven long scores a year? Dude is productive and entertaining. He should more than make it easy on the two newbie quarterbacks and the still unproven receiving corps.
We once again lost a linebacker/leader. Once again we have questions about the front line. Once again the defense looks to be without obvious playmakers.
The good news is that Danny Mac’s specialty is defense and in particular the defensive line.
Its good for the long term. Here we find the area that requires the most patience. As was often the case last year, if the defense can keep it close, we might have a shot to win a few.
That is ridiculously simplistic analysis but likely the most true. There is no evidence that these guys will be a force –nor anything resembling a force– as of yet. The smallish defensive line was even a point of emphasis for the new coach upon arriving. They won’t be getting much bigger and we will not have reinforcements for at least another year.
This is it.
The new staff has plenty of slack. Dan McCarney has plenty of skins on the wall to prove that he can coach on this level and win. If the players can muster up the same level of effort they displayed (or if the staff can coax it from them) we can surprise some teams with a few wins.
There are certainly some guys with some talent. Look at Tyler Stradford, Brelen Chancellor and of course, Dunbar. If we can stay within reasonable striking distance those guys have the talent and ability to break a 60-yarder. That is really all we can hope for.
All that said, I will forget I mentioned any of this on the first of September and complain that we don’t score on every possession.