College football kicks off next week, just in case you weren't paying attention, and with that comes my totally uninformed and baseless opinions. Just trying to get the ball rolling for some good football banter.
If somebody were to ask me to summarize our team in 4 syllables (which nobody really has . . . yet), I think I would go with "young po-ten'-tial".
This is a YOUNG team. Very young. Scary young. It has been estimated that 62 of our 85 scholarship players have 3 or more years of eligibility left. THREE or more years. Think about that. That's 73% of the team being either sophomores or freshman. Really, we don't lose a ton this year OR next year, and the bulk of the team's units should remain largely intact. Think about the names you know . . . Savage (true soph), Sanu (true soph), DC (rs-soph), Vallone (rs-soph), Beauharnais (true soph). Even Martinek, Eric LeGrand, Manny Abreu and Art Forst are "only" true juniors. Phil Steel actually has a great breakdown that ranks each team by years of experience on their 2-deep and we come in 116th out of 120 teams (http://blog.philsteele.com/2010/08/19/two-deep-breakdown-by-class-update/). And that's both bad AND good. Bad because it means inexperience THIS year, and all of the forehead-smacking frustration that comes along with it. Good because it means plenty of experience for the future, and all of the continuity and level of comfort that comes along with that. I'm not trying to downplay the roles of our older guys or make excuses in case we lose a "WTF?" game, but we are really in a year where, talented though we may be, our inexperience might be our greatest nemesis, but at least it should yield results in the future.
There is also a great deal of potential here as many of the young guys happen to be very talented football players. We are (finally) getting to a point where we are able to redshirt kids that we haven't been able to redshirt in the past, and in doing so, obtain that crucial 5th year of development and strength with guys that we actually play. And if we can get a new face to step up, a difference maker from either of the last two classes, we could have a nice new X-factor (or X-factor-zzzz, plural) in our favor. So if an Isaac Holmes or a Casey Turner or a Jeremy Deering or a Rashad Knight steps up, they could completely change the complexion of the team. Heck, I've been hearing good things about completely unheralded David Milewski! Step on up, son!!
Fan Fest Thoughts:
As I do at most Fan Fests, I spent the majority of my time meeting the "new guys", freshman and sophomores that have yet to make a name for themselves. Mostly because I like to see the true freshman up close and personal for the first time, and see who might be making a splash sooner rather than later. Also because the lines to see them aren't 75 people deep like they are for Messrs. Savage and Sanu. My initial impressions of this freshman class was that there are some BIG dudes in this class. Not necessarily tall or wide, but guys who, for their position, looked to be in tremendous shape. Rashad Knight, Casey Turner, Gareef Glashen, and Marcus Thompson all looked far removed from their high school days, physically. Maybe there is something to this "Florida pipeline" idea after all.
The offense has a LOT of important tools in the shed . . . a top-notch quarterback, a versatile flanker anchoring a solid corps of receivers, a platoon of RB's headlined by a gritty power back, and what I think is going to be a very solid tight-end unit. The o-line, though . . . well, they have me worried. They have EVERYONE worried. A couple of stalwarts in Forst, Ruch, and Barbieri, but also a few newcomers, and one of those at the crucial LT spot. Basically, a no-name blue-collar unit that has a lot to prove this year. The downside is that I believe "it all starts in the trenches" so if we can't get it done on the line, we're going to have trouble getting it done at the skill positions. We'll call that the "negative externality" effect. The upside is that you don't really *need* star players on the o-line to play well - you mainly need guys who play well together as a unit, and our guys are *supposedly* well coached soooo . . . we'll call that the "cohesive synergy" effect. So whatchoo gonna be, o-line? Negatively externalistic, or cohesively synergized? I guess that's the big question, really. It also doesn't hurt that our season unofficially starts on September 25th when North Carolina comes to town, basically giving our line an entire extra month to gel.
Quarterbacks - Grade: B+ (Potential: A-, as long as Savage stays healthy)
Honestly, I'm being generous because we are a left-tackle-missed-assignment away from being a D+ i this category. I'm not going to dwell on Savage, a guy who is perfectly capable of being All Big East as a true soph. He certainly has the talent, and it was on display last year. My issues here are: Will he experience a sophomore slump? Will the O-line be able to protect him? And will our lack of depth at the position hurt us? My answer to all three: "Probably not". It's been said that if you can get a rookie quarterback to replicate his first-year numbers, you've made progress, and I actually expect Savage to surpass his numbers across the boards . . . including interceptions. He'll take more chances and that will probably mean a few more turnovers. With Shimko being out most of the summer, undersized true frosh Chas Dodd (a VERY easy guy to root for) has been running with the 2's. That's not good. Basically, I'll be very, very happy as long as Savage is healthy. The nice things about quarterbacks is there is SO much to gain each additional year in terms of development, and I assume Savage will continue to progress and possibly even take a significant step forward. One to watch: Chas Dodd. Why? Because if he's in, it means we're down to our 3rd string 5'10 true freshman quarterback and he's just burned his redshirt. Fabulous.
Running Back - Grade: B (Potential: B+, if we can find that "other" back)
A flip of the quarterback situation . . . the talent is far more evenly distributed. And while we don't seem to have that one ace in the backfield, we do seem to have a plethora of playmakers back there. So we've got "just okay" talent, but we've got plenty of it!! Does that get you EXCITED??? Yeah, me neither. Now Martinek might not be the flashy stud that everyone ooh's and aah's over, but he came darn close to 1,000 yards last year as a part time back. He's plenty effective as a grinder, which is what Schiano likes to use anyway. Running backs don't typically "develop", they're just born that way - so I think we know what we have in Jersey Joe. After him, a troika of talented freshman have been vying for time and it is probably worth getting excited over at least one of them. Casey Turner (my pick), Jordan Thomas (has been killing it in scrimmages), and Jawan Jamison have all shown promise in practice. Plus there's STILL Kordell Young and Mason Robinson, two undersized backs who are trying to regain what injuries have robbed from them. The question is: where is De'Antwann Williams? After a burst here or there during his rookie season, he has been relatively quiet this year after sustaining an injury in the spring. I've always liked the guy's talents, but he's prone to fumbling (he did it again in the first summer scrimmage), and if he doesn't step up soon, he might be passed by some of the younger guys. One to watch: While I would have initially said Casey Turner (I'm hoping the light comes on for him sooner rather than later, one of 4 freshman that stood out to me physically at the Fan Fest), I've got to go with Jordan Thomas. A guy we've tried out at WR and RB, apparently his speed and shifty running style is giving the defense fits. So much so that we might see incumbent Joe Martinek shifting over to the . . .
Fullbacks - Grade: B-
We'll see. But Coach is at least *trying* the move of Joe to FB. If Joe can block well enough (and I believe he can), it would give us a dynamic running game with a ton more options, which might be just what our offense needs. It could speak volumes to how ready the freshman running backs really are. I really don't have much to say about these guys other than I've seen Edmond Laryea and it looks like someone has stapled softballs to his shoulders. He is HUGE. Ka'Lial Glaud might make a move here as well, so we'll see how that goes.
Wide Receivers - Grade: B+ (Potential: A-, if we can get a young guy to complement Mo)
Well, there's Sanu. And then there's everyone else. "Everyone else" is VERY young, but also very talented - and apparently very fragile. We've already lost promising rs-freshman Tim Wright for the year. Next-in-lines Quron Pratt, Mark Harrison, and JT Tartacoff have all gone down with injuries of varying degrees. They're all expected back, but I can't say that I'm happy about starting 3 true sophomores anyway (Sanu, Mark Harrison, and Quron Pratt). The one thing I DO like is the size of Sanu and Harrison. I think they are going to force defenses to pay attention to them, AND I think they're going to be beasts when it comes to blocking downfield, both of which should contribute to a successful running game. The loss of Wright definitely hurts but may also open the door for either Brandon Coleman or Jeremy Deering to make a splash. You remember my high praise for Deering from this past February's Roundup, right? From what I've been hearing, it was well deserved. Also, I have to give a shout-out to Quron Pratt and chalk one up in the "Things I Was Wrong About" category. I honestly didn't think we'd be hearing much from young Mr. Pratt, and as it turns out, he's our new slot receiver as a rs-frosh. Look for JT Tartacoff to get some reps in his place (assuming HIS injury isn't too severe) . . . the kid is QUICK, catches the ball and turns upfield for 7 yards before you know it. One to watch: I like Mark Harrison and his 6'4'', 230 lb frame but I really think we're going to see Deering sooner rather than later.
Tight Ends - Grade: B (Potential: A-, if our young corps develops as blockers as I think they should)
This position could be the most positive surprise of our offense. I consider the TE's primary responsibility to be blocking, and I think Jefferson, Carrezola and Lampert are up to the task. I also think DC has made some significant strides as a receiving TE so that could really help spread out defenses - many think DC will eventually play on Sundays as a TE. I even like the depth we have at the spot with Malcolm Bush looking solid in support. Overall, I'm pretty comfortable with this unit. One to watch: DC. After a full year of training at the position, I think he'll be much better prepared to play the TE spot and could be a bit of a revelation.
O-Line - Grade: C (Potential B, depending on if they choose to be negatively externalistic or cohesively synergistic)
The bad news is that our o-line had 11th-pick-in-the-NFL-Draft Anthony Davis last year and STILL underperformed. This year? He's gone. The good news? I'm of the opinion that the o-line is one those blue-collar, chemistry-intensive units where hard work and teamwork actually CAN make for a lack of natural talent. I'm also encouraged by the number of redshirts we're finally getting on our line and a few potential stars in Antwan Lowery and Desmond Stapleton. One to watch: Antwan Lowery. A converted DT, the guy has done an amazing job of transforming his body over the last year. I think he's got a bit of a nasty streak, too, so here's to hoping . . .
A lot of people are high on our defense, and you can count me among them. However, before we get carried away, there are a lot of new faces on this squad, guys that we hope can develop and step up their games. I'm not really worried about the guys up front (the d-line) and the guys in the back (the safeties). I'm a little more concerned about the guys in the middle (the linebackers) and the edges (the corners). Plenty of solid players, but the D is not without their question marks.
Defensive Ends - Grade: B (Potential: B+, depending on Freeny)
Like the talent, like the depth. I like Silvestro on the one side, but I'm a little concerned about Freeny becoming a full time starter. A converted LB (and EXCESSIVELY smiley guy), he is a terror on 3rd down rushing plays, but it remains to be seen how he will fare as full-time, multi-situational end. Is he able to sustain the point-of-attack on rushing plays? I am hopeful but not overly confident. I also like the depth here with Bayoh, Merrell, and one of my faves, Justin Francis. One to watch: Jamil Merrell. Good blend of speed and size, could be the 'new' Freeny.
Defensive Tackles - Grade: A- (Potential: A, not a ton of room for improvement, but they might surpass their already high standards)
Here we have good talent, good depth. Noonan is a rock, Vallone is a superstar in waiting, probably our best DT since Foster or Meekins, while Legrand, Civil and Isaac Holmes provide quality fresh legs off the bench. The backbone of the defense, and possibly the team. What excites me is that if these guys can do their job, it makes it easier for everyone else to do theirs. And that's good news for us. One to watch: It's kind of cheating to say Scott Vallone, but remember, this is only his redshirt sophomore year, and he's on the short list for All Big East. I like him a ton.
Linebackers - Grade: B+ (Potential: A-, largely contingent on Abreu channeling his talent)
Mixed bag here. One guy who has paid his dues and turned into a very solid contributor (the elder Lowery), one raw-but-dripping-in-talent 'backer who either "gets it" this year . . . or doesn't (Abreu), and a true soph who exploded onto the scene as an unheralded freshman last year (Beauharnais). I've been hearing that Abreu (who everybody knew needed some time in the system to develop) is finally "getting it" - and, if true, this has potential to be a VERY strong unit. Abreu makes fast guys look slow. He's just physically gifted. There's some decent depth here as well, and overall, I'm pretty happy with this unit. One to watch: Marcus Thompson. I know that "being built like a truck" doesn't *necessarily* make you ready to contribute in 1A ball, but it sure doesn't hurt! Unreal that this guy just got to college.
Cornerbacks - Grade: B (Potential: B+, if someone can step up opposite Rowe)
I am a little worried about this unit. David Rowe has been one of my favorites since he started here . . . just a good, solid corner. Brandon Bing, while a bit speedier, worries me a bit more, while Logan Ryan and Brandon Jones should provide nice support in nickel and dime packages. There's just no guarantee that anyone will be able to capably man the spot opposite Rowe. I've been hearing very good thing about Bing's play in practice, AND that Logan Ryan is just about ready to take a starter's job, which is obviously comforting, but I'll take a "wait and see" approach. Makes me nervous. One to watch: Tie between Logan Ryan and Rashad Knight. Logan is a bit of a safer bet, a guy with a year under his belt, and a Jersey kid. Knight, though . . . he might start for 3 years after learning on the fly this year.
Safeties - Grade: A- (Potential: A)
I like 'em. I like our starters. I like our backups. I like 'em both. Not quite on the level of Courtney Greene/Ron Girault, but Lefeged and Khaseem Greene could be a killer tandem in our defensive backfield. Greene apparently hits like a linebacker so we should see some nice breakups from him this year. Decent depth here, and Givens has me excited - a guy with the coverage skills of a corner. I like it. And a guy like Duron Harmon - he's in the picture above - this guy is SOLID. I don't even know what's going on with his arm. Is that his tricep? Is it a broken bone? A shard of his bionic skeleton? He looks nasty. One to watch: Givens. We all followed his Penn State saga last year, and this might be his chance to put his skills on display.
So I don't want to go too far off the deep end with respect to our offense and I don't want to go overboard (to mix hydrodynamic metaphors) singing the praises of our defense. However, the long and the short of it should be that our defense be our strength and will hopefully keep us in games if our offense can just put some freaking points on the board. There will be games when everything clicks and there will be games when the offense can't get rolling and the defense, strong though they may be, will cede and cede often because you can only put up an effective fight if you are able to get off the field for more than 3 downs at a time. So when I say that this season is all about how far the offense takes us, do not misinterpret. The D is the backbone of the team, but I fully expect them to reach the high standards set for them. How this team fares depends mainly on whether or not the o-line can gel and allow us to run the ball effectively.
From what I've been hearing, guys who may or may not make an impact this year
Coleman: Not ready
Jordan Thomas: Ready
Bujari: Not ready
Givens: Not ready
Thompson: Not ready
Taj Alexander: Not ready
Kirksey: Not ready (academics)
TJ Johnson: Not ready (academics)
Djwany Mera: Not ready (academics)
The schedule is a crapshoot. I'm sure we'll poo the bed on one occasion, and I'm sure we'll light up some teams that we shouldn't. After much thought and several EA Sports NCAA 2010 simulations, I came up with the following:
Norfolk State: W: 35-3
We crush them in unsurprisingly boring fashion. I expect very little Wildcat, very few defensive looks, basically showing nothing we don't have to show. Just a glorified scrimmage against tackling dummies.
FIU: W: 38-3
See Norfolk State if they ate their Wheaties. There's certainly SOME potential for danger here as these kids are a significant step up talent-wise, but I think we get rolling early.
UNC: L: 28-6
Have we ever played well coming off a bye week? The UNC defense and their 9-or-so-NFL-caliber-players scares me. We're going to have o-line issues all year, and it will manifest here. I don't think it will LOOK like a blowout right out of the gate or even midway through the 3rd quarter, but it should be more of a "they score, we don't" scenario, where your heart is sloooooowly torn out and you don't realize the game is out of reach until there is 8 minutes left. I hate those.
Tulane: W: 34-17
I don't think this game will be close, but I don't think we'll "comfortably" ahead until the 4th. We should certainly be the better team on the field, I just think the scoreboard won't show it until the end.
UConn: W: 14-10
Gritty, gritty games, UConn-Rutgers. And this one should be no different. I expect a low-scoring game that keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire game.
Army: W: 41-6
Somehow Army just can't run the option the same way Navy can. I don't see them moving the ball against us at all, and I think we pass all over them early and wear their defense down late.
Pitt: L: 31-10
Much like the UNC game, this one will appear to be neck and neck on the field, only I see Pitt converting most of their 3rd and short situations (not to mention their scoring opportunities) while we have difficulty with their opportunistic D. Turnovers could spell our doom here.
USF: W: 34-21
I'm a little nervous about facing a USF team with an actual coach, and a team with a motive for revenge after last year's thrashing. That said, I can't pick against Rutgers who hasn't lost to USF since Clark Harris was on the team.
Syracuse: W: 23-14
Did you know that we have been outscored by Syracuse 42-7 in the first quarter of games in the last 3 years? 42-7!!! You'll see much made of this as the game draws closer, but that's really unbelievable. Now, we bounced back to win 2 of those games, but after last year's debacle, there is not another team I want to beat MORE this year than 'Cuse. I want to crush them.
Cincinnati: L: 22-13
New coach, new quarterback (kind of), new receivers, new tight end . . . We lose this one because we are outcoached.
Louisville: W: 20-17
Turkey Bowl Day! The 'Ville gives us surprisingly stiff competition, and we have to claw back to take this one late.
West Virginia: W: 31-17
We roll early. I know. I can't believe it, either.
We finish the season 9-3, 5-2 in the Big East. We play Temple (TEMPLE!!!) in Detroit the day after Christmas.
See you next Thursday!!!