Now that 2010 is in the books, I think its safe to say that SU Football is back. Not all the way back, but enough so that we have to be considered legit contender to win the Big East and go to a BCS bowl next season. I think we all can agree that it was an amazing turnaround season. And let me be the first to say I CALLED IT, DAMMIT!
Now that I'm done gloating, let me also be the first to say that I got it right for all the wrong reasons. I thought SU would be tough at home going 5-1 (hey we won 4 games at home in 2009) and go 2-4 on the road (winless on the road in 2009). Instead, literally the exact opposite happened (2-4 home, 5-1 road). Pinstripe Bowl excluded, I think we can all agree that the team (especially the offense) got worse as the season wore on, whereas in 2009 there were signs of life at the end of the season, even during a losing campaign. So in short, 2010 was kind of enigmatic like that. Injuries and lack of depth will do that.
So looking ahead to 2011 here's where I think we stand on each unit:
D-Line - Whether or not we get Ishaq or not, I think we are looking strong here once again. We have a good balance between depth, experience and young/incoming talent. Really think that Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich are primed for big seasons.
LB - Initially I was freaking out about losing Hogue and Smith. We will miss them for sure. Then I remembered that both of these guys were back-up RBs that Shafer turned into two of the best LBs in the country. We may not be deep here, but if Marquis Spruill (not to mention pre-TV stealing Malcom Cater) are any indication, I think Shafer will be able to mold our young prospects into productive starters quickly.
DB - I was neither impressed or disappointed with this unit this year. Part of the lack of production out of the secondary is a trade off for blitz-heavy defensive scheme. Part of the blitz heavy scheme is also to make up for the terrible production that was inherent to begin with. We'll have enough guys returning and young talent to pick up where we left off. And if Dale Peterman ever makes it to campus, well, next year would be a good time to do it.
O-line - We lose some big experienced guys up front, but at the same time, thats not necessarily all bad. Bartholomew might be a physical beast but his inability to hike the ball out of the shotgun made everyone's life more difficult on offense. Pugh had a good season and Hay came around nicely as well. I see this unit remaining a work in progress, but is headed in the right direction.
QB - Like him or not, I see Nassib as our man next year too, though I expect he will need to get better an feeling the rush and making better mid-range and short throws. He may not have thrown as many INTs as Paulus did the season before, but his fumbles made up for it. Thats not necessarily all his fault, but still an area that needs improvement. I'm interested to see who makes a push to take the job though, we will likely see the back ups take a few more snaps than they did this year. I'm also interested to see which QBs switch positions early as to get on the field sooner. We've got some good looking athletes already here with more on the way.
RB - Losing DC3 hurts bad. But, this somehwhat offset by having a more than capable back in Bailey ready to take the brunt of the carries. I think he'll be the center of our offense next year. PTG and Ameen-Moore (assuming he's all he's cracked up to be) will get their chances too, but, as we know PTG is a similar style RB to Bailey, and Ameen-Moore's contributions will all depend on how quickly he adapts to the college game.
WR/TE - I actually am looking forward to this unit the most, especially since Sales seems to finally be out of the HCDM dog house and is living up to at least an ounce of his hype headed into his senior season. Chew was a nice surprise this year, and if Lemon could quit dropping so many passes, this is a solid trio to go to. Not to mention we have some redshirts (West most notably), JuCos and late arrivals from 2010 coming in, we should see an improvement in the passing game. I believe Nick Provo has one more year and Beckett Wales has been a nice up-and-comer for HCDM. Fingers still crossed that Catalina can get healthy and contribute - but more for his sake than anything else.
Special Teams - Rob Long will be missed. He was critical to those defensive victories we had and winning field position battles. I'm hoping that Fisher can come in right away and get the job done as a punter and even more so on kickoffs. Kraut should be right on the money again and Lichtenstein should be right there to back him up. I think that we will have a good return game with PTG and Graham as returners on punts and kicks. And coverage teams should improve as we add players to the depleted roster.
Overall, I'm cautiously optimistic about our chances next year and am thinking a 9-10 win season top-3 finish in the Big East, if not win the whole thing. Having increased depth across the board should help us tremendously. What do you think?