Like the 2010 season, the 2011 season begins with two Beaver staples: hope and unknowns. Injuries have become the new norm as well. There are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic, some reasons to be optimistic, and as always, all the reasons in the world to be realistic.
I'm not going to lie to you and say, "Things are never as bad as they seem. The truth lies somewhere in between." Try telling that to Washington State. Things can definitely be as bad, and worse, than they seem.
The problem I'm having with the overly pessimistic viewpoint (e.g. Ted Miller) is that it favors known quantities, even if they aren't good players, over potential or the unknown. What I am saying is that Ted Miller feels that having a senior Keith Pankey is better than a sophomore Michael Doctor, for the lone reason that the latter is "unknown".
Legendary basketball John Calipari had this to say about talent vs. experience:
If the choice is talent or experience, I’m taking talent. Then you can blame me for us not winning. But I’m taking talent.
When I look at the roster, I see players who have improved since last season, or I see addition via attrition. The lone exceptions being Center (Alex Linnenkohl > Grant Johnson), DT (Stephen Paea), and RB (Jacquizz Rodgers). I also see many of the players I was calling for last season now in the lineup. How can I not love that?!
The offensive line? All a year "better". Let's be honest, they should at least be average at this point.
The secondary? All a year better.
The linebackers? A huge upgrade.
The QB? He should be better…at some point.
Okay, so there's a downgrade at defensive tackle. Every D1 program is weak at DT. The guys who line up should be serviceable. The only obvious drop off is Paea to Castro. The rest of the guys are either the same (Henry/Wynn, Frahm) or better (Crighton > Miller). Heck, Frahm and Henry are a year older and thus should be a year better. That makes 3/4 of the line improved. Again, I don't see the reason for pessimism here.
And I'll give you that there's an unknown at RB. I'm not scared because the heir looks legit. Would people be worried if Yve Bernard were the RB? No. Well, Angew is better than Bernard. He is faster, hits the hole quickly, and can break longer runs. The offensive line is his limiting factor, and as mentioned they should improve from bad to at least average. Plus, they like blocking for this guy (translation: major chemistry issues with Quizz).
So, in my mind, last year's team was much worse, and they could have easily won 7 games if they had any heart or team chemistry. Speaking of the latter, chemistry is much higher this year. That falls into "intangibles", a category that shouldn't be overlooked.
Some people have brought up the fact that Quizz never fumbled, and therefore we're in for more turnovers this season. That is probably true. But these same people fail to mention the improved LBs and secondary, so the Beavers should get more turnovers, too. You can't acknowledge only one side of that coin. If the defense portended to be crap, I'd echo the turnover concerns.
Personally, I see potential weaknesses being rushing defense (no Paea) and the offense taking 3 or 4 games to "click"…specifically, Ryan Katz. That guy needs to convert 3rd downs and generally just be more efficient. His inefficiency was a killer last season, and it doesn't sound like he's improved in camp. So, those are my two concerns.
Now, as far as a prediction…I think last year's team had a horrible defense and yet they could have easily won 7 games versus the most difficult schedule in the nation. This year's team is better, so 7 wins seems like a logical assumption with a variance of 4, or +/-2. In other words, the lower limit is 5-7 and the upper is 9-3. My feeling is 7-4 into the final week, and then a 4th straight Civil War defeat. My prediction comes with an assumption that key starters will be healthy by game 3. Now, let's hear your guesses.