Happy Thursday to you, Followers. Hope you're having a great week.
As for me, well, I've spent the past couple of weeks along side a proud contigent of "Cougarazzi". Our mission: Stalk the happenings of Vince Grippi and his wife Kim while they are vacation.
So, while I was hoping to give you some choice photos and other depictions of Vince and Kim by the pool (at their 5 star location), it turns out that STAR magazine owns all rights to our work. (sigh!)
Therefore, for today, I am left with giving you a bit of insight into a few spring thoughts which have "sprung" into my mind over the past few days.
Read on for more after the Jumperoo.
Followers, during the last few weeks of the Hoops season, we talked a lot about how great it would be if Klay Thompson returned for "one more year." In fact, we heard those chants in spades at the end of the Northwestern game. But alas, the major draft boards out there currently have Klay slotted anywhere between 13 and 20 in the First Round. So, that "one more year" stuff just isn't going to happen--at least not where Hoops aer concerned. (and good for Klay by the way!).
So, when I talk about "one more year", I am not referring to hoops. Instead, I am thinking about Cougar Football......
Late last fall--and following a narrow escape from the hotseat--Coach Paul Wulff told Cougar Nation that it was high time to prepare the bathing suit and suntan lotion for the 2011 Holiday Season. The not-so-hidden subtext: Cougar Football would return to post-season action next season.
Of course, on one hand, Wulff's quasi-guarantee made a lot of sense. In the past few games of the year, we saw a Cougar defense show itself capable of stopping the opponent's offense--at least every once in a while. What's more, in the final two games, we saw a Cougar offense that put up 28 or more legit points against teams that had a lot to play for. And so, when you factor in the attrition facing key Pac-12 North opponents (Cal, OSU, and UW), plus another year of maturity (and time in the weight room), then the future of Cougar Football looked almost "rosy" to anyone who dared to pay attention.
Now, fast forward to spring football. The offense looked good to great, Tuel emerged as the first legit Team Leader this program has had in maybe a decade, and the coaching staff looks well positioned to realize the "plan" that Coach Paul Wulff has implemented since his return to his alma mater.
So, all is good, right?
My answer: "Yes" and "No."
And here's my thinking behind the "no."
When you look at the progression of most "losing" football programs, it is pretty rare to find a team make a quantam leap from one year to another--at least where wins and losses are concerned. That is not to say that there are not notable exceptions--we saw it last year with Miami Ohio who went from one win in 2009 to double digit wins in 2010, and we saw it a few years back with Minnehana, which also went from futile status to a bowl game in a year.
But, more often that not, the progression of football programs from "losers" to "winners" is much more incremental than what fans want. And nowhere was that process more evident and more incremental than our ugly brothers to the West--the Defeateds of the University of Washington.
If we dare to look back at Washington's progression over the past few years--we can get a reasonably clear picture of where this program is headed. For instance, in 2008, when the Dawgs achieved historical futility, their superstar quarterback was a sophomore (just like ours was last year). While that team (My favorite Husky team of all time, by the way) won ZERO games that year, the reason for their goose egg was pretty simple: (a) Jake got hurt; and (b) The team quit.
In my view, had neither of those two dynamics/events occurred, the Dawgs would have been a 2-10 or 3-9 type team--the EXACT type of team that we were last year.
Then, in 2009, the Dawgs put up a solid 5-7 campaign. That season saw a few great wins as well as a few tough losses to some really good teams. In fact, in my book, the only thing that kept the Dawgs from bowling in Sark's first season was the difficulty of their non-conference schedule: They played LSU in the home opener and ND in October when they were ranked in the top 25 for most of the year.
In short, had UW replaced those two games with Idaho State and UNLV, they probably would have been 7-5 two years ago.
So, looking forward to this season, Moos' scheduling of ZERO non-conference giants is really a gift. Moreover, Wulff's decision to pit the 1's versus the 2's in the Spring Game was also a really wise move--as that first team really needed to experience what it is like to put a whopping on an inferior opponent.
But, as much as I like the way that the non-conferenc schedule shapes up, I am also somewhat dismayed by the structure of our non-conference schedule--and what those games mean for our post-season chances. Simply put, while we DO play our fair share of potential doormat candidates this year--all of those games are road or neutral site games.
For instance, few would argue that Colorado and UCLA are contenders for the Pac-12 South cellar--but we play both on the road. Similarly, CAL, lacking a quarterback and Mr. Vareen, would also seem poised for bottom feeder status, but we also play them on the road. And, while I think that UW will sniff mediocrity next year, that is another game against a potential lower division opponent that is on the road. Of course, Oregon State--the final doormat candidate--is a quasi-neutral game in Seattle.
So, when we look forward to this season, I think we should do so with healthy doses of optimism AND caution. While I do think that this team is capable of an 8 or 9 win season--particularly if we can start 5-0--a 5 win campaign is probably more realistic.
And while the UW dropped off from where they should have been last year, our boys will not do the same in 2012. So, while this could wind up being a special season for us THIS YEAR, my view is that this season should be viewed as a "set-up" year.
We're one year away from being a legit contender for a bowl game and high conference finish, folks.
Lets try to keep that in perspective as summer and fall camp draws near.