Football season is here.
Training camp is over for the players which means it’s typing camp for me. Next week will be the real season preview so consider this the preview to the preview.
It’s time for a fact session. It’s time to dust off the notebook, dig up the tidbits, and bring clarity where once there was confusion.
Put on your hardhats because I’m about to drop some knowledge.
At this time last year we were discussing just how horrible our luck with scheduling nonconference games has been. After looking at the 2003 LSU team and 2004 Utah team I said: “Yep, adding us to their 2006 slate probably guarantees [BYU will] explode for at least 10 wins this year.” And, sure enough, they won 11. Add in LSU’s 11 from last year and the “Play Arizona, make history” tagline still fits. So when out of nowhere 2007 becomes The Year of the Lobo don’t say I didn’t warn you.
There is however a bit of good news on the out-of-conference front: We don’t have the toughest non-league schedule this year! That dubious distinction belongs to Washington. While we’re traveling just one state to the north, the Huskies will be opening the season across the country at Syracuse. When we work out the kinks against NAU, Washington will be hosting Boise State. While we tangle with New Mexico, UW will be playing, oh, The Ohio State University. And if all that wasn’t enough, Ty Willingham’s crew added a 13th game just so they could travel to play top-25 Hawaii. But, hey, at least the Huskies play Stanford again this year. Oh wait…
Meanwhile ASU replaced their “Yes, These Schools Still Play Football” schedule with a “Road Games? What Road Games?” itinerary.
Our Wildcats’ schedule won’t make much difference if we don’t find a way to get more points on the board. If you want one fact that sums up how bad 2006 was on the offensive side of the ball, here you go: TuiThomas didn’t connect for a single touchdown all year. Not one. Our 2005 freshman receiver sensation only found the end zone twice in ’06 and both were on the arm of Adam Austin. We need to get Willie-to-Mike clicking early and often in the new year.
But there is a megatron of hope: Sonny Dykes was brought in to transform our offense into its optimum prime.
Last year I said getting our turnover margin turned around was the key to improving our record. I think going from 105th in the country and 9th in the Pac-10 to 23rd in the country and 1st in the Pac-10 is a bit of an improvement.
Obviously, turnovers are huge any year, but I think we’re just going to have to accept the giveaways going up this year with a more aggressive offense and less experienced skill position guys. As long as our very experienced defense increases the takeaways enough to balance it out we’ll be fine.
This year’s buzznumber? Sack margin. No, I’m not talking about the tightness of your pants. Sack margin is the number of quarterback sacks your defense records minus the number of times your QB gets sacked. The 2006 Wildcats were 106th in sacks recorded (15 or 1.3 a game) and 96th in sacks allowed (31 or 2.6 a game) for a sack margin of -1.3 a game which was not-good enough for 110th in the land.
A big part of the new-and-improved offense is minimizing sacks. The big challenge for the old-and-improved defense is greatly improving the pass rush and making the other team’s signal-caller spend a lot of time worrying about his own personal sack margin.
Another baby step in the Stoops Era: Coach Mike posted his first winning record in games decided by a touchdown or less last year. 2006’s 2-1 record beat the pants off of the 1-5 of 2005.
Speaking of pants, now for a really important question: Which color uniforms should we wear? Look, I know a lot of you say you don’t care what we wear as long as win. Well, I’ve got that data too.
Since the advent of the red jerseys before the 2005 season our worst uni combination in terms of wins and losses is blue jerseys and blue pants. Zero wins and three losses. Add in the fact that this is our most boring combo and the Cats should never don the blueberry outfits again.
The second worst combination is the red jerseys with white pants. One win (the BYU game last year) and four losses. If there is one thing I know, it’s this: Never, ever, EVER wear red-on-white on the road (*cough* LSU *cough-cough-gag*).
Right in the middle is the combo that would probably get the fan vote: red jerseys and blue pants. Everybody remembers UCLA in ’05 and Cal in ’06. But do you also remember Washington in ’05 and ASU in ’06? Rock solid lock of the week: Every time we wear red-on-blue, the underdog wins.
Our absolute winningest uniform pairing the past couple years? None other than good ol’ blue jerseys and white pants. The Cats are undefeated in the old school blue-on-white. True, we’ve only worn them for the two 1-AA games, but there’s nothing wrong with a simple uniform for a workmanlike victory.
As far as road uniforms the white-on-white has one win (Oregon State in ’05) and two losses (Utah ’05 and UCLA ’06). The white jersey and blue pant combo is interesting in that it went 0-3 in 2005 (Cal, USC and ASU) and 3-0 in 2006 (Stanford, WSU and Oregon). Can the current winning streak overcome the fact that we’re playing the ’05 teams on the road again? Tough decisions like these are why football fashion advisors get paid the big bucks.
So, which color uniforms should we wear? It’s pretty simple when you look at the numbers. White-on-blue on the road, blue-on-white when we’re a home favorite, and red-on-blue when we’re a home underdog. Aren’t you glad you asked?
As we count down to the first game of 2007 everyone’s talking about the bowl-less streak but there’s another one in jeopardy this year: Our rushing-the-field streak. Washington in 2003, ASU in 2004, UCLA in 2005, and Cal last year. The problem this year is USC, Cal and ASU are all on the road. Unless we’re going to have a miracle comeback/buzzer-beater-type win we need UCLA or Oregon to be really good this year. Either that or we have to do something crazy like – oh, I don’t know – clinch a conference championship.
Don’t you just love the preseason?
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