2010 Overall record: 2-10
2010 conference record: 1-8
Offense: 8, Defense: 7, punter/kicker: 0
C Zach Williams, DE Kevin Kooyman, P Reid Forrest
2010 statistical leaders (*returning starter)
Rushing: James Montgomery (483)
Passing: Jeff Tuel* (2,780)
Receiving: Marquess Wilson* (1,006)
Tackles: Deone Bucannon* (84)
Sacks: Travis Long* (4)
Interceptions: Aire Justin, Bucannon, Alex Hoffman-Ellis* (2)
1. Passing happy: With quarterback Jeff Tuel, who is entering his third year as the starter, and a deep crew of receivers, led by Marquess Wilson, the Cougars passing game could be as good as any in the conference. Coach Paul Wulff's no-huddle offense, which didn't really work the previous three seasons, in large part due to a lack of talent, should be able to dictate tempo this fall instead of being victimized by it.
2. Ready to run: And this should also help the passing game: The offensive line is deeper and more talented than it has been during Wulff's tenure, and freshman running back Rickey Galvin is the explosive sort who can exploit even small creases for big gains.
3. Fronting the seven: The ultimate success of the Cougars season might come down to the defensive front seven, which is a question, but new coaches -- Chris Tormey with the linebackers and Todd Howard with the defensive line -- have injected some new ideas and energy. Both have coached elite defenses, so they at least know what they look like.
1. Front-7 rotation: There's some experience and talent on the defensive line and at linebacker: The Cougars will have a legit 2-deep going into the season if they stay healthy. That said, the defensive front needs to be better -- much -- in 2011. On the defensive line, Travis Long, Brandon Rankin and Jordan Pu’u Robinson sat out this spring with injuries, which allowed other players to showcase their skills. The competition will pick up in the fall as far as establishing a pecking order. At linebacker, Alex Hoffman-Ellis and Mike Ledgerwood had good springs, but young players will need to step up. Will C.J. Mizell become consistent? And where might Louis Bland fit in if he's healthy?
2. Special teams? Two of the Cougars' best players in 2010? Punter Reid Forrest and long snapper Zach Enyeart. Both need to be replaced. Forrest was a Ray Guy Award finalist. Based on performances this spring, there might be a bit of a drop-off in production -- perhaps a steep one.
3. Belief: No question Wulff is on the hotseat. The general feeling is Wulff needs to produce substantial improvement in order to be retained, whether that's bowl eligibility or five or so wins. The program has been in the dumps with four consecutive losing seasons, including just five wins during Wulff's tenure. These players don't know winning. On paper, there's been a talent upgrade. And the Cougars were far more competitive in 2010. But winning is a different animal. To perform well in the fourth quarter when a game is on the line, a team needs confidence. The Cougars need to develop a foundation of confidence this fall. They will need to believe they are good before they actually prove they are.