By Aaron Jackson
Maine Football’s season is now officially over after their last second loss to New Hampshire this past Saturday. The Black Bears finish the season with a more than respectable 6-5 record, and a new single season attendance record. Before we move on to the next sport though, let’s look ahead to the future a little bit and find 5 big story lines for next season.
1. How many “guarantee games” will the Black Bears play? This past season saw them start the year off by playing UConn and Toledo. While neither of those opponents are division 1 powerhouses, Maine was the clear underdog in both. However, those games go a long way towards paying the bills. The Black Bears have to find a happy medium between making money and not setting themselves up for failure when it comes time to look at the playoff picture. Two losses to start the year hurts when one more win could have been the difference maker. Next season they will play UMass and UCF. Can the Black Bears steal one of those two? The Minutemen could be ripe for the picking.
2. What do they do at Quarterback? Like him or not, at the very least Dan Collins provided a consistent face behind center, something Maine has struggled with in past seasons. You’ve got to think the Black Bears stuck with him through the interceptions for a reason, whether it was faith in him or lack of faith in other options. One of those other options will likely need to step up now though, as Collins will be graduating. Does that mean Drew Belcher gets another shot at being the starter? Will Jack Walsh get a chance to shine? Or could the Black Bears find a transfer from another program that has a chance to play right away? This will be a big question next season.
3. How good will the defense be? Defense is almost always a strength for the Black Bears, and while this year’s group wasn’t quite as good as some in recent memory, they certainly held their own at times this season. That said, they’ll be losing a lot to graduation, especially up front and from the linebacker core. Are there players that will be able to step in and replace Pat Ricard, Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga and Darius Greene? Does the secondary have enough experience and talent to become a force in the CAA? Will Sterling Sheffield continue his ascent to stardom? These are the questions that we will have to wait to see the answers to.
4. Will Coach Joe Harasymiak be able to keep his staff intact? That’s always an issue in the offseason with the Black Bears. It’s tough these days to not have coaching turnover when you have success. Other programs love to cherry pick the best and brightest from UMaine, and you certainly can’t blame the coaches for leaving for greener pastures in the football world. Certainly Coach Harasymiak seems to have a great rapport and attitude with his staff, will that be enough for him to keep guys in house at least one more year?
5. What will the Black Bears do about their special teams? Maine finds themselves in a situation that many other teams do: lacking of a consistent kicker. Honestly, it’s an epidemic in the college ranks that has been growing for years, and is starting to make its way into the NFL. Personally, I’d love to see field goals taken out of the game entirely (kickers have way too much value for their lack of actual field time) but that’s a topic for another day and something that isn’t going to ever happen. The Black Bears kicking situation is a bad one, and may have cost them a playoff berth if you look at the big picture. Patrick Leonard and Derek Deoul combined to go 1 for 7 in field goals, while their opponents made 9 of 12. Not visible in those numbers are the times the Black Bears opted to go for it on 4th down when they may have chosen a field goal if they had any confidence in their kicking game. Finding a consistent kicker may be a big key for their success next season, and it may be the hardest thing on this list to accomplish.
BONUS: Those that listen to The Drive know how the Jackson 5 works. 5 points, opinions, topics, etc… But those of you that take the time to read this blog are in for a treat, as there’s a bonus question that may be the most interesting of all.
6. How good can/will Earnest Edwards be? This kid is clearly an amazing talent: averaged almost 25 yards a kickoff return with a 95 yard touchdown. Caught 20 balls, scored 3 touchdowns as a receiving threat, ran the ball 8 times for 90 yards, and heck, he even added a passing touchdown in their final game. The potential for this kid is sky high…will he work hard in the off season and become an offensive force in the CAA?
Aaron Jackson (@AaronRJackson) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.