Defense could be deciding factor for conference crown

Before the start of every season, every fan of every team is optimistic about their team’s chances, unless you’re a Kansas City Royals fan.

Like so many others, I also fall under that spell of delusion when it comes to predicting a team I have a vested interest in. Every year, I go out saying “This will be the year the Texans make the playoffs!” and thus far, I have been shot down. However, unlike the Texans, the Bearkat football team is expected to compete, hopefully for a conference championship.

By now you have heard all the information surrounding the Bearkats’ new starting quarterback Rhett Bomar (his arm strength, speed, leadership). Much of the hype has been promoting a belief that he can have some sort of Vince Young-like impact for the Bearkats, carrying a team on his shoulders, the players gravitating towards him, and being the face of a team that wins a National Championship. That can still be the case. However, if this team is going to accomplish anything it will be because of the defensive line.

A wise friend once told me that “offense sells tickets, but defense will win you a championship”, and it must be fairly sound advice as a certain football team recently passed on highly touted offensive players to select a defensive end high in the draft.

For a defense which compiled a total of eight sacks in 11 games last year (a .72 per game average), a lot more will be asked of, and expected from, the Sam Houston State defensive line this year. Viewed as a weakness in 2006, the defensive line could turn into one of the Bearkats’ strengths starting tonight with the return of David Branch (second team preseason All-Southland), who had 7 sacks in 2005, and the arrival of end Chris Brown from the University of Texas.

What the line could accomplish won’t just be compiling stats from sacks, and tackles. It could also improve the overall defense, most importantly the secondary. When asked about the defensive side of the ball, Coach Whitten viewed the secondary as their only question mark going into the season. His possible hesitations about the secondary can be relieved if the line can generate enough pressure, more so than they did last year, on a consistent basis to lead opposing quarterbacks to hurried decisions, and hopefully a few turnovers.

So an upgrade at the defensive line should translate into how many wins? 9? 10? Undefeated? It is difficult to gauge. To a certain extent I’m jumping on the Bearkat bandwagon, and not just because of some flashy transfers, but in part because of Coach Whitten. The fact that he has improved each year he has been here, and in comparing his second and third years at Tarleton State, the team jumped from six wins to 10 wins, maybe a sign of things to come. Their most difficult games are going to be on the road (North Dakota State, Stephen F. Austin, Oklahoma State and McNeese State) and they only have one home game against a team ranked in the top five teams in the Southland Conference in the preseason polls (Northwestern State). The schedule is certainly not stacked in the Bearkats’ favor.

Needless to say, the team is talented on both sides of the ball, and despite some inexperience at some positions, there is time to become familiar with the system and develop chemistry with teammates before going against Stephen F. Austin and McNeese State in October. If I were to make a fearless prediction, I would say eight wins. The team will go through some growing pains early, especially on the offensive side of the ball, and early tests against North Dakota State and Oklahoma State could be potential pitfalls. However, if the team keeps improving throughout the season, it could be a year that won’t soon be forgotten.

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