That right soon.
As much as I love and obsess over baseball, even when a certain mediocre bunch is trying to climb a mountain without a cable car, there's always a point in mid-July where I so desperately crave college football that the season seems further away than it has at any other point in the off-season. Russell Wilson made the wait as hard as it's ever been, but we're here. Finally. Is it too soon to start tailgating?
About the only things bouncing around in my head these last few days have been football football football football football and what kind of beer do I want for the tailgate? But other issues do manage to interrupt from time to time.
Here You Go! Here I Am! Uncle Moe -- Thank You, Ma'am!
I'm generally agnostic when it comes to stuff like team chemistry and momentum carryover; if you can't show me, I'm not inclined to buy it. I blame Bill James. But maybe, at the extremes, there is something to this momentum deal, and if so, it's one more reason to feel optimistic about the 2009 season.
You cannot necessarily look at records or bowl performances to gauge momentum from one season to another, but you can likely judge that teams that improved or regressed significantly in terms of S&P+ (for now, the baseline is set at around +/- 13 percent) will pull some momentum, good or bad, from that. Still, most teams are much more correctly judged by how they performed in the whole season, not just during the cold-weather portion of the schedule.
FO's Bill Connelly found that the teams that improved significantly down the stretch often carried that over into the next season. NC State was the fifth most-improved team in the country down the stretch in 2008, and although the Wolfpack doesn't quite reach the 13% threshold (the Pack improved by 10%), they're close enough to offer another reason to believe that last year's gains will be fully realized in 2009. Russell Wilson, Toney Baker, Jamelle Eugene, George Bryan, Owen Spencer, the defensive line... those are pretty good reasons, too.
How Far Is Up, Anyway?
Once Russell Wilson got healthy, the NC State offense made huge gains in terms of yards per game, yards per play, points per game, and passing efficiency. It was top-50 offense during that second half run. Whether or not the unit builds on that, it's going to be one of the ACC's best.
I've gone on record as saying the Wolfpack will finish third in the Atlantic Division, but I suggest this team is a year away only because I don't know what to expect from the defense. It's not going to be easy to play without Nate Irving, but at least this time around we knew he'd be gone before fall camp started. The extra prep time should help.
The defensive line is shaping up to be the best its been in a while, but it's tough to figure how much better they'll be than they were a year ago and how much that's going to help the other seven guys on the field.
In terms of yards allowed per play, the defense has gotten worse every year since 2004. I think that slide ends this season, but whether they improve enough to give the team a legit shot at the division, well, I have my doubts. Or maybe I'm just underestimating how good we'll be offensively.
Ahead Of Schedule
Even without a kid who has displayed an uncanny ability to make good decisions despite being a first-year starter, this time of year makes it easy to dream. And I have a feeling that despite the third-place prediction and all the restraint borne of logic I can muster, something like a 7-5 season--progress for sure--is going to feel a bit disappointing. From an overall standpoint, I don't think there's any question that Florida State and Clemson have more at their disposal than we do, so I'm going to try to keep the proper perspective. A breakthrough in 2009 would be ahead of schedule.
That sounds great in theory. It's maintaining that perspective once the emotions get involved that's always the problem.