TOB said Saturday that "we have enough weapons on offense and defense to win enough games and get to a bowl game," which isn't exactly the boldest of statements but nonetheless surprised me when I heard it. At least he knows better than to downplay the situation in year four.
For my purposes here, let's assume he means that he's got enough talent to win seven games for the first time. Let's also assume that means we'll need to break even in conference play. What does a 4-4 team look like and, more importantly, can we become one in 2010?
(Opponents ran 47 more plays than we did in 2008, while we ran 6 more plays than our opponents last season. That helps explain why the big difference in per-snap performance didn't affect the yardage differential as much as one would think.)
Thanks to Bill James and his buddy Pythagoras, we know that, margins aside, if you score as many points as you surrender, and similarly, if you gain as many yards as you surrender, you should be a .500 team. The 2008 team didn't quite meet those standards but caught fire down the stretch and had the advantage of an even or positive turnover margin in every conference game. But it was close, and as far as recent history goes, that team is the model and the goal.
Last year's team wasn't very competitive on a down-to-down basis; worse, it endured a negative turnover margin in six consecutive league games, giving it fewer opportunities to turn the tide in the margins, fluke-style. It happens. Lord knows we know all about that crap.
If the offense can continue to improve or even just hold steady on paper (which could be improvement masked by the schedule), and if we're able to make turnovers less of an issue (and I expect we will), it pretty much boils down to this: can the defense bounce back into the 5.6 YPP ballpark? That's a significant leap, but the defense would have to try pretty damn hard to match its incompetence last season. Which is to say that I think regression is going to work for us this season, at least to some extent. And we aren't talking about going from terrible to good, just from terrible to middling-below average. Averaging 5.6 yards allowed per snap for the entire 2009 season would have ranked the D 71st nationally; 6.4 = 106th.
I've said on several occasions that I expect a 5-7 year, but what TOB said isn't an impossible stretch. Clean up the kicking game, get more favorable bounces, field a defense that shows signs of life... you never know.
This mildly optimistic exploratory exercise has been brought to you by the month of August and the Rainbow Dunks Initiative.