Well - we're coming off a relatively disappointing season, though still with an outside shot at winning 9 games (obligatory GTHC). Looks like it's time to start looking ahead to next year!
Good news about next year - no more divisions. If we can finish 7-1 or even a well placed 6-2, we could head to Charlotte. Bad news - that's probably not gonna happen. Fortunately, we've got 3 pretty winnable non conference games + we host Clemson and UNC (and Louisville and a resurgent Syracuse for that matter). Bad news - our offense stinks.
So, I'm here to talk about what our roster may look like next year, in addition to what our biggest needs are for the offseason, aside from, you know, an actual offensive coordinator. I'm going with the assumption that there will be no major shakeups, as in Doeren doesn't head to Nebraska and Tony Gibson doesn't get hired as the next head coach at Alabama or whatever we're thinking about him these days.
According to this scholarship tracker (https://redwhitenetwork.com/scholarship-charts/) that I've come to trust fairly well, we are guaranteed to lose 11 players in the offseason due to expired eligibility. We have 13 scholarship players incoming (assuming no one blueshirt's or greyshirts or tan shirts or whatever the colors are these days. With covid we got some yellow shirts and probably a good greenshirt or two - wait, that's just what Payton Wilson wears every offseason to avoid injury). With 1 open scholarship, that leaves us needing to lose 1 more scholarship player to be even.
Gonna go out on a limb here - Payton Wilson is heading off. I know, big surprise to everyone. That puts us even.
But beyond him, I'm also gonna make a few bold predictions. I think we lose 1 QB. If Leary and Morris both come back, Ben Finley won't stick around. Most likely (and unfortunately), I think Leary heads out. My hope is that Morris stays around to be the guy of the future, because he sure as hell looked talented. Additionally, I'd imagine there's about a 95% chance Drake Thomas departs (though it's not guaranteed! He may want to stick around to play with his younger brother, and he may want to play one full year at Mike LB to showcase how great he could be at the next level because that's his natural position, and where he thrived last year).
We're also bound to lose at least 1 RB. Jordan Houston isn't a lock to return, though I'd bet he's most likely to leave for a G5 school or something. More likely - I think Demarcus Jones takes his talent to the FCS.
I also think we lose one of (if not both) JPL and Cecil Powell. From what I've heard, we shouldn't expect Cecil Powell to play football ever again - though I've seen him back on the sidelines this season, and kudos to the staff for keeping him on scholarship and giving the young man an education throughout whatever's going on with him if he's not going to be able to play again. JPL may leave the team due to the fact that he's suspended indefinitely. If that continues into the offseason/next season I'd imagine he departs or has his scholarship pulled.
I won't speculate as to specific players, but I'd also guess we lose at least 1 young OL, and probably 1-2 more players on the defensive side, likely from either DB (Chris Scott/Nate Evans), LB (Jaylon Scott/Jayland Parker), or DL (Claude Larkins/Zyun Reeves/Nick Campbell).
That would leave us with 5-6 scholarships available for transfers to fill the most important voids next year. We could also lose more than that (particularly at some of those later spots - if we lose 1 each from DB, LB, and DL, we'd have 7 spots available). Feel free to share your thoughts, but I'll give mine on what the most important needs will be to fill those spots - and I don't want Doeren and co looking for guaranteed backups, unlikely starters, or JUCO maybes for these spots.
QB - we need someone legit to come in and compete. Not saying we need the future of the program, particularly with good recruiting momentum for 2024 and MJ in the fold, but we need a guy who can push for the starting job and make MJ even better this offseason. Best case scenario, he's a RS-Jr with playing experience and gumption so that he can contribute in 2024 potentially, to give more development time as MJ ages out.
OL - This one is pretty obvious. I'd imagine we'll get 3-4 returning starters and we'll probably develop a next man up, but we need someone who can play immediately and is a proven blocker - particularly on the interior.
DL - This is mainly for depth's sake - I'd like to have a guy that will be a force up front, but we do have some solid pieces returning, so if it's a second stringer here, so be it.
WR - We need a true #1 threat. We've got good potential returning in Smith, Gray, Timmons, and others. Don't care - bring in a proven quantity who can open things up downfield and also make contested catches. Not a Darryl Jones - get me the next Emezie/Harmon.
Safety/Nickel - With the departures of TBW, potentially JPL, Tanner Ingle, and Cyrus Fagan, we'll need to shore up that level with a solid defender. Yes, we still have Jakeen Harris, Devan Boykin, and Sean Brown (as well as depth pieces in Darius Edmundson and Rakeim Ashford) but it would be nice to have someone else to provide senior leadership and push for snaps. I'd rather have quality depth than depth.
Lower priority (if there are more departures):
LB - With the importance of the linebacker in Tony Gibson's 3-3-5, it's important to have senior leadership here, particularly if Drake Thomas departs. I like the guys we've recruited, especially with an off-season of starting reps (particularly Devon Betty - and I'm excited about Poole, Fordham, and Wright), but if we have the availability, I'd bring in an extra LB with some experience.
RB - I honestly don't think this is a major priority because I like what we have in Allen and Sumo, and Houston adds an experienced voice/talented scat back if he returns. However, I'm gonna include it because I think it's a high probability pickup - I think there's a strong chance Trevion Cooley heads our way this offseason. No guarantee, but it's a thought.
OL - If we have extra spots, bring in an additional offensive linemen. I'd say take 2-3 transfers here and try to cobble together a bruising OL, particularly with how bad we've been at pre-snap penalties with the current group. As it stands, I think at most we bring in 2, and most likely it's only 1.
I don't think we'd get any more spots open than this, but if we did, we'll be in a danger zone for sure and I'd say we need to recruit for the future in that case as opposed to taking transfers. If I'm a betting man, we probably grab most of the main group + 1 of the lower priority group and use the rest on high school recruits/JUCO transfers because that's kinda been Doeren's way and he trusts/hopes the guys he initially recruited will develop into the players we need. It's just hard to imagine that since we haven't seen them take any significant snaps. My main priority is OL and WR though - fix those and I think the team as a whole improves.