Why is it that, after so many years of letdowns in football, I remain so optimistic? I mean, Jennifer Aniston hasn't made a watchable film in years, yet I keep seeing her movies despite knowing better. Bounty Hunter was truly horrible. That reminds me of another little something that's seemingly analogous to the former Ms. Brad Pitt and it's Cougar football.
I understand most football players don't appreciate the comparison to Rachel Green, but it's truly as close as one can get to the Cougars. Expectations galore in the fall, then nothing but letdown when they really need to come through. I know I shouldn't get my hopes up but I just can't help myself.
For the first time since the 2007 season, the Cougars actually have a quarterback resembling a Pac-10 athlete. The defense is coming together while the offense (minus the signal caller) lags a little behind. Now this squad actually has something called "expectations". I know, I'm not sure what the word means either, but I'm told it means you anticipate something or have a certain performance built up in your head about something. So since were really getting into foreign vocabulary this week here at the Park Bench, here are some players you can have high "expectations" about this coming season.
Brandon Rankin: He showed in the spring the defensive line has an absolute athlete on the inside. Rankin would regular blow up his blockers and take down the quarterback. Granted, I'm not sure how much of that ability came from a weak offensive line, but it was impressive nonetheless. Standing next to Rankin was imposing; his big frame was intimidating. Expect him to cause havoc on weaker offensive lines like Montana State, UCLA, ASU and California.
Jeff Tuel and Gino Simone: Both of these sophomores showed themselves to be incredibly capable last season; Simone starting from the outset of the season and Tuel saw his first action at USC. These two are together because of what they showed in the USC game: they seem completely in-sync. That's not to say Tuel doesn't like throwing to other receivers but he and Simone just seem to always be on the same page and the short slot receiver from Skyline High seems to be Tuel's favorite target. It's very good, especially as a young quarterback, to have a receiver you know you can depend on.
Travis Long: This might seem like a no-brainer but he didn't really have the ability to showcase his talents last year. Think about it: the Cougars regularly sent just three rushers, more afraid of getting burned deep. So the fact that Long, as a freshman, was able to turn the edge or get inside on some talented offensive lines was impressive. But with a defensive unit that's improved quite a bit, expect more pressure to be sent and Long's talent to really be showcased.
Chima Nwachukwu and LeAndre Daniels: This is Nwachukwu's final season and he's one of the lone holdovers from the Doba era. But he's shown himself to be a high class individual, maintaining a high grade point as well as being an excellent athlete. Daniels showed flashes of his brilliance before breaking his leg against Hawai'i last season, making a few athletic plays in both games he played. These two should make for a great pair in the defensive backfield; a great combination of strength, speed and athleticism.
James Montgomery: Not only did Montgomery go through emergency surgery to cure his acute compartment syndrome (which, as I can't mention enough, is life threatening) he also had off-season knee surgery. So the fact that's he's even on the field is a miracle in itself. But if Monty can be anything close to the athlete he was for three games last year, this is a victory. With him, the Cougs have a legitimate threat in the back field for the first time since Jerome Harrison (sorry Dwight Tardy, 200 yards against UCLA does not a career make) and the offense can be more balanced.
Alex Hoffman-Ellis: One of the few pleasant surprises from last season, Hoffman-Ellis showed unexpected athleticism on the field and proved to be a hard hitter. In the absence of Louis Bland on the field, he proved to be the playmaker the linebacking core needed, most notably an interception return for a touchdown in the lone Cougar victory of the year against SMU. But he might be playing second fiddle to a new Cougar.
Blair Bomber: Confession time: I just really want Bomber to play. How can you not root for a 5'8" kid from Lynden with the name Bomber? But my affliction for him isn't purely cosmetic. Watch some of his highlight tape. Bomber has breakaway speed and although this freshman class has receivers who are more gifted athletically and perhaps more skilled (Kristoff Williams and Marquess Wilson) Bomber can make the difference vertically. And a legitimate deep threat could keep the secondary honest.
C.J. Mizell: Mizell was a highly touted linebacker committed to Florida State last year but his academics where a big question mark. Mizell's commitment to WSU was an unexpected but incredibly pleasant surprise. His size is that of an actual Pac-10 linebacker, something Cougar fans haven't been used to. His athleticism should have an immediate impact on the Cougar defense.
The Whole Offensive Line: This just goes without saying but I'll say it anyhow. The line needs to stay injury free and learn to play together. It's largely been the lack of good blocking up front that has been preventing the Cougars from running the offense they want to run the last two years. The entire success of this football team might rest on the shoulders of these five men, whoever ends up starting.
For the first time in a couple years, this team has legitimate athletes on it. And you might just be able to get excited about Cougar football. Although, reserve some of you optimism because you, like me, don't want to get hurt again.
Dunderhead of the Week: The Canadian Border Patrol. When my significant other and myself rolled up to the Canadian border Monday, I handed the border agent our passports. She then asked if we were American citizens. For those of you who may not know, in order to get a passport, you have to be American citizen. The two are not mutually exclusive.
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The 2010 athletic season is almost here and you know what that means It's time for a whole new season of Cougar Athletics! Football, soccer and volleyball, just to name a few, are preparing for their 2010 seasons. If you need "game action" photographs for your newspaper, magazine, web site, blog, etc., then Greg Davis Sports Photography should be your choice for all things "Cougar" and "Pac-10 Conference"! Coverage for specific athletes or upcoming events is also available. Check out the images from games, practices and events from last season, and be sure to come back often for uploads from all of this season's action.