Season Breakdown

G-man breaks down what fans can expect from the team this coming season, going position by position. The team obviously has some big strengths to go along with some potential weaknesses. So how will it shake out and what can fans be confident in and what should they fret about? G-man gives those answers.

Quarterback

Strength: The strength at quarterback is obviously Max Hall returning as a senior to man the position. After two years of starting experience he should be due for his best year ever, and if fall camp is any indication, he will be putting up a lot of yards and touchdowns through the air this coming season.

Weakness: As has been the case in each of the two prior seasons, there will be a lot of uncertainty at the backup position. Brenden Gaskins gave the reigns over to Riley Nelson, who is fresh off of his mission service with just one fall practice session in offensive coordinator Robert Anae's system under his belt.

Nevertheless, Nelson does have some playing experience which should benefit him greatly should Hall go down with injury. He showed some good progression during fall camp, and with his Doman-like ability to make plays out of the pocket and run, Nelson provides some unique options at the position. Regardless of what Nelson brings to the table, fans can expect a significant drop-off in overall offensive production should Hall go down with an injury.

Running Back

Strength: Much like the quarterback position, the success of the running backs will likely rise and fall with the health of the go-to player throughout the season. In the case of the running backs, that player would be Harvey Unga. Adding significantly to the overall strength of the position is the return of Manase Tonga, who from day one of practice fit like a glove into Anae's system and what the offense was running.

Tonga contributed as a freshman and started during his sophomore and junior seasons, and he'll see significant time backing up or playing alongside Unga. His return adds considerably to the strength of the position, as does the improving play of J.J. Di Luigi and Bryan Kariya.

Weakness: As mentioned, Di Luigi and Kariya have both shown improvement, but whether either of them can adequately fill in for Unga to give quality reps to the position is in question. Tonga, meanwhile, has proven to be a very effective fullback, but as the offense moves to more one-back formations, it's uncertain how he'll fare as a featured back.

Wide Receiver

Strength: Talent is what this wide receiving corps has. Aided significantly by the return of McKay Jacobson, this group has as much overall talent as any group I've seen since the 2005 season. The talent pool however is perhaps a bit deeper than it was in 2006, with the two-deep options being potentially very strong.

The group is well-rounded as well, with Jacobson being a legitimate deep threat that can stretch the field and open lanes for the other receivers and tight ends. Beyond Jacobson, every receiver from O'Neill Chambers to Luke Ashworth have shown good progression from spring practices, and with the addition of promising true freshman Brett Thompson, the prospects look very promising at wide receiver.

Weakness: The obvious weakness is the relative inexperience of the group. While Jacobson rotated regularly at the position in 2006, no receiver is a returning starter from a year ago. Subsequently, it remains a little uncertain how in sync the receiving group will be with Hall as the season kicks off.

Tight End

Strength: The group has it all in regards to the talent and experience level. Fans know what to expect from Dennis Pitta, who will likely be Hall's top target this coming season.

The player fans should look for to have marked improvement in overall production is Andrew George, as the team looks to go double-tight far more often this season than it did a year ago. The third and fourth tight ends in the program look to be strong as well in Braden Brown and Mike Muehlmann.

Weakness: It's really difficult and all but impossible to assign any potential weakness to this group.

Offensive Line

Strength: Matt Reynolds is the strength of the offensive line. Having started as a freshman at left tackle, he'll only work to improve this season, and his broken hand looks to not be much of an issue entering the season.

Along with Reynolds will be a group that is experienced within the system despite scant game-time experience. Leading that group will be R.J. Willing, who has played at just about every offensive line position since joining the program. He'll do well at anchoring the group at the center position.

Weakness: Entering the season there exists some potential weaknesses regarding both depth and cohesiveness along the offensive front. The offensive line is a unit that has to work extremely well together in order to be effective. Given the relative inexperience of the group, there remains uncertainty regarding how cohesive of a until they'll be.

Depth is also a major concern. Braden Hansen and Ryan Freeman look to be the primary backups, but beyond those two there's a group of true freshmen that, although talented, are likely a long way from being able to contribute effectively as a group. Should Jesse Taufi get his academics in order and become eligible, he'll go a long way in adding to the strength of the offensive line.

Defensive Line

Strength: The strength is at the end positions, where Jan Jorgensen and Brett Denney will again provide the bulk of the work, having as much experience as one could desire at a position. While the nose tackle position was a position of question entering fall camp, those questions have been answered by the good and consistent play of Russell Tialavea, Romney Fuga and Tevita Hola.

Depth is something you need at a position that is as physically demanding as the defensive front. With the addition of players such as Vic So'oto and Matt Putnam to the end positions, coupled with the aforementioned three-man rotation at nose tackle, depth looks to be well in -hand along the defensive line.

Weakness: Much like is the case with the tight end position, it's difficult to assign any weakness to the defensive front. Tialavea's extreme weight loss, coupled with Fuga's and Hola's relative inexperience, could lead to some weakness at nose tackle, but it's not likely.

Linebacker

Strength: Matt Bauman is the strength of this group, along with an experienced and talented bunch of inside linebackers. Throw in Coleby Clawson, who played very well at Will linebacker last season, and linebacker is a position group that is relatively secure given the overall experience and talent level.

Jordan Pendleton has looked promising at the Sam linebacker position, and should he work to reach his potential it will aid the overall production of the linebackers greatly. Clawson, on the other side, has improved some in his open-field coverage, which was an area he needed to improve upon after last season.

Weakness: Coverage in the flats remains an issue that could rear its ugly head again this season. Last year opposing offenses thrived in attacking the flats, where much of the responsibility lies with the outside linebackers given the current defensive system.

That system has been tweaked somewhat and Pendleton has the ability to cover in space at least as well as David Nixon did a year ago. The players and coaching staff have done well in addressing the issue of flat coverage, but until we see game improvement it remains a potential weakness. Depth at the outside linebacker positions also is a potential weakness.

Defensive Backs

Strength: The strength in the defensive backfield is at safety, where both Scott Johnson and Andrew Rich look to be a formidable duo that will lead the defense out of the backfield. Both players have shown very well during fall camp and will provide a great last line of defense for the defense this coming season. The depth behind them looks to be promising as well with the play of Craig Bills and other promising up-and-comers.

Weakness: Coaches are still scrambling to find their best option at field cornerback less than a week away from the season opener against Oklahoma, underscoring a huge potential weakness. Should Robbie Buckner's hamstring heal and remain healthy, the position should be secure. Short of that the position remains in question, providing some weakness to the defensive backfield.

Prediction: 10-2 with another trip to the Las Vegas Bowl


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