That being said, we have a lot of work to do, as we lost some quality seniors which is the case every season. Fortunately, we have some good players coming back. Most noticeably, we lost our entire defensive line, as we had four senior starters a year ago. We also lost our punter that had played for us for four straight years. Those are the highlights of the work we had ahead of us.
Though we do lose the guys up front, we have the most experienced group behind them that we have had in six years here, going into the seventh. Two of the players that came with us here, Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge, are great leaders and that is going to help us along the way.
In the kicking game, we lost David Bradley, as I mentioned. Kyle Schlicher did a great job for us last year in his first year and we are confident in him. We will have to come up with a punter sometime between now and the first game.
Offensively, Ed Hinkel is here with us and he has been a great performer for us. He will be a four year starter for us. Clinton Solomon is a senior, Drew did some nice things last year, and we are counting on big things from him. It is a luxury item for us to have a quarterback that is more experienced; this is the first year we will have a quarterback starting from one season to the next, and Drew is a fine performer.
Looking at the big picture right now, our schedule is extremely challenging as the conference will be extremely strong. We don't see much weakness and we have several road challenges, starting with Iowa State in the non-conference. We have a lot of work to do between now and the start of the season.
Q: With the amazing finish in the bowl game, how much momentum did it give you coming into this fall?
FERENTZ: One thing that I discovered a long time ago as an assistant that anytime you finish with a win in your bowl game, it is a real positive. It seems to give a little extra energy to your entire football team coming back, no matter how you win it. The way we won it last year was indicative of our football team. They played with that type of effort each and every week. It has been a big positive for us, and it has not been a distraction; I think our guys took a lot of good things away from that game.
FERENTZ: Not at all. The other team that should be mentioned is Purdue. When you look at the players they have coming back and you look closely at what happened to them last year, to me it was a thin margin of error. They were close to being in contention for the championship a year ago with a young football team. I think you have to put Purdue right along with Ohio State and Michigan.
Q: How do you see your running game playing out this year?
FERENTZ: I was going to say that it has to improve, but that is not guaranteed. For a while there, we were 117th out of 117 teams in the country in rushing the football. I think we moved up to 116th after our bowl game, though I do not know how that happened. We went against all of the coaching axioms last year in being successful, and there were reasons for that.
We will be more experienced up front this year, and I have never been through a season like last year (with regards to the RB injuries). We also had some things happening up front that factored into that. Hopefully we will be healthier at running back this year; we felt pretty solid about that last year at this time. I think we will be more experienced up front, too. Hopefully that combination, plus having an experienced quarterback will enable us to have more balance on offense, something we will need to have.
Q: You and the other coaches have talked about how the league will be tougher this year. Is this the toughest you have seen it since you have been back
FERENTZ: The league was very strong in 2002. We had four teams finish in the Top 15. This year appears to be very strong, too, as there are several great players returning. We just mentioned three teams that are going to be very good (Ohio State, Michigan & Purdue), and I think that you could probably add three more teams to that equation pretty quickly. It is going to be a real challenging year and should make things real interesting in November.
Q: The last three years, you have surprised people by finishing in the Top 10 at the end of the season. Now, the element of surprise is gone with you r team ranked in most top 10 polls. Is that a reasonable expectation, considering the losses on your defensive line?
FERENTZ: In 2002, internally, we felt very good about the team, as did the players. Though there were a lot of variables, the way that season turned out was not a total shock to us. The last two years have been different, as there were a few more things that needed to be accomplished in order to have success. All that being said, each season has its own personality and there are a lot of things that can happen between now and September, and certainly a lot of things can happen between now and November not only with us, but with the teams that we have to play. We don't worry about that too much; we are going to plow ahead and see where things turn out at the end.
Q: You mentioned Ohio State, Michigan and Purdue before as teams that should be included in the top four. You are the only team that plays the other three top three teams. Is that the way to decide the championship, or should there be a full round robin or a championship game?
FERENTZ: I don't think a full round robin is realistic or humanistic. I am not sure I would be in favor of that. You look at the leagues that have those divisions now; I think you can make the same arguments for things like strength of schedule, if you are in the right division, wrong division or that type of thing. So unless you are in a round robin, you can't have a pure champion. I don't know how many people stay at wake at night worrying about it; I can assure you we are not.
Q: Regarding your defensive line and having to replace four starters, who are you looking for to be a leader out of that unit?
FERENTZ: Basically anybody right now. But the way they have been working this offseason, we have been extremely impressed. That is a very young group, outside of Mike Follett, as he is the only senior. Outside of him, it is all sophomores and juniors. I think the only thing that I can tell you for certain is that we had four starters that played most all of the snaps last year. We will probably have a six to eight man rotation this year, as long as we can find that many that give us quality snaps and give us that kind of contribution.
Q: Can you talk about your recruiting this year. You were able to land quite a few Army All Americans; do you expect any of them to step up and give you any kind of contribution this year?
FERENTZ: I don't think Army's record has been very good against Navy as of late.
On paper, we have done well. This is the most recognized class that we have had on paper and their talents will be evaluated this year, but we are enthused about the personalities. We have the kind of people that we want. As far as how things will pan out, we will know more about that six months out or 12 months out. We were really pleased with the class that signed before them and how they made the transition to our campus, and we expect the same things out of this group. We are excited to start working with these new players.
Q: What did you mean when you said that playing a round robin would not be ‘humanistic'?
FERENTZ: I think it would be tough to play 10 league games. That would be quite a challenge. It would leave you with two non-conference games; I really enjoy the non-conference portion of the season as I think that is critical to the development of a football team. I like the flexibility of playing three or four non-league games before we start the conference portion of the season.