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09 Homer Preview: The Black Bears Edition

homer previewIn an effort to provide coverage of teams outside of the OTP Preseason Top 25, we’ve asked some of our friends and fellow college football aficionados to follow our preview format for their team or go outside the box. This edition of The Homer Preview is courtesy of Lucas P. Calhoun, soon to be Dr. Lucas P. Calhoun… though it is unconfirmed that an honorary Doctorate of Awesome has already been conferred. While the team he covers is FCS, the review is BCS quality.

Homer Preview: Maine Black Bears

maine logoWhat You Need to Know
Continually strong in the Colonial Athletic Association, the University of Maine football team is looking to capitalize on a unique 2008 season. A team previously known for a strong defense and utilization of the West Coast Offensive scheme, head coach Jack Cosgrove was forced to make critical adjustments and switch to a running attack. The first step was a quarterback change when Mike Brusko replaced an injured Adam Farkas as the starting quarterback. Brusko, a stalwart on both sides of the ball, went 5-2 as the starter, caught passes as a receiver, punted once, and even recorded a special teams tackle. From there, Maine won six of its last eight games and reached the FCS playoffs.

Speaking to his team’s six-game winning streak that started against Delaware, Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove said, “The experience we had last year is going to be tremendously helpful to this team. You just see the confidence developing.”

Cosgrove and offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin are not hiding the fact that a varied running attack will be their season long plan. The following numbers give them confidence for future success. Brusko (1,353 yards of total offense, 12 TDs) is joined by All-American and 2009-preseason CAA All-Conference fullback Jared Turcotte (910 all-purpose yards, eight TDs as a redshirt freshman), Pushaun Brown and Derek Session (538 all-purpose yards) in a versatile backfield. The offense rushed for over 2,400 yards last season and numbers most likely go up this year.

The offensive line could be a key, as it must replace three starters, including center Ryan Canary. The team is fortunate to have a mobile quarterback because holes in the O-line may lead to limited pocket-time for Brusko.

In recent years, an ace-in-the-hole has been the play of Maine’s “Black Hole” defense, which will be looking to continue an impressive streak it has been building since the 2005 season. For the last four seasons, Maine has finished in the top third nationally in total defense. Defensively, the Black Bears take pride in aggressive play, but also in player development. Defensive Coordinator Joe Rossi has created a system in which players evolve in the position, including mentorship by veterans. The sense of camaraderie amongst the defense is evident in their approach to workouts, practices, social times, and of course, game day. Four starters return to the unit in 2009, including DL Jordan Stevens, DL Raibonne Charles, LB Mark Masterson and LB Brandon McLaughlin. In addition, three other defenders return who started at least one game in 2008. However, the Black Bears must replace Buchanan Award runner-up and two-time CAA defensive player of the year Jovan Belcher (98 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks) at end, as well as six other starters. Nevertheless, Jordan Stevens (53 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss) will take over both Belcher’s #9 jersey and spot as the defensive field general. Linebacker Mark Masterson (68 tackles, seven pass breakups) and strong safety Brandon McLaughlin (51 tackles) will also provide both leadership and a calming presence for the new members to the unit. The kicking game needs improvement. The Black Bears must replace their punter, and kicker Brian Harvey must improve as he was just 5-of-13 on field goals last season.

The team has a schedule allowing for tremendous success in 2009. Instead of starting against an established FBS opponent, the Black Bears open against the St. Cloud State Huskies. Good in their own right, they are not Iowa, and Maine should be able to take advantage of St. Cloud’s weak-against-the-run defense. An early conference game against Northeastern precedes two non-conference games, including a first-ever meeting with the Orangemen of Syracuse. After Syracuse, the Black Bears get into the heart of conference play. Strong performances will be needed against annual challengers, Hofstra, Richmond, and James Madison.

Who You Need to Know and Their ’08 Stats
QB Mike Brusko: 67-104, 936 yds, 8 TDs, 7 INTs, 112 att, 417 yds, 4 TDs
FB Jared Turcotte: 105 att, 625 yds, 7 TDs
DL Jordan Stevens: 53 tkls, 4 sacks, 7.5 TFL
LB Mark Masterson: 68 tkls, 2 sacks, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT

Game to Watch
Having received a beat down at the hands of Iowa to begin last season, the Black Bears chose to start the season with much lighter fare. With some momentum, the fourth game of the year versus Syracuse could make for an interesting season. Playing at Syracuse in their first ever meeting, a W will give the team a tremendous confidence boost heading into the heart of conference play. In addition, the final regular season game against rival University of New Hampshire is always an important date on the game calendar. UMaine hopes to rebound from a tough 24-28 loss last year.

They’ll Do Well If…
…they utilize their versatile quarterback and continue to pound their diverse ground attack. If the defense can adjust for the loss of seven starters and the offense sticks to their running attack, this blue-collar approach will keep the Black Bears in the hunt for both the CAA North title and a second-consecutive FCS playoff berth.

Season Outlook
Picked to finish 3rd in the CAA North, this is a very real possibility. With a solid quarterback in place, UMaine is ready to start the year strong. Opponents will attempt taking advantage of the defense, but the Black Bears will be ready despite personnel losses. The first four games are vital. Starting with a home opener, the team hits the road three Saturdays in a row, concluding with the Syracuse meeting. If the team comes out of that stretch 3-1, the rest of the season will be easier. Overall, expect some positive surprises along the way including a 9-2 regular season record and a small run in the playoffs.

Maine Football 2

Maine does their best Iverson impression, talkin' 'bout practice

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4 Responses

  1. Excellent work, LPC. The Black Bears are our adopted FCS team for the season.

  2. Woot! Lucas nice article!
    –jackie

  3. Excellent work. I too will take part in adopt-a-Bear.

  4. Thanks for adopting the Black Bears! They have heart.

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