It may be less than a month before football season starts, but the biggest question surrounding the Cal Poly football team is still unanswered.
As the team awaits head coach Tim Walsh‘s decision in their first week of practice, either Smith or Broadous will be trying to help a program rebound from one of the worst seasons of the decade — at least on paper.
Cal Poly went (4-7) last season, finishing at the bottom of the Great West. The Mustangs couldn’t win a single game on the road and finished outside of the national polls for the first time since 2003 — while also suffering their first losing season since 2002.
“It’s a team game and it’s about winning,” Walsh said. “We are going to try to do the best thing that’s going to give this team the opportunity to win as many games as it can.”
In some eyes, there really shouldn’t be a debate. Last season, it was the job of Smith, a man who led his team last season against opponents like San Jose State, Sacramento State and Ohio, while throwing for 1618 yards — just 342 less Jonathan Dally in his senior season — in 11 starts. Not to mention, he will be heading into this season as a senior.
“Tony, he knows the game really well. I mean he knows all his checks, he knows all his audibles, and he is real smart with the ball,” Broadous said. “He is a great student of the game.”
Yet the job of a starting quarterback is never safe. Standing behind him is Broadous, a player who — whenever he starts — may have one of the most highly anticipated debuts in recent years. At Grant High School, the Oregon native racked up 6,000 yards of total offense in his junior and senior seasons combined. His style mirrors the prototypical triple-option quarterback — a shifty runner with speed and moves that will make fans stand on their feet.
“Playmaker. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind when you see (Broadous),” starting cornerback Asa Jackson said. “He is one of those guys that you have to account for running the ball on every single play. And that’s a killer.”
At his — or Smith’s — disposal will be 11 offensive players who started at least five games last year. Returning will be most of the offensive line, wide receiver Dominique Johnson and fullbacks Jake Romanelli and Jordan Yocum among others. Not to mention potential playmakers K.J. Cusack and Mark Rodgers could creep their way onto the field to make some noise.
But regardless of whatever offensive personnel the Mustangs throw onto the field, it may take a team effort to get past last season’s numbers. Defensive playmakers like Asa Jackson, linebackers Kenny Jackson and Marty Mohamed are going to try to help this team rebound as well — on the other side of the ball.
“This year, this team is going to be a huge defensive factor,” Mohamed said. “I am going to make sure of that. This defense is going to be one of the best defenses in the entire nation. As a leader and the defensive captain, I am going to make sure that everything we do as a defense is perfect… we are not going to quit.”
Mohamed may have his work cut out for him. Eight defensive starters return from last year’s squad, but last season’s defense was an over-worked group decimated by injuries. It was a defense who gave up more than 30 points in four games and more than 400 yards of offense on six occasions, while also letting four halftime leads slip and turn into losses.
“I look back at last season, if there was one disappointment it was that we as a program didn’t finish,” Walsh said. “And in the game of football, with the schedule that we play, if we don’t start well and we don’t finish well, we’re going to struggle.”
Cal Poly plays two home games to start the season, but may not have full attendance due to the academic calendar. By the time fall quarter begins, Cal Poly will be in the third week of its season. In week two, Cal Poly will face off against Montana — a team who went undefeated a year ago and rode their hot hands all the way to the FCS championship, falling to Villanova 23-21.
Three weeks after that, Cal Poly will travel to Fresno State — a usual Western Athletic Conference contender who very well could have a strangle hold on the crown on the conference if Boise State were out of the picture — in the third game of a five game road trip.
Then the Mustangs return home for three of their last four games and host rival UC Davis in the final game of the 2010 season.
Opponents aside, Cal Poly will be aiming for one thing come September. There will be no talk of national championships, national rankings, or all-conference teams — the only thing Walsh wants his team to focus on is where they stand come November.
“Our goal period, end of statement, is to win the Great West,” Walsh said. “We are not going to look past that. If we go above and beyond that that’s great, but our job this year is to win the Great West championship, beat UC Davis here on the last week of the season and whatever happens after that happens.”