We have written a handful of articles in the past month focused on 2014 and what led to the 4-8 season. Well enough dwelling on the past, time to start looking towards 2015. The first question I want to tackle is a big one:
What will define a successful 2015 season?
I say it is a big question, because the answer could be anyone number of things, some of which are rather subjective. I have reviewed the past several years with a focus on last season and have come to a conclusion as to how I will measure next season on the success meter. Let's start with the record, because it is typically the first go-to for pundits to gauge a team's success.
#1) The Record:
Here is how the schedule lays out to me:
The Should Wins: Sam Houston, UTEP, Iowa State, @ Kansas
The Could Wins: Oklahoma State, @ West Virginia, Kansas State
The Would Be Surprising Wins: @ Arkansas, TCU, Baylor (in Dallas), @ Oklahoma, @ Texas
I will say if we go worse than 4-8 next season, it would be a disaster. The "should" win games I laid out above are really must win games. If we can't beat an FCS school, UTEP and the 2 worst Big 12 football schools, I can't picture looking back at the 2015 season as a success. Meaning, I can't picture us losing to Iowa State or Sam Houston and still winning enough game to consider the season a success.
So anything less than 4 wins will not be a success but I think a 4-8 season could be a success. If we win the 4 "should" win games and show consistent improvements in other areas such as yardage given up or fewer turnovers then the season could be seen as a success and used as a springboard for 2016. Having said that, if we are consistently improved in a few areas, I think that leads to an additional win. One of the close losses turns into a win when you are not giving the opponent a 2-turnover margin differential or holding an opponent to 100 less yards.
So from a record standpoint, I have talked to myself into a 5 wins being the minimum. That is an improved record and ideally means we have improved a couple of our trouble areas from last year. This leads to my next point:
#2) Penalties & Turnovers:
I will take my lead from the head coach. He has been preaching limiting turnovers and penalties this offseason. In fact, he mentioned both multiple times throughout the '14 season though neither of them improved dramatically over the course of the season. Given a whole offseason, I expect to see improvement. If he is the kind of coach we want him to be, we have to see improvement in these areas. If the team is focusing on these areas all offseason yet we still see the same number mental mistakes/lapses next season, then what does that tell you about the coach. It tells me he doesn't know how to get his message across to players or they don't respect him enough to fix them. Not good. Without improvements in these areas, I can't see us doing any better than last year. You can't shoot yourself in the foot every game and expect to beat anybody worth a damn.
The other area of improvement I want to see is the area where we have the most room for improvement......defense. I won't rehash the stats from Matt and I's Point/Counterpoint post last week, but let's just say we were one of the five worst defenses in the nation in multiple statistical categories last season. We can't expect to improve everything on defense, but if we improve yards given up then I think that will impact other defensive stats. While it isn't an exact science, for the most part the defenses that give up fewer yards are better at creating turnovers, limiting penalties and/or giving up fewer points. I would be happy if we were to break into the top 100 defenses in total yards given up. Sadly that means giving up 75 less yards per game, which is a huge gap to close. But looking at Gibb's last stop, Houston jumped from #114 in the nation in yards given up to #75 in his first year. That was almost a 65-yard improvement per game. During his second season at Houston (last year), they jumped from #75 to #25, an improvement of 69 yards/game. So this should be familiar territory for Gibbs and something he knows how to do.
#4 ) Competitiveness:
The last thing I want to touch on is just watching the games themselves. There were several games where we didn't look competitive for most or all of the game. Prior to floodgates opening versus Arkansas, you could see things were headed that way. We were giving up yards on the ground at an alarming rate. The Kansas State game wasn't a game. The 3-game stretch of TCU, UT and OU led to 3 losses by an average of almost 30 points. Our average scoring margin per game last year was -12.4, which ranked #111 in the country. That is a team not being competitive. I am not saying it wasn't for lack of trying or if we were just that bad. The reason doesn't matter. We need to close that gap. Losing by 55 to anyone should be unacceptable, especially when you beat that team by 10 the previous year. You can't tell me over the course of the offseason that team became 65 points better than us or that their home field advantage is worth 65 points. So I feel like closing the scoring differential will be an indicator of success as well. If we improve by only a field goal per game, we would have ranked #98 last season. In 2013 we were +1.7/game, so I think that is a reasonable improvement. Hell, if we don't get beat by 55 next season and it should improve that stat dramatically.
After much rambling, I feel I have at least set a bar for myself as to how I will look back after the season and gauge the Red Raiders' 2015 season. The season will be a success if we have a 5-7 record at worst. Then I would like us to improve to around #100 in the statistical categories I mentioned. This would put us in the company of UMass, Buffalo, UNLV and Middle Tennessee State type teams. Here's what we would need to do to get there:
Penalties - Improve from 8.8 to 6.8 penalties/game
Turnover Margin - Improve from -1.0 to -0.4 turnover margin/game
Yards Given Up - Improve from 523 to 450 yards/game
Scoring Margin - Improve from -12.4 to -9.4 scoring margin/game
Some of these are easier than others to achieve, so I won't go so far as to say we have to hit all of these for a successful season. But you do have to set goals to achieve and I think success would achieved by reaching these goals.
This next season is the turning of the ship season for this team and this coach in my opinion. We have to get pointed in the right direction next season, so we can start building upon it to reach our ultimate goal. If I see the same struggles next season as I did in 2014, I fear for 2016 and beyond. We could become Baylor if that happens. And no I am not talking about the Baylor teams of the Briles era. I am talking about the doormat Baylor teams from the early ‘00s that everyone penciled in as win before the season even started.
*** Caveat: This is considering all things being equal. If something dramatic were to happen such as losing Webb and Mahomes to injury, these gauges of success will quickly be tossed out the window.*****