The transition from Division II into the FCS was tough on Abilene Christian. The Wildcats, a perennial Division II playoff team, went 5-5 in their inaugural season. The Cats have new stadium on the way in a couple of years and a full Southland slate on the books for 2014.
Questions that need answering...
How do we replace John David Baker the touchdown maker?
This may be the most important question for the 2014 Wildcats. Baker, a one year player at ACU, finished his only season as the Wildcats' starter with 3,376 passing yards, 35 touchdowns and just 5 picks.
Competition for the starting job is "wide open" between Malcolm Ruben, Parker McKenzie, Kade Munden, Will Weathers and Cody Luttrell. The competition could also include high school signees Cody Ennis and Dallas Seaey when they report in the fall. Of those guys only Ruben and McKenzie saw action. The combined for 7 attempts and 60 yards. McKenzie ended the season slightly ahead of Ruben.
The search for 2014's signal caller may not be settled. This is the time of year when transfers finally decide to find a resting place. ACU may not be a bad one. The Wildcats run a pass first offense and the past three quarterbacks have put up monstrous numbers. Perhaps an FBS transfer will find a happy home in Abilene.
Someone will need to step up or that Southland conference slate gets real untenable.
Can you replace your top 3 receivers?
You may be able to find a guy to throw the ball, but can you find anyone who can catch it? Taylor Gabriel, Darian Hogg and Darrell Cantu-Harkless are all gone heading into 2014. Those three and running back Charcandrick West all head out the door, taking with them 190 catches.
That's a lot. I did the math.
DeMarcus Thompson is the leading returning receiver with 23 catches. Now the lack of returning catches may not be the most damaging vacancy at ACU. Head coach Ken Collums has been known for offenses that spread the field and the ball around. Thompson and Monte Green-Avery along with Cade Stone should benefit from seeing the field and the ball.
While we're at it, who's going to block?
Never mind about the above holes, Collums says the biggest hole left from last fall is offensive line. "We've only got two guys coming back who played very much, so we've got to find out about those redshirts, and we've got to find out about those guys pretty quickly. We brought those five guys in here last fall, and now, physically, they should be more ready to play. They've been able to get adjusted to college and to how we do things, and now we need to see them compete for jobs."
The returning guys, Colton Carnes and Logan Hoppenrath, have some experience. Carnes started every game in 2013 while Hoppenrath had three starts and other spot duty. Carnes has left guard nailed down while Hoppenrath could play any number of interior positions but will probably settle at center.
Tackle positions will be filled by RS Freshmen Riley Mayfield, Chance Reiken or Hayden Wall. They're young and inexperienced but talented. Mayfield is a large unit at 6-7 and 310. Reiken has good size as well. Butler JC Transfer Parker Whitney is the front runner to fill the other guard spot.
Who's that guy? Herschel Sims
Herschel Sims Jr. RB 5-9 220, Abilene
That guy is Herschel Sims, the former Abilene High School product who is back home after a trip to Stillwater.
He played nine games with the Cowboys as a true freshman, running for 242 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries — good for 7.8 yards per carry.
The following summer, however, he was kicked off the team after being accused of stealing a teammates’ checkbook and forging $700 worth of checks. He was charged with two felony counts of second-degree forgery and later pleaded guilty to both counts and received deferred sentences. Sims transferred to Lamar, an FCS team playing in the Southland Conference, where he played seven games last season before leaving the team.
Now he's back home again. No one's ever doubted his talent, but they have doubted his ability to stay on the field and use it. Sims has added 30 pounds of something, either mass or muscle since being an elusive high school back.
Still ACU needs a running back with the talent set the Sims possesses. Sims needs a place to run the ball. This could be a match. Then again, as we've seen before, maybe not.