Central Oklahoma fans had to cringe when they saw the opening few games of their 2009 season...at Pitt State, at West Texas A&M, at Texas A&M-Kingsville, Tarleton State at home and then another road game against Texas A&M-Commerce. That start to the season appears to have been too much for the Bronchos to handle. UCO pulled off a stunning upset against WTAM, but still started the season 1-6, including a shocking loss to Southwest Baptist. They would go on to finish the season a very disappointing 4-7.
The Bronchos' defense seemed to be their biggest problem last season. They gave up 26 points (9th in the LSC) and 418 yds (11th) per game. Oddly enough, UCO actually led the LSC in turnover margin (+8), but still gave up way too many points and yards to give their offense much of a chance. On offense, RB Jason Palmer averaged 85 rushing yards per game, good enough for 2nd place in the LSC. QB Brandon Noohi was also 2nd in the LSC in yards per game (300).
Out with the old
The Bronchos lose a ton of talent this season due to graduation. 7 1st Team LSC North players to be exact, including the LSC North Offensive Back of the Year and Offensive Lineman of the year as well. UCO loses it's 3 skill position players in QB Brandon Noohi (1st LSC North, 2,757 passing yards, 21 TD's, 544 rushing yds), RB Jason Palmer (1st LSC North - LSC North Offensive Back of the Year, 789 yds, 6 TD's) and WR Ryan Gallimore (1st LSC North, 59 catches for 786 yds and 11 TD's). They also lose their best offensive lineman in Center Luke Sapolu (1st LSC North, LSC North Offensive Lineman of the Year).
The hits keep coming on defense too. DE Freddie Harris (1st LSC North, 56 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 6 sacks), ILB Terry Hardeman (1st LSC North, 85 tackles, 9.5 TFL) and S Giorgio Durham (1st LSC North - LSC North Defensive Back of the Year, 66 tackles, 8 INT) are also gone from an already struggling defense. Durham was actually a pre-season All-American before his transfer to Texas Tech. DT Jermelle Cudjo (2nd LSC North, 58 tackles, 3.5 sacks) finishes up his nice career at UCO as well.
The Bronchos have a couple of contributors coming back on their offensive line in Cody Hughes (2nd-team All-LSC North) and Corbin Burchett. They also get a couple of WR's back to help whoever wins the QB position. WR Daniel Morrell (45 catches for 640 yds, 6 TD's) and Matt Jackson (33 catches for 262 yds) look to improve on last year's numbers. One of the best linebackers in the LSC, Tucker Cason (1st-team All-LSC North, 90 tackles, 2.5 sacks) looks to continue his impressive career. K Chris Robbs and P Nick Chalifoux return to provide experience on the Broncho special teams.
In with the new
RB Josh Birmingham originally signed with Wyoming and appears to be one of the bigger impact transfers this season in the LSC North. Birmingham rushed for 5,000 yds in high school and was an all-state selection. DL David Anderson played the last 3 years at Oklahoma and like Birmingham, was an all-state selection in high school.
All Conference Candidates
RB Josh Birmingham
OL Cody Hughes
WR Daniel Morrell
DL Herbert Byrd
LB Tucker Cason
All American Candidates
RB Josh Birmingham
LB Tucker Cason
8-28 vs Pitt State - Once again, the Bronchos face a daunting beginning schedule. If they could find a way to pull off a win in the opening game against the Gorillas, it could propel them through the rough stretch.
10-16 vs Southeastern Oklahoma - A home game against the Savage Storm may end up being a big game in their LSC North schedule.
Best Case Scenario - 6-5
If the Bronchos can somehow fill all of the holes left from players leaving, this is about the best outcome possible, due to such a difficult schedule. This is obviously an improvement over last year, but it's going to come down to players stepping up and filling the gaps. Birmingham will have to have a huge season for UCO to maximize their potential.
Worst Case Scenario - 4-7
That's a lot of "ifs" in the above statement. UCO has a ton of holes to fill this season due to graduation and in Durham's case, transfer. Not to mention they lost their entire skill position set this season in Noohi, Palmer and Gallimore (all of which were 1st Team LSC North). They also lose the Co-Offensive Lineman of the year in Sapolu. That's a lot to overcome. And with a schedule this tough, it might get ugly before it gets better for the Bronchos.