I think 2014 will be a big year for the Nicholls State University football team.
Check that – I KNOW that 2014 will be a big year for the Colonels. For better or for worse, the things that will happen this coming season will shape the way that things go down in future seasons for the program.
There’s no other way to slice it up. It’s now or never in every way for the struggling program that’s starving for success in the always-difficult Southland Conference.
And here’s why: look no further than head coach Charlie Stubbs.
I’m a Charlie Stubbs guy. I defended his hiring in Jan. 2010, and I still stand by it today. I think Stubbs is an excellent football coach – a guy more than capable of succeeding in the Southland Conference.
As a coordinator, Stubbs won games at Alabama. He also fielded top-flight offenses in the old Big East and in the Pac-12. I’m sorry, but if you can beat LSU, Ole Miss, Florida and Georgia, then you can beat Northwestern State, Sam Houston State, McNeese and Incarnate Word.
That’s not high-level math. That’s just common sense. I think anyone who knows anything about football would agree that Stubbs’ acumen should equate nicely at most-anywhere he chooses to coach.
But for some reason, things haven’t worked in Thibodaux, and the Colonels haven’t been able to find that magic potion in the coach’s first four full seasons with the team.
Sure, there have been a lot of subliminal victories. The team is graduating more players today than it ever has in years past. Once known as an APR dumpster fire, the Colonels are among the leaders in the Southland – a definite source of price.
But with that transition complete, it’s time to break the ice and win some games.
Nicholls has the most veteran roster that it has had in many seasons with both experience and depth at most positions – a luxury the team hasn’t had in the Stubbs era.
That depth, combined with a roster filled with players tired of struggling have me optimistic that this is the year that we can expect at least six or seven wins.
Let’s start with the offense, where Nicholls returns a bunch of playmakers on a unit that averaged more than 30 points per game a year ago.
Stubbs loves offense. He’s a guru. The dude has written books about formations and passing skeletons and all sorts of geeky jargon that my little mind is too small to grasp.
But at the end of the day, his offenses always seem to find the end zone, which, of course, is the only thing that matters in this sport.
This year’s bunch seems ripe to be dynamic and explosive as Stubbs picks between Tuskani Figaro and Kalen Henderson for his starting quarterback – two players with lots of talent.
I think ideally Stubbs would love to pick Henderson to start, as he’s probably a more polished passer than Figaro. But Figaro just may be the most dynamic and elusive playmaker in the entire conference. In 2013, he rushed for a Nicholls record 1,103 yards, despite only playing in seven full games.
The problem is that Figaro has been steadfast in his desire to only be a quarterback, when he would maybe be a more ideal fit as a halfback or slot receiver – any place where he can get the football in space.
But could he change his mind in the 11th hour and the 59th minute to accept being a wildcat-type of halfback/quarterback? Who knows? If he does, that could be an answer to all of Nicholls’ problems.
There’s absolutely, positively no way to deny that having both Henderson and Figaro’s skillsets on the field would make the Colonels a better offense.
But while Nicholls scores touchdowns and puts crooked numbers on the scoreboard, it’s the team’s defense that is probably going to decide whether a turnaround will take place.
In 2013, the Colonels were awful defensively. Opponents did whatever they wanted to do, whenever they wanted to do it.
In some games, it wasn’t a question of when an opponent would score, but more a matter of how many plays it would take them to do it.
The communication was bad, players were out of position, and it was a complete wreck. But this year, the Colonels have a new coordinator who has brought a newer, more simplified approach. This new scheme, combined with a laundry list of new players, have instilled a quiet confidence in the team that improvement is imminent.
I won’t name anyone by name, but I’ve spoken to a few assistant coaches during the offseason. They all genuinely believe that both Nicholls’ roster and scheme are better in the new season.
If they are right, I can definitely see a scenario where the Colonels put it all together and have a winning season.
But no matter how it’s sliced, it has to happen now. After four years of losing, there’s no more time to wait.
Year five of the Charlie Stubbs era is about to begin, and with it will come a lot of pressure to perform and succeed.
If it doesn’t go as planned, next year just may be year one of the post-Charlie Stubbs era.
The situation is that serious.
It’s time to win.
2014 will be a big year – one way or another.