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The Sports Edge Exceeding Standards

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Last Saturday, the season ended for the University of Maine football team with a disappointing 24-21 loss at home to the New Hampshire Wildcats. The game marked the 14th time in 15 meetings that the Cats have won the rivalry game, offering the Bears only a fleeting glance at the elusive Brice-Cowell Musket as they raised it aloft in celebration.

And so, while I generally eschew the 'report card' approach to writing, I thought this would be a good time to both evaluate the Bears and demonstrate the language of proficiency based assessment to sports fans.

Distinguished:

Freshmen

Maine may have unveiled the most talent trio of true freshmen in program history this season.

Josh Mack emerged as the team's best running back and is an old-school workhorse, as evidence by his 39-carry performance at Stony Brook. Wide receiver and return specialist Earnest Edwards showed he is more than worthy of his 'Electric Earnie' nickname. He is already one of the league's most dangerous receivers, effective on jet sweeps and reverses, and a threat to take it to the house on every kick return. And defensive back Manny Patterson quietly became one of the top cover guys around with his speed, intelligence, and fearless play.

Proficient:

Culture

The new coaching staff, led by Joe Harasymiak, did a lot to change the culture this year. It wasn't just their enthusiasm; there was also a new approach to things like social media and a confidence that led players to believe they could win every game. This wasn't just youthful energy, but an aggressive overall approach that seemed to inspire players and challenge norms.

The 'Game Day' experience also improved by leaps and bounds with an energetic tailgating area, the tremendous Black Bear Walk and new stadium single-game and season attendance records.

Self-Analysis

The staff showed a willingness to scout themselves and evaluate the team on a weekly basis. Their 'what have you done for me lately' approach gave them license to make depth chart changes right up until the last game and rewarded players for their performance, while not accepting complacence.

When they realized the kick game was a problem, they held an open tryout on campus, and found Maine native Brandon Briggs, who finished the season as their starter.

Opening Up the Offense

Fans had wrung their hands for years over the Black Bears' predictable offense. New coordinator Liam Coen injected some imagination and big-play capability, thanks in part to the strong arm of senior Dan Collins, and displayed outstanding depth at the receiver spot.

Needs Improvement:

Offensive Consistency

Maine scored more points, this year but most of them were in the first half. They need to get better at finishing games and managing the clock down the stretch. Collins was a tough competitor who made big plays but also forced too many passes into coverage.

To win in the CAA, the Bears need a dual threat QB who can run the ball as well as pass, make good decisions and complete a higher percentage of throws. The team returns a great nucleus of backs and receivers and four offensive line starters but the QB decision will be critical.

Kicker

Maine has made three of their last field goal attempts over the past two seasons. Simply unacceptable. Eight of their games were decided by seven points or less. Give a kicker a scholarship.

Make Games an Event

Attendance was much better but there is more work to be done in energizing the campus and the community. Talk to students and get them out of the dorms; create an inviting, energized and fun stadium presence that would also provide a needed home field advantage.

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On the whole, a big step in the right direction for the Bears. With a chance to avenge the UNH loss in the opener and big FBS games with Central Florida and UMass, 2017 promises to be an even more exciting season.

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