There were high hopes for the University of Maine football team coming into the 2010 season.
Despite only a few impact seniors, the Black Bears appeared to have enough experience on both sides of the ball to make a run at the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Instead, UMaine lacked consistent playmakers on offense, was all-too-prone to allowing long pass plays on defense and suffered through a spate of injuries — all of which helped make them an average team in the always-tough Colonial Athletic Association.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s team began with a demoralizing 3-0 home loss to Albany of the limited-scholarship Northeast Conference (34 maximum) and ended the campaign by allowing a winnable CAA game against James Madison to get away. In between, the Bears let a potential victory slip through their fingers at home against playoff-bound William & Mary, only to bounce back and beat another eventual postseason qualifier in New Hampshire.
UMaine was overmatched in the second half by Bowl Championship Subdivision opponent Syracuse and in games against FCS powers Delaware and Villanova, both of which also advanced to the playoffs. The Bears picked up victories against Monmouth of the Northeast Conference, future NEC member Rhode Island — in a gut-check effort — and Towson, but lost at Massachusetts.
With only a few plays per game going in their favor, the Bears well could have been 7-4 (5-3 CAA) and been in the postseason conversation.
“We didn’t achieve the way we wanted to,” a subdued Cosgrove said after Saturday’s season-ending loss to James Madison.
The most surprising aspect of the 2010 squad was its porous defense. UMaine ranked sixth in total defense (354.2 yards per game), eighth in scoring defense (24.5 ppg) and ninth in pass defense (227.1 ypg).
The Bears featured two of the top linebackers in the league in juniors Donte Dennis and Vinson Givans, but the inability of the defensive line to generate a consistent pass rush and the secondary’s propensity for blown coverages resulting in momentous plays were too much to overcome.
UMaine was hampered by a nagging hamstring injury to fifth-year linebacker Mark Masterson and a season-ending concussion suffered by backup Levi Ervin, a senior from Lisbon Falls. Safeties Trevor Coston and Jerron McMillian showed only flashes of brilliance, while the corners, led by seniors Steven Barker and Dom Cusano, were unspectacular.
The Bears did continue to develop depth up front, where ends Mike Cole and Doug Alston showed they may become impact players in the future.
UMaine loses only two starters and three other regular contributors off the defense in linemen Ryan Nani and Omar Jacobs, Masterson, Ervin and Barker.
On offense, the Bears were severely lacking in difference-makers and had a propensity for committing turnovers that killed drives, costing them both points and momentum.
UMaine finished seventh in the CAA in scoring (17.9 ppg) and were sixth in total offense with 322 ypg.
Warren Smith won the starting quarterback job during training camp and put up some solid passing numbers. The Bears were fifth in passing (189.8 ypg), after leading the league last season, but ranked seventh in rushing (132.2 ypg).
Smith threw for only nine touchdowns and was intercepted 10 times. He made several costly decisions in key situations.
Junior Chris Treister played only sparingly, and did not exhibit the ability to make big throws.
UMaine ran the ball solidly, but not to the level it had hoped. That effort was stalled by the loss of junior tailback Jared Turcotte of Lewiston, who was limited to six games and 99 carries because of injuries.
Even after the loss of senior starter Matt Barber, the offensive line continued to demonstrate its development. It paved the way for junior tailback Pushaun Brown to post three consecutive 100-yard rushing games down the stretch.
UMaine was seldom able to stretch defenses vertically with its wide receivers as most of the experience lay with seniors Tyrell Jones and Des Randall, who weren’t deep threats. Junior Derek Session became a dependable slot receiver, while tight ends Derek Buttles and Jeff Falvey continued their improvement.
However, the Bears will need to find some speed on the outside to complement its corps of inside guys.
The UMaine defense also was unable to consistently create turnovers that could change game momentum and set up the offense for some short fields. The Bears had only 14 takeaways and committed 21 turnovers, ranking eighth in the league at minus-7.
UMaine also struggled much of the season with lack of on-field discipline in the form of excessive penalties. It was flagged 80 times for 797 yards, the most in the conference on both counts.
“We have to play smart,” Dennis said. “In this league, you make too many mistakes, you can’t win.”
Special teams was an area of good performance for the Bears. Punter Jordan Waxman was relatively consistent (38-yard average), while place-kicker Brian Harvey converted 20 of 21 PAT kicks and seven of 10 field-goal attempts.
UMaine had a healthy average on kickoff and punt returns and has some threats returning in Trevor Coston, Roosevelt Boone and Derrick Johnson.
In fairness, the Bears sustained enough injuries to significantly impact their performance. And UMaine didn’t have enough experience and depth to be able to easily replace some of its starters.
In retrospect, nobody expected this year’s UMaine football team to win a championship. There were enough question marks, especially playing in the CAA, to overlook the Bears.
However, this team did not come close to reaching its potential. With a few more dynamic offensive players and fewer glaring defensive mistakes, UMaine could be back in the thick of the CAA chase next season.