Best case: Graham and/or Caprio do a passable Mike Callahan imitation — especially the TD-to-INT ratio. Moody remains healthy, and at least one other receiver emerges. The Tribe's multiple backs combine for 1,500 yards rushing. On defense, opposing passers challenge Webb too often. The speedy, versatile back seven complements the front four, allowing the Tribe to blitz when it wants, not as the only means of generating pressure. Worst case: No quarterback emerges, leaving the offense as vanilla as Amish nightlife. Somebody again sticks pins in the Moody voodoo doll and the receiver corps reprises 2011. Injuries and inconsistency affect the defensive front four. The Tribe's smallish linebacker corps gets handled by opposing lines and cannot shed blocks. The defensive backs get worn down by constant run support, except when they find themselves chasing receivers that have snuck behind them. Early losses to Towson and Delaware leave them disheartened in advance of a difficult four-game stretch at the end of the season.

HAMPTON UNIVERSITY

HOW TO GET TO POSTSEASON

Not this time around. The NCAA red-flagged the Pirates for chronically underperforming on the Academic Progress Rate (APR), which measures player retention and progress toward a degree. The program had been docked scholarships in prior years, and a sub-standard number last spring resulted in the NCAA banning the Pirates from postseason in 2012. The MEAC followed suit and declared the Pirates ineligible for the conference title.

KEY SCHEDULE STRETCH

First, a hearty "Job well done" to the athletic administration for this season's 10-game schedule. They honestly couldn't find a third non-conference opponent? Or maybe they wanted to emulate the Ivy League. Either way, weak. That said, the Pirates' schedule appears front-loaded, or perhaps mid-loaded. They host a ranked team in Old Dominion the second week, then face three of the top four teams in the MEAC preseason poll — Florida A&M, Bethune-Cookman and preseason fave Norfolk State. That's followed by a quick turnaround, Thursday roadie at N.C. Central — televised by the World Wide Leader. But HU gets a bye before Bethune-Cookman and another bye before Norfolk State (thanks, 10-game schedule). They also get ODU, Bethune and Norfolk State at home. Because of the MEAC schedule rotation, they also miss South Carolina State, which was picked to finish second. The Pirates' new offense and untested areas face stiff tests early.

STRENGTH

Linebacker, without question. The Pirates have two all-conference candidates in Delbert Tyler and Lyndell Gibson. The third starter, middle linebacker DeVonte' Hawkins, apparently gave the rest of the defense the day off versus Morgan State last season, logging a remarkable 24 tackles. Tyler was the Pirates' leading tackler last season with 110 total, 41 solo, and made second-team All-MEAC. Gibson, a Virginia Tech transfer, had a team-high 52 solo tackles (108 total) and 14 tackles for loss. They are fast, experienced and solid tacklers. They will be asked to anchor a defense that last season finished in the bottom half of the MEAC against the rush (157.5 ypg) and total defense (341.4 ypg). It won't hurt that there's some continuity on the staff, since Keith Goganious enters his third year as defensive coordinator.

CONCERNS

The Pirates need people to catch the ball, since they're implementing the Air Raid system. Senior Javaris Brown (44 catches, 10.5 avg., 2 TDs) is the only experienced receiver, and he, like everyone else on the roster, is new to the scheme. HU lost three of its top four receivers from last season and has a bunch of holes to fill. The sophomore trio of Leon Shorter, Jorrian Washington and Andre Griffin are penciled into the early two-deep, but they totaled just four receptions among them last season. The Pirates also have a handful of freshmen and redshirt freshmen wide receivers who could earn playing time. They vary from small and quick (5-9, 170-pound J'Rod Beard and 5-9, 180-pound Rashad Riddick) to tall and rangy (6-4, 200-pound Matrick Belton and 6-5, 220-pound SeQuan Gill). The Air Raid also includes running backs in the passing game. The Pirates appear in good shape there, since lead back Antwon Chisholm caught 29 passes for 192 yards last season.

NEWCOMERS/RESERVES

Want to engage head coach Donovan Rose? Mention strong safety Carvin Johnson. The 6-2, 205-pound junior transfer from Michigan will have an immediate impact and already established himself as a leader on defense. He played in eight games for the Wolverines before leaving the team in November, recording 14 tackles, and worked on special teams. Expect junior college transfer Najee Tyler to get a long look at quarterback. Much opportunity at wide receiver, where the Pirates graduated their top two pass catchers. Look for underclassmen Leon Shorter, Jorrian Washington and Andre Griffin (Phoebus) in the rotation. Plenty of opportunity along the defensive line, as well, where senior Daryell Walker (19 tackles) from Bethel is the most experienced player. Underclassmen Alveron Wright and Charles Owens are penciled into the two-deep, along with promising freshmen Nigel Cawthon (6-5, 295) and Terrell Stewart (6-3, 335).

ASSISTANT COACH

Earnest Wilson is the Pirates' fourth offensive coordinator in four years, but he is productive, imaginative and likely to stick. A disciple of the Hal Mumme/Mike Leach Air Raid system, he turned Jackson State's 1987 Buick station wagon of an offense into the No. 1 statistical group in the Football Championship Subdivision in just two years. He has coached at a lot of places, including Division II and D-III schools and Arena League ball. Last season, Jax State led in total offense (490.91) and was ninth in scoring offense (35.82), setting a slew of school records in the process. He aims to do similar things at HU. He doesn't have a big-time quarterback or experienced receivers, but he believes the present personnel give the Pirates a chance to succeed right away. The Pirates were solid on offense last year, but had trouble making plays when necessary. The players are becoming increasingly comfortable with the system and think it will propel them to the top of the MEAC.

BEST/WORST CASE SCENARIO

Best case: Wilson's new offense takes hold. Travis Champion, or one of the other quarterbacks, get the ball to the playmakers. The new scheme catches early opponents off guard, before they can adequately scout and compile a book on the offense. The defensive line plays opposing offensive lines to a push, allowing potentially excellent linebackers and secondary to make tackles. The team cuts in half last season's ridiculous penalty yardage (115.1 per game). Kicker Taurean Durham is money inside 40 yards. Punter Jordan Stovall gooses his average a bit and is better at pinning opponents. A fast start and early wins provide momentum for the remainder of the season. Worst case: The offense sputters early and takes time to produce. The young receivers play tight. The defensive line gives up far too much at the point of attack. The Pirates lose a few games early that they might have won later in the season, when everyone was finally on the same page. But those early losses become discouraging, without the promise of postseason or a conference championship.

CHRISTOPHER NEWPORT

HOW TO GET TO POSTSEASON

Two ways: Win the USA South Conference title again (which creates its own special brand of dyspepsia among certain league honchos, who would like the Captains gone yesterday); or, defeat the three quality non-conference opponents to start the season and tie for the league title with, say, one loss. Without the conference title and accompanying automatic playoff berth, a 9-1 record should be sufficient to earn an at-large bid. CNU has made the playoffs eight of its 11 years of existence, winning the title outright or the tiebreaker for the automatic bid seven times. The Captains are on a 12-game league winning streak, dating back to 2010. They return at least 20 guys who started games on last year's unbeaten conference team, including all three quarterbacks, and playmakers on both sides of the ball. If they don't make the playoffs again, it will be a disappointment.

KEY SCHEDULE STRETCH