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5 questions for the 2001 af2 season

by Mike Vergane
January 31, 2001 - arenafootball2 (af2)

Five Questions To Be Answered In 2001

by Mike Vergane

1 - How will the three former IFL teams come out of the blocks in April?

Much depands on how they adapt (and how much they are willing to adapt) to the Arena game.

The Lincoln Lightning, Peoria Pirates and the Wichita Stealth will be the three former IFL expansion teams that will join the af2 in 2001. That does not necessarily mean that their squads from last season will remain intact.

In fact, only one head coach returns, that being the Lincoln Lightning's Jose Jefferson.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the defunct Indoor Football League, there are a few key differences in the style of play. Obviously, the IFL was not able to use the patented Arena rules. And the IFL did not have two-way players.

Possibly the biggest difference between the af2 and the IFL is the offensive philosphy of the run vs. the pass.

While the af2 is 'pass first,' the IFL used more of a balanced offense with an actual running back position. In the 2000 season, the top rushing offense of the IFL (Bismark Blaze) led the league with 1643 yards over a 14 game season. On the other hand, the Carolina Rhinos topped af2 with 722 yards over a 16 game season.

Not coincidentally the Rhinos Head Coach, Earnest Wilson, came to Carolina straight from the IFL.

Football is football wherever you go. The team with the best front line will usually end up winning the game. But the offensive philosphy that a strong running attack and a time consuming ball control offense will prevail does not hold water in the af2. That is because time of posession is usually meaningless in the Arena game. Take the af2 champion Quad City Steamwheelers for example.

In their 16 regular season games, Quad City won the time of possession battle only 4 times. In their 103-3 win over Greensboro, the Steamwheelers held the ball only 21:09 compared to the Prowlers 38:51. And in Quad City's 70-14 win over the Roanoke Steam, they held the ball a season low 20:10.

So as you can see, a good passing attack in the Arena game will neutralize, and eventually demoralize, an opponent that will attempt to control the clock.

Keep an eye out early on in the season to the run-pass ratio of the former IFL teams.

2 - Will the Steamwheelers be able to match their 2000 season?

It will be much more difficult for Quad City, or any other franchise to go undefeated in 2001. That is because the bar has been raised.

Early on last season, several team's staffs underestimated the competitiveness of the af2 and found themselves in a hole that they could not climb out of. That will not happen this season.

All 28 teams know what it will take to succeed in the league and there will be no surprises.

Steamwheeler Head Coach Frank Haege and Assistant Coach Bryan Schwartz both believe that this year's team will be deeper and even better at several positions. They also know that the 14 other returning teams will be better, too.

3 - How will the new expansion teams fare?

The 10 start-up expansion franchises have an advantage that the original 15 did not have last year.

As mentioned earlier, no one knew what to expect in the af2's debut season. It was obvious in week one that a few teams felt that there was going to be a 'semi-pro' atmosphere to the league. They learned their lesson quickly.

The 10 new expansion franchises now have a blueprint to study. In fact, the Florida (Ft. Myers) Firecats actually had a front office in place during the season so they had a bit of a head start on the others.

If you want to keep an eye on another expansion team that could get off to a fast start, watch the Macon Knights.

Although they do not have another expansion team on their schedule until the seventh week of their season, they have an experienced coaching staff that will help them through those first crucial weeks.

Knights Head Coach Kevin Porter guided the Pensacola Barracudas into the playoffs last season so he knows how to put together a staff and start up a franchise.

His staff includes David Whittun whom he brought with him from Pensacola, and Offensive Coordinator Chris Siegfried who comes over from the Augusta Stallions. The Stallions had one of the most potent offenses in the af2 last season.

By the way, Macon opens its season hosting the Augusta Stallions.

4 - Will the Iowa Barnstormer fans accept the af2?

Maybe not at first.

There are many fans in Des Moines who were hurt when the Arena Football League's Iowa Barnstormers left for New York. They feel that their team was taken out from under them. But that is the price that had to be paid for rapid success of Arena Football.

Markets such as Albany and Des Moines which used to be able to sustain franchises are being replaced by the Chicago's and Toronto's of the world.

This is where the af2 is able to fill the void.

Owner Jim Foster sold the Barnstormer franchise but kept the name and the uniforms, and will field an af2 version of the Iowa Barnstormers this spring.

Diehard Arena fans such as ourselves will obviously notice a change in the quality of play and the lack of familiar names. But not everyone who attends Arena games are 'diehards'.

Some fans go for the entertainment value. Some go because their kids or their neighbors want them to go. And some go because it is simply 'something to do on a Saturday night.'

And it is those types of fans that will find the lower ticket prices an even better alternative than the AFL product.

Owner Jim Foster believes that by the end of the season many of the Des Moines residents will find this to be true. And maybe a few of them will become 'diehards.'

5 - Can 100 points be scored again in an af2 game?

If you take a close look at last year's season, there is compelling evidence to say, yes. But if you include all of the AFL's history, it has only happened once.

And that was on Memorial Day weekend last year at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Quad City Steamwheelers defeated the Greensboro Prowlers 103-3 and broke the previous Arena record set by the New Jersey Red Dogs in 1997 (91 points).

If you are to just look at these two examples you would have to say that it would be difficult for this to happen again. But a closer examination of last season says otherwise.

Four times last season the 100 point barrier was within a two touchdown reach.

On opening weekend, Arkansas defeated the Charleston Swamp Foxes, 86-13. Arkansas also came close in an 88-33 with over Greensboro. Two weeks later, Greensboro had 87 points put on them by Augusta.

Possibly the most compelling argument can be made by Tallahassee and Birmingham. In a matchup of two relatively even teams, the Steeldogs edged Tallahassee, 86-74. What that says is it is possible for 160 points to be scored in an Arena game, and it would not take a blowout for the 100 point barrier to be broken.

Let's face it. Blowouts are not good for any league. The Steamwheelers caught a lot of grief on many fronts for putting up 103 points on Greensboro. But as long as there is a large difference between the top and the bottom of the af2, blowouts will happen again.

Mike Vergane writes his af2 column on a weekly basis during the season. He has covered college football for local and national radio since 1995.

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