As with any junior college football program, Garden City Community College enters 2018 with uncertainty on both sides of the ball.
There’s an entire new coaching staff on offense, and while Josh Hager returns for his third year at the helm of the defense, there seems to be a a dearth of top-end talent on that side of the ball.
Oh, there’s definitely talent — Deric Rucker is a do-it-all safety (61 tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1 interception in 2017), and Joe Jay Smith is receiving a ton of recruiting attention at linebacker — but maybe there’s not that defensive centerpiece.
There’s no Jeremy Faulk. There’s no Alex Figueroa or Mike Hughes.
And yet I feel better about this team entering the season than any of the Buster teams I’ve covered since 2013.
Does that mean they’re going to be as good as the 2016 Busters, when they finished undefeated and won the national title? Likely no. That team was historically elite.
Does that mean they will even be as good as they were in 2017, going 8-4 with a bowl game appearance? Maybe not.
But going into 2018, the Busters have the best returning offensive line talent head coach Jeff Sims has ever had to work with, and what looks like a pair of quarterbacks who should be pretty dang good.
Nick Bohn broke a national completion percentage in high school in 2017, completing 79.7 percent of his passes (290 of 364), smashing the previous record of 75.1 percent set by Tim Couch in 1994, according to USA Today.
David Moore, meanwhile, is a transfer from the University of Memphis, where he signed as a three-star dual-threat quarterback out of high school.
But the best news for the Busters may be their backfield, where Charles West and Dedrick Mills are expected to dominate. Both are two of the highest rated junior college running backs in the country, West running for nearly 1,000 yards in 2017 for the Busters and Mills a Georgia Tech transfer coming off an injury.
Give Sims a pounding, efficient running game, and he can turn his offense into a machine. That leaves a lot of room for error — and time for growth — for the defense, which was perhaps one of the best units in the history of junior college football in 2016 under Hager. And even after a step back in 2017, the Busters still were in the top 25 in points and yards allowed per game.
Give Hager a little bit of time — and benefit of the doubt — and the Buster defense could be pretty good once again.
Is that a formula for a national championship? Likely no. Just like in 2016, the Busters would need to have some serious breaks go their way for that to happen.
But is that a formula for a conference championship? Yes. And in the tough Jayhawk Conference, that should be the goal for every team anyway.
J. Levi Burnfin can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org