In just a matter of hours, the San Jose SaberCats will begin their 2011 Arena Football League season after two years of inactivity. That's one year due to the league not being around, and another year of inactivity in the new incarnation of the league's first year, 2010. They've assembled their roster, they've had their training camp, they've got coaches with a history of winning in the league, and they've got a lot of hype.
This story stream will take us through the first seven games of their eighteen game season, to the first bye. We'll have previews, in-game updates, news and recaps pertaining to each game and all things SaberCats. First, we'll take a quick look at the schedule for the first seven games.
Game 1: vs Spokane Shock on Friday, March 11, 2011, 7:45 p.m. PDT
Their first game in two years, the SaberCats want to hit the ground running the right way. In 1995, their first year in the league, the San Jose took on the defending champion Rattlers, and though they did not win, they played well and let the league know that they'd be a force. They went on to win the division. This game against the Shock is important, and many questions will be answered, but one has to wonder what kind of rust will need to be shaken off and what kind of kinks will need to be worked out. Don't forget that the Shock are Western Division foes, and this will be big for the course of the season.
Game 2 vs Kansas City Command on Friday, March 18, 2011, 7:30 p.m. PDT
The first time the two teams will meet - at least under the current iteration. They did meet once, in 2008, when the Command were known as "Brigade," a 36-44 win for the SaberCats that doesn't hold any bearing at this point in time. Or maybe it does, considering the SaberCats will have multiple players from that game on their roster this go-round as well, including starting quarterback Mark Grieb and wide receiver Rodney Wright, a combo that hooked up 14 times for 257 yards last time. This game should show whether or not anything from the first game was really indicative of the SaberCats, or if it's indicative of a team that hasn't played in two years trying to shake off some rust.,
Game 3 @ Chicago Rush on Friday, March 25, 2011 5:30 p.m. PDT
The Rush had a very good 2010, blowing out teams in the games they won, and keeping things very close in the games they lost. They couldn't get things done in the playoffs and fell to Milwaukee 64-54, and this offseason they've experienced a number of changes. Quarterback Russ Michna returns, and many are expecting him to do well this year. The SaberCats lead the all-time series 7-4, going 5-3 in the regular season and 2-1 in the postseason.
Game 4 vs Iowa Barnstormers on Friday, April 1, 2011 7:30 p.m. PDT
At this point, we should have a good idea on how the SaberCats are looking. Their "money" guys like Mark Grieb and Rodney Wright hopefully will have shown something by now. The Barnstormers made their return to the AFL last year, after spending nearly a decade in af2, and the season was lackluster, with a 7-9 record and no playoffs. There's been some roster turnover, and it's hard to put together a real look at this team at this point, but go ahead and check back in week four. San Jose is 3-3 overall against Iowa, 3-2 in the regular season with one playoff loss.
Game 5 vs Utah Blaze on Friday, April 8, 2011 7:30 p.m. PDT
The SaberCats and Blaze have faced eachother six times, and are split down the middle 3-3 over those meetings. To make matters more interesting, neither has won more than one game against the other in a season, splitting the meetings in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Had they played in 2010, though ... maybe the SaberCats would have fared better. The Blaze were abysmal in 2010, and not a whole lot has changed. Ron James remains their head coach, but they do have a new quarterback. There hasn't been much to illustrate that they've changed, so if San Jose is at all up to form, they should be taking this, layoff or no layoff. Another Western Division matchup for the SaberCats.
Game 6 @ Tulsa Talons on Saturday, April 16, 2011 5:00 p.m. PDT
2010 was the Talons' first year of AFL play, and it went well on their part, going 10-6 and making the playoffs, but they did suffer a loss to Tampa Bay in the first round. They're keeping Mitch Allner as their head coach and I expect good things out of then in 2011. The SaberCats will need to be on their game to win this tough road game.
Game 7 vs Philadelphia Soul on Saturday, April 23rd, 2011 7:30 p.m. PDT
The Soul began in 2004 and, like the SaberCats, are making their return after missing the 2010 reincarnation of the Arena Football League. They're 2-2 against the SaberCats, including one win that fans in San Jose will want to forget. It was in ArenaBowl XXII, a hotly contested affair in which the Soul stopped San Jose from repeating as ArenaBowl champions, winning to the tune of 59-56, their first ArenaBowl win. The SaberCats haven't been able to avenge that loss, perhaps now is the time, just before a nice, relaxing bye week.
This stream will take us through those games, be sure to follow along for all news and follow us on Twitter @sbnbayarea and myself at @ninnyjams. A look at the entirety of the roster and a preview for the first game will be coming shortly, stay tuned!