OGDEN -- Jody Sears' new look is gone -- the Weber State football coach has shaved off the grizzled beard he grew during the summer and into fall camp.
The Wildcats' new look as a team remains.
Sears brought in a new offensive coordinator, former Montana coach Robin Pflugrad, to hurry up the Wildcats' offensive attack. They've got a new quarterback -- or two -- running the show and a host of new faces expected to contribute this year.
Coming off of a 2-9 season in 2012 in which Sears served as the interim head coach before signing a three-year deal, the question is whether or not a new look translates into new results.
"The season itself will define (the answers to) that question," Sears said. "In terms of tangible things you'll be able to see, things that I've seen, I think No. 1, John Henderson, our strength coach, has done a tremendous job of getting (us) stronger. We were physically weak last year. We are a lot stronger. We are in better condition. Hopefully with our growth in that area, our confidence and mental toughness will be a little bit better."
Sears said the 2013 Wildcats have more talent.
"Our playmaking ability is a little better," he said. "I'm anxious to see, hopefully those things will reveal themselves on Saturday night."
Senior signal caller Jordan Adamczyk will be under center to fill the shoes of departed two-year starter Mike Hoke as Weber State opens its season against Stephen F. Austin at 6 p.m. on Saturday, though Sears has promised true freshman Austin Chipoletti will also see time at quarterback.
The rest of the roster is just as unsettled -- it could see even more changes as Weber State awaits the results of an NCAA investigation into academic issues dating back to past seasons. That could put a handful of players' eligibility for the season in jeopardy, while others wait to see if they will be done for the entire year or if they can be reinstated at some point, say sources who are familiar with the situation.
From a football perspective, it means the Wildcats have to prepare to go forward with or without impacted players.
"Like any other day, it's so what? Next play. So what? Next guy in," Sears said. "I say so what in jest, meaning, fine, understand that there's a problem, I want to make sure we have a solution to fix that problem and move forward."
Weber State's on-field success in 2013, or lack thereof, will be determined by the ability of newcomers and players in new roles to raise the Wildcats from the level they were at year ago. That goes for Adamczyk, starting for the first time as a senior; for Bo Bolen, returning from an LDS mission to play running back; for freshmen like Chipoletti at quarterback and fellow Floridian Cameron Livingston at receiver; for BYU transfer Cody Raymond, another receiver; and redshirt freshman Cameron Young at right guard.
With all-Big Sky linebacker Anthony Morales anchoring the defense, the Wildcats have more experience there but will also need newcomers like linebacker Ryan Tuiasoa and A.J. Coney, Tre'von Johnson.
Pflugrad, the architect of WSU's new uptempo offense, won't be on hand to see the immediate results of his offseason efforts. He is suspended by the NCAA for the first week of the season for violations while the coach at Montana; associate head coach Steve Morton, who oversees the offensive line, will call the plays.
Sears was both head coach and defensive coordinator last season but in the offseason he elevated Eric Lewis, who coached cornerbacks in 2012, to the defensive coordinator role.
"The one thing I really love about coach Lewis, he brings some fire and energy to the table," Sears said. "He does a great job of challenging our players."
Pflugrad brings stability and a change of philosophy on offense, he said.
"Teaching and the consistency of coach Pflugrad, that's been something that's been a real good component to the team," Sears said. "We're not so much of a packaged offense anymore, it's more of a system."
He loved the offensive system last season but the Wildcats didn't execute, Sears said. With Pflugrad's scheme, the Wildcats can run any combination of plays with any combination of players rather than needing to bring in a certain personnel package to run a certain play.
The Wildcats' weaknesses in 2012 -- aside from physical weakness -- showed up in their lack of scoring production (21.7 ppg, 12th in the Big Sky), especially early in games. Weber State didn't score a first-quarter touchdown until the year was nearly over.
Stats like those were sickening ("Just make you want to throw up on yourself," Sears says), but fixing them requires a full-year effort, not in-game adjustments.
"It started last winter with our consistency and our buy-in," Sears said. "From our weight room to the study hall to the classroom. I preach to these guys day in and day out that you cannot be halfhearted in one area of your life or think you can cut a corner just to make things a little bit easier on yourself. You can't do that in one area of your life and expect to go to another area of your life and be an all-American."