Sacramento State ranks No. 10 in HERO Sports’ FCS Preseason Top 25.
The Hornets lost 66-63 vs. No. 7 seed Incarnate Word in the 2022 FCS quarterfinals as the No. 2 seed. They finished 12-1 overall.
Here’s a look at this year’s Sac State football squad under first-year head coach Andy Thompson.
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Returning 2022 FCS All-Conference Players (9)
TE Marshel Martin
OL Jackson Slater
LB Armon Bailey
OL Nathan Mejia
OL Troy Stiefel
DT Jett Stanley
CB Caleb Nelson
RB Marcus Fulcher
P Cal McGough
PR Marcus Fulcher
Players In 2023 FCS Positional Rankings (6)
Transfer Portal Movement
Transfers Lost To The FBS (1)
Cameron Skattebo (RB) to Arizona State
Transfers Lost To The FCS (1)
Ayodele Adeoye (DE) to Incarnate Word
Transfers Coming In From The FBS (3)
Anderson Grover (WR), Washington State
Kaleb Higgins (DB), Cal
Jason Oliver (DB), Colorado
Transfers Coming In From The FCS (1)
Carson Camp (QB), South Dakota
While Sac State has some star-power names to replace, it still brings back 15 starters from last year’s team that went 11-0 in the regular season with an FBS win and four ranked FCS wins.
Offensively, the big question is replacing the quarterbacks. Jake Dunniway was a Third Team All-Big Sky selection, and Asher O’Hara was a First Team All-Conference pick at the all-purpose position.
Sac State has three QBs currently on the roster.
Carson Camp was a good get in the transfer portal. He had a solid first two seasons at South Dakota, earning spring 2021 MVFC All-Newcomer Team honors and then passing for 2,252 yards and 17 touchdowns that fall. Last season, Camp played in seven games before being replaced as the starter after throwing for 904 yards, four scores, and five interceptions.
The Hornets also have two quarterbacks in the mix who were three-star high school recruits. Kaiden Bennett is a junior who began his career at FBS Nevada before transferring to Sac State in 2021. And Carson Conklin is a freshman.
The new signal-caller has an experienced offensive line in front of him and plenty of weapons to utilize.
Marshel Martin is as good as it gets at tight end, and he returns after leading the team with 65 catches for 879 yards and 12 touchdowns. Last season’s No. 2 WR Jared Gipson is back as well, recording 33 catches for 385 yards and two TDs.
The o-line returns four of its starters: Jackson Slater (6’4″ 303 lbs), Troy Stiefel (6’5″ 290 lbs), Nathan Mejia (6’3″ 295 lbs), and Ivan Garza (6’5″ 290 lbs). Kenndel Riley (6’3″ 320 lbs) also got two valuable starts in the playoffs last year as a redshirt freshman.
Slater, Stiefel, and Mejia were All-Big Sky selections last year. Slater also picked up FCS All-American honors. And Mejia was named a Freshman All-American.
Sac State does have to replace RB Cameron Skattebo, the 2022 Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year who transferred to Arizona State.
Marcus Fulcher looks primed for a big season after being last year’s No. 2 back. He had limited touches as Skattebo and O’Hara combined for 400+ carries. Fulcher rushed 74 times for 474 yards (6.3 YPC) and eight scores, earning All-Big Sky Third Team accolades.
Last season’s offense scored 42.92 points per game (No. 4 in the FCS). If the quarterback question is answered in a positive way, the nucleus of the offense is intact to be explosive once again.
RELATED: 5 Offseason Questions For Sac State
Eight of Sac State’s top 11 tacklers are back. The 2022 unit allowed 25.92 points per game, ranking No. 48 in the FCS.
Last year’s Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year Marte Mapu (nickelback) was drafted in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft. He was second on the team in tackles, behind linebacker Armon Bailey. Bailey returns after totaling 88 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, six sacks, four QB hurries, and four pass breakups.
Safety Cameron Broussard (68 tackles), LB Brock Mather (67 tackles), and LB Jeremy Harris (50 tackles) are also back as productive and experienced players.
Jett Stanley (6’4″ 284 lbs) leads the defensive line on the interior as a two-time All-Big Sky performer. He had 40 tackles and 2.5 TFLs in 2022.
And Caleb Nelson is a standout cornerback after transferring from North Dakota before the 2022 season. The 6-foot-1, 192-pounder recorded 37 tackles, one interception, and 12 pass breakups in his debut year with the Hornets.
Sac State was No. 44 in FCS rushing defense, allowing 147.4 yards per game. Its pass defense allowed 243.0 yards per game, which was No. 91 in the FCS and doomed the Hornets in the 66-63 quarterfinal loss to UIW. With Andy Thompson being promoted to head coach from defensive coordinator, and the two players in the successful two-QB system gone, it’ll be interesting to see how much the team’s identity changes in 2023, if it does at all.
The offense has a chance to be very good again, but the defense needs improvement to reach another level of playoff success.
8/31 at Nicholls
9/9 vs Texas A&M-Commerce
9/16 at Stanford
9/23 at No. 5 Idaho
9/30 vs Northern Arizona
10/14 at Northern Colorado
10/21 vs No. 3 Montana State
10/28 vs Idaho State
11/4 at No. 16 Montana
11/11 vs Cal Poly
11/18 at No. 18 UC Davis
HERO Sports’ rankings
Bold indicates Big Sky games