The University of New Hampshire is a fixture in the FCS playoff picture, regularly throwing its hat in the jumbled ring of CAA Football contenders for an at-large bid. The Wildcats have been practically sharpied into the bracket for much of the last 20 years, famously enjoying a remarkable run of 14 consecutive postseason berths from 2004 to 2017.
Further quantifying that span, 11 straight classes of UNH players completed their collegiate careers comprised of quadruple playoff appearances across their time of eligibility. Consider it “perfect attendance,” FCS-playoffs edition.
In 2022, New Hampshire is aiming for a resumption of this tradition, as it has been uncharacteristically absent from the NCAA tournament since its mega-streak concluded five years ago. Head coach Rick Santos is in his first season as full-time successor to the legendary Sean McDonnell, known simply as Coach Mac in CAA circles.
Delaware head coach Ryan Carty began his coaching career at UNH, serving in several position-coach capacities on offense for McDonnell before his elevation to offensive coordinator. Carty recalls what differentiates the Wildcats’ program.
“I think they do a great job with a foundation of toughness in their culture,” he told HERO Sports. “I’m sure that hasn’t changed from Coach Mac to Rick, as Rick played for him and coached for him.”
New Hampshire’s home facility, Wildcat Stadium, is known to foes as The Dungeon; it especially lived up to its nickname prior to major renovations in the mid-2010s. Carty noted that those confines have served UNH well, too.
“I think consistency is something that is hard to find in college football, and they’ve found it,” Carty explained. “I do think that’s pretty special, but it’s also not the easiest place to play, either, as an away team. I think that helps; it’s a nice home-field advantage there in Durham.”
New Hampshire will be there in two of its next three games, all of which will see the ’Cats tested against ranked opposition. No. 21 Elon awaits this Saturday for UNH’s Family Weekend, followed by a bye and a trip to No. 19 Richmond. The Wildcats complete the trio of Top 25 games with a Senior Day date with No. 22 Rhode Island.
This stretch, while a prized opportunity for UNH to move itself into the playoff field from the bubble, is in stark contrast to the Wildcats’ front half of the CAA schedule. Though New Hampshire is riding high at 4-0 in conference play, the combined overall record of its victims is 7-18.
All the same, Elon head coach Tony Trisciani sees UNH’s own merits in earning its place atop the CAA standings.
“They’re a good football team and they’re finding ways to win,” Trisciani started. “They started off [the regular season] with two big CAA wins.”
Of those two triumphs, Trisciani commented that he was particularly impressed by the Wildcats’ season-opening victory over Monmouth before expanding upon strengths he sees in New Hampshire.
“Ricky’s got them playing real hard. Offensively, they’re gonna make you work with multiple formations, personnel groups, motions; they always do that. [Quarterback] Max Brosmer, he’s experienced and he’s efficient. Dylan Laube, he’s a dynamic, all-purpose back and return man, so he’s dangerous.”
UNH couples its clever, ever-unpredictable offense with the CAA’s No. 1 rushing defense (107.6 YPG).
“It all starts up front with their discipline and how they fit their gaps,” Trisciani said of the Wildcats’ run-stopping. “They’ve been running the same defense for a while now, they’re good at it, the kids know what they’re doing, they know their role in the defense.”
Trisciani highlighted defensive ends Dylan Ruiz and Josiah Silver as key pieces in New Hampshire’s front seven. Silver’s 10.5 total tackles for loss are good for second in the league. He and Ruiz each have six solo sacks on the season to occupy second and third on the CAA leaderboard in sacks per game.
As New Hampshire commences a run of contests in which it will face Matthew McKay, Reece Udinski, and Kasim Hill at QB, pressuring all the above will be of utmost importance.
If UNH can ride that oppressive defense and a tricky Santos-led offense to wins in two of its three successive ranked games, the Wildcats will, true to custom, lock up the seven overall wins necessary to be squarely on the bubble in November. There’s a history of 7-4 New Hampshire squads cracking the postseason, but starting Saturday against Elon, the Wildcats are looking for more. They may need as many ranked wins as can be mustered after faltering at home to North Carolina Central 45-27 in September.