Here are game-by-game predictions for the Cardinals, who are ranked No. 9 in HERO Sports’ FCS Preseason Top 25.
RELATED: UIW Football Preview
It’s probably foolish to try and predict UIW’s 2023 record. But that’s no fun. In August, we just don’t know how this team is going to look. The two-deep will look vastly different.
The team loses 12 of its 13 All-Southland Conference selections. The offense loses Walter Payton Award-winning QB Lindsey Scott Jr., its 1,000-yard RB, its top two WRs, and four all-conference offensive linemen. The defense loses nine of its top 13 tacklers.
Fifteen players left for the FBS. And 20 FBS players transferred in.
Yet, the roster is very talented on paper. Returners Brandon Porter, Jaelin Campbell, Jarrell Wiley, Steven Parker, Brandon Richard, and Ricky Rich were all impact players last year. The list of transfers is impressive, including QB Zach Calzada, who beat No. 1 Alabama in 2021 and threw for 2,185 yards on the season for Texas A&M.
How does all this mesh? A high number of FBS transfers worked well for Samford in 2022. It did not work well for Missouri State.
We’ll find out right away for UIW.
If the Cardinals are a legit Top 8 team in the FCS, they should beat UTEP. If they’re a team more in the middle of the FCS polls, they should be competitive. If they lose by 3+ scores, they shouldn’t be overly punished in the polls, but it would be a concern on an FCS national title/semifinal/quarterfinal scale.
UTEP is a beatable FBS opponent. It went 5-7 last year and ranks No. 124 on ESPN’s 2023 FBS College Football Power Index.
I think the Cardinals come out with a bang and beat UTEP 42-35.
at Northern Colorado
This game features a QB battle of former 3-star recruit Zach Calzada and former 4-star recruit Jacob Sirmon. UIW should roll here. UNC has struggled and is in a rebuilding year under first-year head coach Ed Lamb.
at Abilene Christian
Feeling good after an FBS victory and an FCS blowout win, this is a gotcha game for UIW. ACU won’t be ranked and will be easy to overlook. But the Wildcats will be solid this year, returning six All-WAC players and adding 14 FBS transfers after going from 5-6 in 2021 to 7-4 last year.
vs. North American
Finally at home, UIW puts up 70 points in a win over NAIA North American that is irrelevant in the playoff picture.
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vs No. 15 Southeastern Louisiana University
The Cardinals have a bye week to prep for this massive showdown. It’s potentially their only game to get a ranked win for their playoff resume. Southeastern snapped a four-game losing streak to UIW last year, winning 41-35. The previous two games saw scores of 55-52 and 56-45.
The Lions also have some big names to replace offensively, but you can still expect some fireworks here.
At home, UIW throws the last punch for a dramatic win.
vs Texas A&M-Commerce
Texas A&M-Commerce looks to continue competing better as it transitions from D2. Last year, it went 5-6 overall and 3-3 in the Southland. At this point, things are gelling for UIW and its new-look two-deep.
As McNeese gets more stability at the top of the football program, the team with a strong tradition should get better. This may be a closer game than expected, but UIW should win.
Lamar went 1-10 last year, so yeah. UIW won 56-17 a season ago.
Nicholls, a team we’ve seen in the playoffs from 2017-2019, has fallen off and finished 3-8 in 2022. UIW’s run defense will be put to the test here.
vs Northwestern State
Northwestern State is getting better, going 4-2 to finish third in the Southland last fall. But it was no contest last year with UIW beating them 66-7. I see UIW rolling at this point in the season.
at Houston Christian
HCU went 2-9 last year, including giving up 70+ points in a 73-20 loss at UIW.
UIW isn’t going to have a good strength of schedule, so statement wins will be key in convincing the playoff committee that it deserves a high seed.
Last regular season, UIW went 10-1 with nine D1 wins, one non-counter win, an FBS win over Nevada, one ranked win, and a No. 58 strength of schedule to earn the No. 7 playoff seed. It looks to have a similar resume in 2023.
Regular-Season Record Prediction: 10-1