HERO Sports welcomes you to "Two-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 125 FCS programs, with two being released each day from June 18 to August 18 (with the final day having three in one day). Today we give you … North Alabama.
NORTH ALABAMA (5-5)
Independent (Big South in 2019)
COACH: Chris Willis – 2nd year (5-5)
2017 OFFENSE: 20.8 ppg (N/A in FCS)
2017 DEFENSE: 17.5 ppg (N/A in FCS)
SUM IT UP: Sometimes a D2 power moves up to the FCS and it doesn't quite "take", but in this situation you can be sure UNA will be a contender — and quickly. This year's defense is going to test not only the five non-FCS programs UNA faces, but also the six FCS teams it takes on in this transitional season. Games against Big Sky Champion Southern Utah and FCS national champions North Dakota State obviously won't be easy, but FCS games against Alabama A&M, Campbell, Jackson State and Incarnate Word should be great matchups, and the non-FCS schools are going to wish they weren't a part of North Alabama's transition to the Big South Conference next fall. This defense returns 7 starters to a group that only allowed 17.5 points per game last year. That's where this team "starts" in 2018. Once North Alabama is fully settled in the Big South, it won't take long to be a title contender, as it was at the D2 level. Last year's 5-5 finish was an anomaly.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: This year could see 7 or 8 games go North Alabama's way, as long as the offense can find itself. The offensive line is mostly intact, so if QB Rico Bruton can line up, utilize his weapons and keep things relatively mistake-free with new OC Ryan Aplin making the calls (former Arkansas State QB who began his coaching career under SEC coaches Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze) this season could get real interesting. Don't look in the rearview mirror, Kennesaw.
TOP RETURNEE: DB Chris Johnson (2nd Team D2 All American – 6 INTs, 50 tackles)
THE NEXT BEST: LB Christon Taylor (Gulf South Conference Defensive Freshman of the Year – 67 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 3 INTs); DL Maurice Burton (First Team All Gulf South Conference – 10 TFL, 4 sacks); LB Joshua Amanfo (2nd Team All Gulf South Conference – 68 tackles, 1 TFL); DB Dwain Smith (4 INTs, 28 tackles, 8 passes defensed); QB Rico Bruton (835 yards passing, 4 TDs; 384 yards rushing, 4 TDs).
TOP NEWCOMER: DB David Swen (L.A. Valley Junior College transfer – All Conference performer there)
DID YOU KNOW?: North Alabama is likely only a couple of seasons away from its 500th All-Time collegiate victory in football. The Lions have won 465 games and only lost 266. And for the millennial football fans out there, there was once this thing in football called a tie — which UNA had 16 of all-time. They got rid of those around the time you were born though.
THE QUOTE: "If I had to give us a grade I would give us a solid B. Considering bringing in all the new coaches I thought everyone did a good job. It all came together and each practice and each week it got better. I see a lot of guys who I feel like are going to help us. We are way ahead of where we were at this time last year." — coach Chris Willis said after the spring game
SOCIAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
THE HASHTAG: #RoarLions
FOOTBALL TWITTER: @UNAFootball
— North Alabama Football (@UNAFootball) July 23, 2018
FCS QB TRANSFERS: Who Tops The List?