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 … Elon.
Elon (8-4 IN 2017)
Colonial Athletic Association (Elon was 3rd in 2017)
COACH: Curt Cignetti – 2nd year (8-4)
2017 OFFENSE: 21.3 ppg. (78th in FCS)
2017 DEFENSE: 24.8 ppg. (51st in FCS)
SUM IT UP: It's probably not hyperbole to frame 2018 — the 20th season that Elon has played Division I football — as the single-most important season in the program's 110-year history. Coming off a red-letter year in which they happened to host James Madison in a de facto CAA championship game at the end of the regular season, Elon earned an FCS playoff berth for the second time ever. Its 8-3 regular season record is reminiscent of the 2009 season, when the Phoenix went 9-2 and earned their first trip to the playoffs, before losing to reigning national champion Richmond. The following season, Elon went 6-5 in a particularly deep year for the SoCon, and the program never really rebounded.
Elon will face similar challenges this fall. The CAA could be the best conference in FCS Football, with championship-caliber strength at the top and plenty of depth through the middle. Can Elon change the narrative and prove it's here to stay? Unlike eight years ago, Elon will retain a lot of the parts that made it so good in 2017, including All-American tackle machine Warren Messer and quarterback Davis Cheek. If Elon can hold its ground in the top half of the CAA, it will mark a two-year pattern of success under Curt Cignetti that could firmly establish the Phoenix among the Colonial contenders for years to come.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Hardened from a much tougher 2018 schedule, Elon returns to the playoffs and wins its first ever Division I playoff game. If the Phoenix make the playoffs this fall, they will certainly have earned it. Out-of-conference games with Furman and Charleston Southern, plus FBS South Florida, will be Elon's CAA warm-up. The Colonial didn't do Elon any favors, either — the rotating schedule has dumped winnable games with Albany and Stony Brook, leaving the Carolina upstarts with road games at JMU and Delaware and a home game with New Hampshire. If Elon can get just one of those three monstrous conference games, it'd be a huge win for the program.
TOP RETURNEE: LB Warren Messer (All-American, 114 tackles in '17).
THE NEXT FIVE: QB Davis Cheek (CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year); OL CJ Toogood (Second-Team All-CAA, 32 career starts); RB Malcolm Summers (Averaged more than 5.6 ypc in '17 before injury); DL Marcus Willoughby (59 tackles, 7 sacks); WR Kortez Weeks (Third-Team All-CAA, 60 catches for 709 yards).
TOP NEWCOMER: QB Joey Baughman (Ohio Mr. Football 2017).
DID YOU KNOW?: UPenn Academic George Keller published a study about Elon called Transforming a College: The Story of a Little Known College's Strategic Climb to National Distinction.
THE QUOTE: "I think most guys improved, which is what you want from the spring. Schematically, we were able to look at a couple of things that will help us in the fall. So now we'll get ready to plug in the new faces in August, there will be more competition, we'll be a deeper football team, and that ought to make us a better team." -Head Coach Curt Cignetti, at the conclusion of Spring Football.
SOCIAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
THE HASHTAG: #FindTheEdge
FOOTBALL TWITTER: @ElonFootball
— Elon Football (@ElonFootball) June 4, 2018
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