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 … Western Carolina.
WESTERN CAROLINA (7-5)
The Southern Conference (Tied for 3rd in SoCon)
COACH: Mark Speir — 7th season (26-43 record)
2017 OFFENSE: 32.4 ppg (23rd in FCS)
2017 DEFENSE: 27.1 ppg (70th in FCS)
SUM IT UP: In mid October of last year, Western Carolina looked like an FCS Playoff lock. It was 6-2 with one loss being to an FBS team (Hawaii) and one in overtime to eventual SoCon champion Wofford. But late losses to Furman and then the dagger — at home to Mercer — ended those chances. But make no mistake, this was a solid program — and especially on offense, it looks pretty darned solid once again.
Quarterback Tyrie Adams torched Hawaii for 377 total yards, if that's any indication of what he can do. The O-line is almost completely intact, and when current NFL RB Detrez Newsome was nicked up at times, the depth at RB proved it could play too. This offense will pile up the points this fall, one can count on that — even without the talented Newsome and WR Terryon Robinson. The big questions come on defense. A great starting point is safety Marvin Tillman, who will get his NFL shot next year and is one of the nation's returning interception artists. The linebacking corps will be completely fresh-faced this year. The defense could be helped out early by the offense being good for 40 points a game. If that happens, the defense will have time to grow and this could be quite a special year.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Look, Western Carolina is going to post its fourth winning season in the past five years — that's how far Speir and his staff have brought this program. It was three points away from the FCS Playoffs last year and could have been a nightmare matchup for a team in the first round. The SoCon is going to be a parity-fest in 2018 and this could easily benefit the talented Catamounts. The team should be 3-0 and rested up (bye week is Week Two) when it rolls into a critical two-game road span at Furman and Samford, both nationally ranked. That stretch will tell us a ton about where WCU fits into this topsy turvy league this year. Win one of those two games on the road and the three home games after that and we're talking at least 7 wins and in the playoff discussion. That Furman/Samford tandem will tell us a lot about where WCU is.
TOP RETURNEE: QB Tyrie Adams (2,294 yards passing, 22 TDs; 949 rushing yards gained, 2 TDs)
THE NEXT BEST: S Marvin Tillman (5 INTs, 96 tackles, 6 TFL); OL Zach Weeks (1st Team All SoCon); OL Michael Murphy (2nd Team All SoCon); P Ian Berryman (HERO Sports All American – 44.4 yards per punt, had 17 of more than 50 yards); DL Nate Link (2nd Team All SoCon); DB JerMichael White (had 15 tackles against North Carolina; 67 total); RB Corey Holloway (444 yards rushing, 7 TDs when Detrez Newsome injured).
TOP NEWCOMER: WR Nate Mullen (Charlotte transfer who started 5 games and played in 15 for the FBS program)
DID YOU KNOW?: Paul Johnson, the current head coach of Georgia Tech and highly successful prior head coach at Navy and Georgia Southern, went to college at Western Carolina — but he didn't play college football there. He has won 182 games as a head coach, won two I-AA titles at Ga. Southern, led Navy to 5 Bowl Games and won numerous Commander in Chief Trophies, and has won four ACC Division titles at Ga. Tech.
THE QUOTE: "We don't have any magical calls as coaches — our players are the magic. We've got to get them to where they are very confident and they're very focused on what they're doing and then they can fly around and be physical. We've got to play fast, especially when you've got some young players like we do on defense. You can't bog down their minds with a bunch of calls. So, we're just preaching to them, `Guys — you're the magic; go play hard, go play fast; go play physical.' To do that, you have to be very sound in your fundamentals and techniques." — coach Mark Speir said during spring ball
SOCIAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
THE HASHTAG: #FearTheSpeir
FOOTBALL TWITTER: @WCU_FB
The @WCU_FB Offense showing former @WCU Catamount @detrezn7 some love this morning after he cut it loose last night during his NFL debut with the @Chargers #WheeProud #JustDoingWhatHeDoes pic.twitter.com/ANL1tSSy2Y
— Al DeGraffenreid (@CoachDeGraf23) August 12, 2018
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