HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs, with three teams being released each day from June 17 to July 28. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 1-4. Today, we present … Cal Poly.
We'll leave no stone left unturned when it comes to giving the FCS diehards all they could ask for this offseason. Learn about every program in the country, with HERO Sports.
[divider]MORE FCS FOOTBALL:
Big Sky (Cal Poly finished 7th in 2018)
COACH: Tim Walsh At School: 11th year (56-58) Overall: 29th year (173-140)
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2016 (1st Round)
2018 OFFENSE: 28.6 ppg. (51st in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 36.4 ppg. (106th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Oct. 5 vs. Montana State: This was a narrow loss on the road last year for the Mustangs. With this game coming at home and it being the Hall of Fame Game, Cal Poly can grab the attention of the FCS with a win against a likely nationally-ranked Bobcats team that made the playoffs in 2018.
SUM IT UP: The Mustangs made a big step back in the right direction last season. After making the playoffs in 2016, Cal Poly experienced a disappointing 1-10 record in 2017. While the Mustangs failed to make the postseason last year, they were a factor in the Big Sky standings, finishing 4-4. They pushed Montana State (who went on to make the second round of the playoffs) to the brink with 21 fourth-quarter points in a 49-42 November loss. This is a program that has seen up-and-down seasons recently in terms of wins and losses. In 2019, the Mustangs want to take another step forward instead of backward.
The defense was incredibly young in 2018. Expect big improvements on that side of the ball with 11 players returning who started five games or more. Matt Shotwell and Nik Navarro are a tremendous duo to anchor a defense at the linebacker position, combining for 173 tackles last year.
Offensively is where more of the question marks are. Six players return who started at least five games. But the losses from last year are significant. In a triple-option offense where timing is key, the Mustangs lose All-American fullback Joe Protheroe, two-year starting quarterback Khaleel Jenkins and All-Big Sky center Harry Whitson. Having Third Team All-Conference wide receiver J.J. Koski back is a big boost to keep defenses honest. Three offensive linemen (Paul Trujillo-Langdon, Second Team All-Conference Tyler Whisenhunt and Apefai Taifane) have significant starting experience and we all know the importance of the big fellas in a run-heavy offense.
But who will be toting the rock? After all, Protheroe was a workhorse with 252 carries in 2016 and 363 carries in 2018. (He suffered a season-ending injury in 2017.)
If he can stay healthy, Trey Nahhas is set to take a lot of carries at the fullback position. Also keep an eye on Duy Tran-Sampson, who's just a sophomore but has a ton of potential. And as far as the engineer of the offense, Cal Poly has options (no pun intended) at the QB spot. Jake Jeffrey started six games in 2017 when Jenkins got hurt. Kyle Reid saw plenty of action late in games last year. And Jalen Hamler is just a redshirt freshman but a big-time recruit that has the coaches excited.
OUR TAKE: Fair or not, predicting where a team is going to finish in the Big Sky standings is split between how talented that team is and which conference teams they're set to face. With 13 teams in the league and the conference setting schedules years in advance, how tough your schedule is really comes down to the luck of the draw. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, they face all four Big Sky playoff teams from 2018: Weber State (nonconference matchup), Montana State, UC Davis and Eastern Washington. Add in FBS Oregon State and their schedule is the 17th toughest in the FCS.
But there are also five conference games you look at and think "those are definitely winnable for this team." And as shown last year against Montana State, the Mustangs can push the top teams. For that reason, we see Cal Poly at least repeating its conference record of 4-4 and possibly get that above .500.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./OL Tyler Whisenhunt (Second Team All-Conference at guard)
THE FOUNDATION: Sr./WR J.J. Koski (Third Team All-Conference, leading receiver with 33 rec. for 666 yards and 4 TDs); Jr./LB Matt Shotwell (Leading tackler with 90); Sr./LB Nik Navarro (83 tackles, 12 TFLs); Jr./RB Drew Hernandez (Top returning rusher with 453 yards); Sr./OL Paul Trujillo-Langdon (Started 9 games at RG)
TOP NEWCOMER: rFr./DB D'Angelo McKenzie (Transfer from Washington State, former 3-star HS recruit)
THE QUOTE: "One of the things we really need to look for is some leadership on offense. Khaleel Jenkins, Joe Protheroe and Harry Whitson were good leaders, so we're looking for some new leadership." — Head Coach Tim Walsh said
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's Cal Poly Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The Big Sky
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast