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 … New Hampshire.
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.
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NEW HAMPSHIRE (4-7 IN 2018)
CAA (UNH was 9th in 2018)
COACH: Sean McDonnell – At School: 21st year (158-95 record) Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2017 (Quarterfinal loss to South Dakota State)
2018 OFFENSE: 17.8 ppg. (112th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 22.8 ppg. (28th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Nov. 2 – vs. Villanova: This one is a must-win, we think. See, James Madison is loaded and so is UNH rival Maine. Towson (who isn't on UNH's calendar because of schedule rotation) looks like the No. 3 team on paper and then there's the CAA quartet of Elon, Stony Brook, Villanova and UNH that has us wondering. We could also put Elon at home as most critical to the Wildcats' postseason hopes, but this 'Nova game is closer to Selection Sunday and we think UNH will be on the playoff bubble heading into this game. This could end up being the game UNH looks at when it's either in the postseason or not.
SUM IT UP: We all know life isn't fair, but hey … Fates of Karma … can you just leave UNH alone for a year? Just for one fall? Injuries have hampered this program for a few seasons now, and it took what looked like a potential monster 2018 season down to its knees. But at the same time, fans also saw what could have been when UNH went 3-1 (and very nearly 4-0) to finish the season — including a win over FCS powerhouse James Madison and a shutout over a typically strong Villanova program. That's the momentum the well-coached Wildcats carry into 2019.
But there are questions. One of the biggest reasons for optimism coming into 2018 was the potential of senior QB Trevor Knight, who … true to UNH narrative … was visited by the blasted injury bug. Sophomore Tommy Herion (originally at Iowa) was one of the primary backups who saw time when Knight was out, and he threw for 284 yards last year. He's the lone man back who saw playing time. Herion was one of five players in contention for the starting job in the spring, a stable of proven talent in the high school ranks, but not at the college level yet. As head coach Sean McDonnell told The Concord (N.H.) Monitor this spring, comparing the QB situation to a "tea bag" — you don't know how good they are "until you put them into the hot water".
Whoever emerges from that battle will have a stellar offensive line to work behind, an experienced and talented starting running back and a defense that clamps down on the opposition and gets the QB the ball back. On the O-line, gritty veterans Matt Matulis and Jeff Carter lead the way as senior leaders, and junior Matt Mascia has been a starter since his freshman year. Behind those three front-line cornerstones is a plethora of experience, again, thanks to injuries in the past. There are seven guys up front coming back who have started games.
Defensively, this group held it together last year. First of all, UNH boasts one of the — if not the — best returning secondary units in the FCS this year. The quartet of safeties Evan Horn and Pop Lacey and cornerbacks Prince Smith and Isiah Perkins was a key part of the reason UNH was No. 16 in the FCS in passing yardage allowed, and they return intact. Leading tackler Quinlen Dean returns, too. When the offense dealt with injuries, the defense stepped it up to keep things competitive for the Wildcats, who played one of the most brutal schedules in the FCS in 2018. The defense ranked No. 14 in the FCS in total defense last year, and while several stars have graduated and moved on … there is a lot of talent back.
OUR TAKE: Let's restate two things from above: A) Injuries bit this team last year and B) The schedule was brutal. Consider the Wildcats played six FCS playoff teams and a P5 (Colorado) last year. This year, they play Butch Davis coached Florida International instead of Colorado, trade NEC upstart Duquesne for last year's Patriot League upstart Colgate and the rest of the schedule is about the same as last. Translation? This year doesn't get any easier. That's why we at HERO Sports listed UNH cautiously in our FCS preseason poll as "next best" instead of firmly within the Top 25. Why? Because we want to see how this offense rebounds. But there is serious potential here, that's for certain. This is a program accustomed to winning, there are several key players who played in the 2017 quarterfinals and even in the 2016 playoffs. Because of schedule strength and the fact UNH didn't schedule a 12th game, we could see the Wildcats getting back to the playoffs if they can hit the 7-win mark. That's not a guarantee, but it's a possibility … but there is work to do and a brutal schedule to navigate.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./LB Quinlen Dean (2nd Team All CAA – 79 tackles, 14 TFLs, 6 sacks)
THE FOUNDATION: Sr./DB Pop Lacey (2nd Team All CAA – 2 INTs, 79 tackles, 5 PBUs); Sr./P Drew Sanborn (3rd Team All CAA – 40.2 yards per punt); Jr./S Evan Horn (HERO Sports Sophomore All-American – 4 INTs, 2 TDs – 57 tackles, 3 TFLs); Soph./RB Carlos Washington (led team with 609 yards rushing, 6 TDs); Jr./OL Matt Mascia (21 career starts as a freshman/sophomore); Sr./CB Prince Smith (2 INTs, 37 tackles, 8 PBUs); Sr./CB Isiah Perkins (29 tackles, 7 PBUs); Sr./DL Josh Kania (32 tackles, 5 TFLs); Sr./LB Michael Balsamo (35 tackles, 4.5 TFLs).
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./DB-WR Jonathan Collins (UMass decommitment)
THE QUOTE: "I absolutely love it. I really, really like the group as a whole. I think they all care. I think they're really, really good kids. I think they're emerging as good leaders. That's another thing we talk about all the time, that the quarterback position has to instill hope in a team. There are 120 young men looking at you to be a leader and as a beacon of hope. . . . They need to be great teammates in the locker room, great teammates at practice, always giving great effort and being somebody that can be relied on in terms of that." — offensive coordinator Ricky Santos said in the spring about the QB situation, which was wide open
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's New Hampshire Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of CAA
Albany | Delaware | Elon | James Madison
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