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 … Nicholls State.
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NICHOLLS STATE (9-4 IN 2018)
Southland Conference (Nicholls was Tied for 1st in 2018)
COACH: Tim Rebowe – At School: 5th year (25-22 record) Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2018 (lost 2nd round at FCS national runners up Eastern Washington)
2018 OFFENSE: 32.3 ppg. (28th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 21.8 ppg. (21st in FCS)
KEY GAME: Oct. 19 at Sam Houston State: The Colonels must take care of business for the second year in a row against the Bearkats if they want to repeat as Southland champions. This will not be an easy trip, but you can be sure Nicholls' upperclassmen remember having 60+ points hung on them in Huntsville back in 2017.
SUM IT UP: Anybody who follows college football can't help but appreciate what has gone on at Nicholls the past few years. The Colonels — who in 47 years have won 40.1 percent of their ballgames — have suddenly become a ranked commodity at the Division I level. They beat a Big 12 program last year (Kansas), have scared others the past three years (Georgia and Texas A&M) and have won 16 of their last 22 FCS ballgames and been in the playoffs twice. Not bad for a program whose previous winning season was 6-5 back in 2007. So something is stirring here, and there's no reason to believe it will end this year. That's why the Colonels hold a high perch at No. 13 in the HERO Sports Preseason Top 25.
So what could be potential roadblocks to a stellar season? Well, we'll get to all the nitty gritty positives in a second, but one concern is certainly the offensive line. Nicholls had the No. 12 rushing attack in the FCS last year, and it started with a stellar and physical bunch of mostly local brawlers. Most of those guys have graduated, though there is still one starter back, 2018 All-Southland selection P.J. Buckhalter. New names will have to emerge. It truly is interesting that most people nationally point to QB Chase Fourcade as the big name in the Nicholls offense (well, he should be) but the run game was just as effective as what Fourcade did with his arm. This team was definitely balanced and explosive. If that line materializes quickly? It has four ball carriers (including Fourcade) who combined to rush for nearly 2,800 yards last year. And yes, we already know Fourcade can throw (ask the Manning family, who invite him to work with Archie, Peyton and Eli at the Manning Academy every summer).
So if you read the above paragraph, you may think this team is all about offense, and honestly, it's really an even better defensive program. That's why this program has flourished within the Southland the past few years. Six starters return and that doesn't even count a returnee like part-time LB starter Allen Pittman, who has been a contributor for years. The leading tackler is back (Khristian Mims), the leading TFL man returns (Evan Veron), and the leading sack man (Sully Laiche) and top statistical "pass disruptor" (Darren Evans) are also back. This defense prided itself on run defense (No. 11 in the FCS) and not letting an opponent convert on third down (No. 7) last year. It's smothering, like the summer humidity in Thibodeaux (yes, I know I spelled it the old way … don't care). The truth is, statistically this program does all the things a sound powerhouse should do — it plays great defense, controls the clock (No. 12 nationally in time of possession) and runs the ball well on offense.
OUR TAKE: So everything above is pretty glowing, right? And it should be. But let's get down to a concern or two (beyond the O-line concerns written about above). The Abilene Christian loss last year and the SE Louisiana loss in 2017 made us scratch our heads. Yes, both were on the road and in conference, but it's hard to understand a team like Nicholls — who can go toe-to-toe with P5s — not being able to handle those two opponents (and yes, we know both of those opponents finished 6-5 and were hardly cellar dwellers in the league). The thing is, this year's group is full of senior leaders who have been around since the near upset "Between the Hedges" at Georgia back in Sept. 2016. This group must avoid those pitfalls to take their playoff berths the past two seasons to the level of a possible seed and guaranteed second-round home game. That's the goal.
This fall, Nicholls faces Kansas State — the program in the state of Kansas that usually wins and just hired away North Dakota State's head coach Chris Klieman — and also FBS Texas State. Asking the Colonels to go to K-State and come back with a win is a tall order, but another FBS win may be on tap with Texas State, a G5 program that is rebuilding and ripe for the taking if the Colonels come in swinging. The SWAC's Prairie View A&M is the lone FCS team in the non-conference schedule, and while the Panthers are certainly one of the SWAC's top programs, that should be a win for the Colonels. In conference play, having two league front runners Central Arkansas and McNeese come to Thibodeaux (see, I did it again with the spelling — much respect to the Acadians) is big. And the Sam Houston State contest was already discussed in the "game to watch" category above. There are landmines this year in the Southland schedule, but if Nicholls navigates them well and finds itself on the O-line? This could be a very, very special season.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./DL Sully Laiche (HERO Sports Preseason All-American – 17 TFLs, 8.5 sacks, 46 tackles)
THE FOUNDATION: Sr./QB Chase Fourcade (HERO Sports Preseason All-American – 2,930 yards passing, 21 TDs; 659 yards rushing, 13 TDs); Sr./LB Evan Veron (HERO Sports Preseason All-American – 22 TFLs, 7 sacks, 50 tackles); Sr./DB Khristian Mims (76 tackles, 2 INTs – leading tackler in 2018); Jr./DB Darren Evans (33 tackles, 8 PBUs, 2 INTs); Sr./LB Allen Pittman (45 tackles, 4.5 TFL); Jr./OL P.J. Burkhalter (returning starter); Sr./P Winston Jones (41.4 per punt); Sr./RB Dontrell Taylor (990 yards rushing, 9 TDs); Jr./WR Dai'Jean Dixon (53 catches, 753 yards receiving, 7 TDs); Sr./NT Brandon Fontenot (21 tackles).
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./OL Caleb Etienne (No. 9 FCS 2019 signee in the HERO Sports FCS Recruiting rankings – Ole Miss decommitment who had four P5 offers).
COACH SAYS: "We talked about some of the spring goals that we had going in. We had to build a lot of mechanics this spring, so guys can take over and learn some of these skills and get better. I thought some of our guys did that. We talked about playing together as a team a little more. ‘We’ instead of ‘me’. We had to keep punching. That’s our brand. That’s who we are. We had to approach every day like it was a new day and I thought our guys did that ." — Nicholls head coach Tim Rebowe told The Thibodaux (La.) Daily Comet this spring
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's Nicholls Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The Southland
Abilene Christian | Central Arkansas | Houston Baptist
Incarnate Word | Lamar | McNeese | Nicholls
Northwestern St. | Sam Houston St. | SE Louisiana | Stephen F. Austin
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