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 … North Carolina A&T.
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NORTH CAROLINA A&T (10-2 IN 2018)
The MEAC (NC A&T was 1st in 2018)
COACH: Sam Washington – At School: 2nd year (10-2 record) Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2018 (Celebration Bowl Champions over Alcorn St.)
2018 OFFENSE: 30.1 ppg (40th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 14.2 ppg. (5th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Aug. 31 – vs. Elon (at BB&T Stadium in Greensboro): The Aggies proved themselves last year with a win over perennial OVC powerhouse Jacksonville State. Can they do it again against an Elon team that has made the FCS Playoffs the past two seasons?
SUM IT UP: North Carolina A&T is 64-18 since the beginning of the 2012 season. Let that sink in a little bit. That's clearly the top mark during that stretch in the HBCU ranks, and the Aggies have won three of the four Celebration Bowls that have been put on, and the year they didn't make it, they were invited to be an FCS at-large qualifier for the playoffs. Needless to say, the Aggies haven't been bad since this year's freshman class were around 9 and 10 years old. The winning culture is there. This year, the potential is there to make another run to the HBCU National Title game (I.E. – the Celebration Bowl), but we think the path might be a little bit tougher to become the three-time defending champion.
Look, there's no doubt there is some serious talent remaining on this roster. Six players return who made the All-MEAC team. Our question lies in how will QB Lamar Raynard — who threw for around 7,000 yards in his career — be replaced? The answer? He won't be replaced, at least not easily. Returner Kylil Carter played behind Raynard for four years, sometimes relieving the star when he needed it. Carter was injured in the spring but will be a big factor this fall as a grad student. Ifedi Kingsley also had a strong spring at QB, and Jalen Fowler contributed. The new QB gets three returning offensive linemen, three established pass targets and the No. 2 rusher back from a year ago.
On defense, there will be more revamping. Underclassman LB/DE Darryl Johnson was a rare early entry into the NFL Draft last year and the "EDGE" talent proved to have made the right decision as a day three pick by the Buffalo Bills. He will be missed from this year's defense, which was a top five statistical unit in run defense, total defense, passing efficiency defense, scoring defense and third-down conversion defense — and that was against a schedule that included wins over OVC powerhouse Jacksonville State and FBS East Carolina. If some new names can emerge here, this unit could be very strong again.
OUR TAKE: The Aggies were a tad bit perplexing last year, even though they took care of business in the Celebration Bowl. The truth is, they went into the final week of the regular season on the outside looking in, hoping for a Florida A&M loss so they could get the MEAC title and the Celebration Bowl berth. That's exactly what happened. If the Rattlers had taken care of business against Bethune-Cookman as was expected, N.C. A&T would have been a 9-2 team hoping for an FCS at-large playoff berth, which didn't exactly go well for the Aggies back in 2016 when they fell hard to Richmond in the first round. NC A&T beat two good programs to begin last year, but the losses to Morgan State and Florida A&M were head scratchers. This year, several MEAC teams seem stronger on paper than they've been the past few years, and the Aggies need to plug at least a few holes to get back to their 2017 form. They're certainly a front runner to take another MEAC title, but it's not a guarantee, we don't think. And if they get to the Celebration Bowl? We think Alcorn State may be a tough task this year.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: DB/Jr. Mac McCain (2017 All American – 37 tackles in 8 games, 10 PDs, 2 INTs).
THE FOUNDATION: Sr./WR Elijah Bell (48 catches, 541 yds, 6 TDs); Sr./OL Marcus Pettiford (1st Team All MEAC); Jr./WR Zachary Leslie (50 catches, 676 yards, 9 TDs); Jr./RB Jah-Maine Martin (656 yards rushing, 7 TDs); Sr./LB Antonio Wilder (2nd Team All MEAC – 67 tackles, 6 TFLs, 2 INTs, 10 PDs); Sr./DL Justin Cates (2nd Team All MEAC – 8 TFLs, 36 tackles); Soph./OL Dontae Keys (returning starter on line); Sr./DB Jalon Bethea (30 tackles, 6 PDs, 3 blocked kicks).
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./DL Tyquan Johnson (No. 86 rated FCS signee in the HERO Sports 2019 rankings — Wake Forest offer, among 5 FBS offers)
THE QUOTE: "I thought our decision-making was better today from the quarterback position. The one area we felt like that was the one area Jalen needed some improvement and I thought he made some good choices today. He knew where the ball was going and when it needed to be there." — Head Coach Sam Washington said during the spring game
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's North Carolina A&T Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The MEAC
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast