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 Central.
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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NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (5-6 IN 2018)
The MEAC (NCCU was Tied for 6th in 2018)
COACH: Trei Oliver – At School: 1st year (0-0 record) Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2016 (Celebration Bowl runners up to Grambling State)
2018 OFFENSE: 26.3 ppg (73rd n FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 30.5 ppg. (78th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Nov. 2 – @ Howard: Last year, NCCU edged Howard by five points at home — easily its best win of 2018. Both teams will be hungry for a win in this pivotal contest, as both will be aiming for winning seasons.
SUM IT UP: North Carolina Central had been one of the more dominant MEAC programs over the past half-decade, before dipping a bit last year and having a coaching transition after the season. Former coach Jerry Mack — who had led the Eagles to the Celebration Bowl in 2016 and then took a position on staff at FBS Rice — was replaced by interim coach Granville Eastman in late 2017. And in December 2018, the leadership at N.C. Central brought back former Eagles' player and assistant coach Trei Oliver, a move that has excited alumni and players alike. Both Mack and Eastman reached out to congratulate Oliver, showing the respect the new coach has with the NCCU community. Oliver had been at Southern University before coming aboard.
So there is a buzz in this program. Truly, the Eagles only missed a fifth consecutive winning season because of an overtime loss to Bethune-Cookman, but the program still has a hunger to play better than last year. From 2014-17, the team went 31-10 against FCS or lower division schools. That's what this program strives for once again.
On offense, there are nine players returning with starting experience, including two All-MEAC selections. The program ran the ball relatively well and return the No. 1 rusher in Isaiah Totten, a first-team All-MEAC performer. In the spring, three-year starting QB Chauncey Caldwell recovered from a foot injury, and Micah Zanders got some valuable first-team snaps. Caldwell is a dual-threat signal caller who has thrown for nearly 2,500 yards and 18 TDs to only 4 INTs in his first two seasons, while also rushing for 819 yards and 8 TDs. With three starting linemen back, his leading rusher and a bevy of capable receivers returning, Caldwell may explode in a good way this fall.
On defense, the Eagles return five starters and another seven contributors who may not have been full-time starters, but they were solid contributors. Last year, NCCU was one of the top programs in the nation when it came to third-down defense, and turnover margin was something of a strong point in 2018. There is talent to work with here, but some new key names need to emerge. Also, recruiting was a strength, with the Eagles landing high school prospects who had previously been committed to Indiana and Temple, as well as others with offers from Southern Miss, Toledo, Charlotte and other FBS schools. So Oliver and his staff's energy is already contagious.
OUR TAKE: You can't expect this to be a complete turnaround job in one year, but fans certainly will want to see improvement on last year's 5-6 season (with two lower division wins). The non-conference schedule will not be easy, as road trips to Austin Peay, FCS playoff team Towson and Gardner-Webb open up the schedule. MEAC play will provide some winnable games, and the matchups at home are favorable. As this program continues to rebuild, expectations should be realistic. We think this program probably has a four or five-win season ahead of it, with 2020 being the year this program really turns the corner with Caldwell as a senior QB and these talented recruiting classes paying dividends.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Jr./RB Isaiah Totten (1st Team All-MEAC – 798 yards rushing, 7 TDs)
THE FOUNDATION: Jr./QB Chauncey Caldwell (916 yards passing, 8 TDs; 324 yards rushing, 3 TDs); Soph./TE Sherman McLeod (2nd Team All-MEAC); Sr./DE Kawuan Cox (3rd team All-MEAC; 26 tackles, 6.5 TFLs); Jr./LB Branden Bailey (51 tackles, 6.5 TFLs); Soph./OL Somadina Okezie-Okeke (started all 11 games as a redshirt freshman); Jr./WR Nique Martin (32 catches, 365 yards, 2 TDs); Soph./OL Ricky Lee (started all 11 games at right tackle).
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./OL Michael Cartwright (3-star Indiana decommitment, 3 P5 offers, 15 FBS offers)
THE QUOTE: "It's good to be back home. It's good to be back in the nest. Central is so special to me because of the great people that I met here as a student-athlete. When you are around good people, it's easy to be successful I want to build a championship culture at NCCU. We need to get 'Eagle Pride' back in the program. When I talk about Eagle Pride, I'm talking about unity and discipline. If we'll fight for one another and we have discipline in our program, then the sky is the limit." — Head Coach Trei Oliver said after being hired
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's North Carolina Central Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The MEAC
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast