HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs from June 17 to August 6. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 12-15. Today, we present … Northern Colorado.
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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Northern Colorado (2-9 IN 2018)
Big Sky (UNC finished 11th in 2018)
COACH: Earnest Collins Jr. – At School: 9th Year (26-62) Overall: 11th Year (34-74)
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: None
2018 OFFENSE: 23.8 ppg (91st in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 35.5 ppg (101st in FCS)
KEY GAME: Sept. 28 vs. Idaho: This is the Big Sky opener and a good opportunity for the Bears to grab a conference win.
SUM IT UP: After back-to-back 6-5 seasons in 2015 and 2016, the Bears have totaled just five wins these last two years. The records within the Big Sky are 2-6 in both 2017 and 2018. While the team has struggled, fortune hasn't been on its side either.
Jacob Knipp is one of the more talented quarterbacks in the FCS. At one point last summer, some NFL Draft scouting sites had him the best quarterback prospect in the FCS. The problem is he's been snakebit with injuries. Knipp is now in his sixth year with the program. He took over the starting job in 2015 and went on to break freshman passing records. Knipp suffered a season-ending injury in the second game of 2016, in the fifth game of 2017 and he played in just three games last year before getting hurt again.
It is important to note that the 2016 injury saw the emergence of Kyle Sloter, who is currently on the Minnesota Vikings roster.
If Knipp can stay healthy in 2019, this team will compete better in the conference. But there will be some inexperience.
Six starters return on offense and five are back on defense. UNC loses its top pass catcher in 1,000-yard receiver Alex Wesley, who is now in the NFL. Tight end Theron Verna is also gone after being named to the All-Big Sky Third Team. Willie Fairman is expected to do big things after being second on the team last year with 33 catches for 439 yards. But other names need to step up as well.
The run game looks to be stronger if the offensive line can replace a couple of starters. Last year's leading rusher Milo Hall is back after running for 757 yards and seven touchdowns. It'll be interesting to see how much impact new offensive coordinator Nick Fulton can have on the offense in Year 1. He's one of five new assistants on the staff.
Defensively, no question improvements are needed. UNC ranked 101st with 35.5 points allowed per game. A lot of production is gone, too. While leading tackler Luke Nelson is back at linebacker, just three of the top 11 tacklers return.
OUR TAKE: Having Knipp back and hopefully fully healthy is huge for this team. He's got pro talent and that instantly makes the Bears more competitive. The concerns are on the defensive side of the ball and if it can clamp down. Credit to this program for not backing down in the nonconference, though. UNC kicks off the season with two FBS opponents: San Jose State and Washington State. The Bears also play a nonconference game against Big Sky program Sacramento State and host South Dakota, a playoff hopeful team out of the MVFC. The Big Sky slate is manageable, avoiding teams like Montana, UC Davis and Weber State. While we aren't sure if UNC can make a huge turnaround in this one season, improving on the two conference wins is definitely doable.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./QB Jacob Knipp (Suffered season-ending injuries the last 3 years after breaking school freshman passing records in 2015)
THE FOUNDATION: Sr./LB Luke Nelson (Led the team with 86 tackles); Sr./RB Milo Hall (Leading rusher with 757 yards and 7 TDs); Sr./CB Michael Walker (Started 11 games, 29 tackles and 4 PBUs); Sr./WR Willie Fairman (33 rec. for 439 yards and 1 TD); Sr./DL Brent Gilliland (20 tackles, 3.5 TFLs); Jr./LB Justice Littrell (All-Conference HM fullback last year)
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./DE Cole Parrott (HERO Sports No. 289 ranked recruit in 2019)
THE QUOTE: "The first thing we set out to do is to recapture Colorado. We wanted to make sure that every young man that was available in this state that we felt could help us win games we went after and were ultimately able to sign." — head coach Earnest Collins Jr. said
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's UNC Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The Big Sky
Montana | Montana St | NAU | UNC
Portland St | Sac St | SUU | UC Davis | Weber St
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