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 … Sacred Heart.
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Sacred Heart (7-4 IN 2018)
NEC (SHU finished T1st in 2018)
COACH: Mark Nofri – At School: 8th Year (44-36) Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2014 (First Round)
2018 OFFENSE: 28.1 ppg (57th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 22.1 ppg (T23rd in FCS)
KEY GAME: Oct. 19 vs. Duquesne: Just like last year, this one appears to have massive NEC title implications. Sacred Heart gets the Dukes at home this season after a close road loss in 2018.
SUM IT UP: The Pioneers finished tied for first in the NEC standings with Duquesne at 5-1, but it was the Dukes that got the automatic bid into the playoffs with their 28-24 win against Sacred Heart on Nov. 10. Duquesne was unanimously voted as the preseason favorite in the NEC by the conference's coaches. Sacred Heart, who was second in the poll, certainly wants to prove them wrong.
To do that, the Pioneers need to replace its starting quarterback and fill three spots on the offensive line as the offense returns six starters. The strong defense from 2018 returns 10 starters.
Having Jordan Meachum back at running back is huge for this team as he ran for 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. He was also second on the team with 18 receptions for 237 yards. Meachum will be a workhorse again after 225 rushing attempts. But Julius Chestnut is also a solid option after rushing for 713 yards and seven touchdowns, which earned him NEC Offensive Rookie of the Year. Eli Terry returns from injury and adds a bruising style of running to the backfield. Sacred Heart needs a few offensive linemen to step up to keep this rushing attack strong along with finding weapons in the passing to keep the offense balanced. A healthy Naseim Brantley will be key. The wide receiver played a big part in the offense last year as a freshman before getting hurt.
The Pioneers should be stout on defense. All three linebackers, all four defensive backs and three of the four defensive linemen are back. Chris Agyemang is a special talent up front after racking up 15.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks last year. Mike Wilen leads the linebacking group and was the team's top tackler in 2018 with 79. The Sacred Heart secondary was impressive last year, allowing just 148.8 passing yards a game, which was the fifth-best in the FCS. That group should be even better in 2019 with loads of experience coming back.
OUR TAKE: Duquesne is the right choice as the preseason favorite to win the conference title. And after grabbing the program's first-ever playoff win, the Dukes are looking for more. But it's not a foregone conclusion that Duquesne will win the NEC championship easily. And with what Sacred Heart has coming back, these two teams look to be almost evenly-matched with the slight edge going to Duquesne. If the Pioneers can answer questions at the always-important quarterback spot and the offensive line, they can sit atop the NEC standings again. The question is can they take down the Dukes at home and stay clean throughout the other conference games.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./DL Chris Agyemang (All-Conference First Team, 15.5 TFLs and 7 sacks)
THE FOUNDATION: So./RB Julius Chestnut (NEC Offensive Rookie of the Year, 713 rushing yards and 7 TDs); Sr./RB Jordan Meachum (AC Second Team, 1,400 yards rushing and 11 TDs); Sr./WR Kezio Snelling (13 rec. for 213 yards and 1 TD); Sr./LB Mike Wilen (Top tacklers in 2018, 79 total); Jr./DB Jayden Jordan (52 tackles, 2 INT)
THE QUOTE: "We can't wait to kick off the 2019 campaign and feel this schedule will prepare us to compete for another opportunity to win a NEC Championship. I'm excited for our first-ever matchup against the University of Maine, a top 20 FCS program. We are lucky to play in front of one of the best crowds in the conference and can't wait to see Pioneer Nation on September 7th at our home opener against Bucknell." — Head Coach Mark Nofri said
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's SHU Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The NEC
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