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 … UC Davis.
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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UC Davis (10-3 IN 2018)
Big Sky (UC Davis finished T1st in 2018)
COACH: Dan Hawkins – At School: 3rd Year (15-9) Overall: 18th Year (126-71-1)
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2018 (Quarterfinals)
2018 OFFENSE: 39.7 ppg (8th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 27.4 ppg (55th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Sept. 21 @ North Dakota State: This is a premier nonconference game in the FCS this year. It'll show us if UC Davis can take a step into the subdivision's top tier and it'll also show us what this new-look Bison team can do against a top-ranked FCS opponent.
SUM IT UP: In the second season under Dan Hawkins and his coaching staff, the Aggies went from 5-6 to a 10-3 season that saw a share of the Big Sky Conference title and a trip to the quarterfinals. It was a historic season for UC Davis, but how it ended leaves a strong hunger for more.
The Aggies lost 34-29 to eventual national runner-ups Eastern Washington in a game that saw UC Davis take a 29-28 lead with 1:13 to play, only to have EWU score 47 seconds later. Even with the heartbreaking loss, the 2018 season was a breakthrough year for this program.
Now it's time to take that next step. With 17 offensive and defensive players who started five games or more returning along with all four specialists, UC Davis is a legitimate national title threat this year.
The big name gone offensively is wide receiver Keelan Doss, who now has an NFL contract. He combined for 233 catches and 2,833 yards in 2017 and 2018. That type of talent is tough to replace. But the good news for the Aggies is the next nine players on the receiving leaders stat sheet are all back, including preseason All-Big Sky wide receiver Jared Harrell and tight end Wes Preece, a two-time All-Conference selection.
And oh, by the way, the quarterback who's going to be throwing to them? His name is Jake Maier, and he's a preseason All-American and All-Big Sky selection, a Walter Payton Award front-runner and viewed by many as the best QB in the FCS.
While UC Davis was known for its passing attack last year, the running game was also explosive. Ulonzo Gilliam is a HERO Sports Preseason All-American as just a sophomore running back. Tehran Thomas wasn't that far behind him in production and is also back. They'll run behind an offensive line that has four returning starters: Colton Lamson, Kooper Richardson, Jake Parks and Connor Pettek. The last two were 2018 HERO Sports Freshman All-Americans.
If the defense can go from above average to good, that can be the difference between a trip to Frisco, Texas and falling short of the national championship game. Playing two FBS opponents last year along with the Big Sky slate of games and allowing 27.4 points per game (55th in the FCS) isn't so bad. But the next step for this program is to become a strong defensive team that can win games in December if asked to. They showed flashes of that in the second-round win against Northern Iowa.
The defense has seven players back who started at least five games. Montell Bland leads a talented and experienced linebacking group after totaling 78 tackles last year, which ranked second on the team. That group will be the strength of this defense as Erron Duncan and Devon King are the lone returners in the secondary and Jordan Franklin is the only guy back who started five games or more on the defensive line.
In order to make a deep playoff run, you need strong special teams. UC Davis will have that with the four specialists all back: Max O’Rourke (PK), Matt Blair (KO), Daniel Whelan (P) and John Aloma (LS).
OUR TAKE: Expectations are sky-high for this program in 2019. And they should be. The trajectory of this program these last couple of years, along with tremendous recruiting, shows the Aggies are a team that will be in the national picture for awhile. And for this specific 2019 squad, which we preseason ranked No. 3, their eyes should be on the ultimate prize. UC Davis feels like it should've been playing in Frisco last year. And the amount of experience and talent back from that team suggests Texas is a realistic destination in January.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./QB Jake Maier (HERO Sports Preseason All-American, 3,931 yards passing with 34 TDs and 10 INT)
THE FOUNDATION: So./RB Ulonzo Gilliam (HERO Sports Preseason All-American, 976 yards rushing and 13 TDs); Sr./TE Wes Preece (All-Conference 2nd Team, 29 rec. for 337 yards ad 9 TDs); Jr./WR Jared Harrell (AC 3rd Team, 62 rec. for 896 yards and 5 TDs); Jr./RB Tehran Thomas (AC HM, 694 yards rushing and 6 TDs); Jr./P Daniel Whelan (AC HM); So./OL Jake Parks (HERO Sports Freshman All-American); So./OL Connor Pettek (HERO Sports Freshman All-American); So./LB Montell Bland (Top returning tackler with 78); Jr./DB Erron Duncan (56 tackles and 5 PBUs)
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./TE Blake Thorpe (HERO Sports' 123rd ranked FCS recruit in 2019)
THE QUOTE: "This will go down in my career as one of the most blissful moments ever, and I mean that sincerely," — head coach Dan Hawkins said about receiving the 2018 Big Sky championship rings
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's UC Davis 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
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast