Maybe it's because they lost in the quarterfinals. Maybe it's because they lose a dominant offensive weapon in wide receiver Keelan Doss to the NFL. Whatever it is, UC Davis isn't one of the top teams to be mentioned when fans discuss their 2019 FCS national title favorites on social media.
On the tremendous Facebook group FCS Football Fans Nation, which has close to 7,000 of the most diehard FCS fans, the question was asked on who's going to be playing in Frisco. Of the 88 comments, not one mentioned UC Davis.
So I'll be the conversation starter right here for the Aggies: This team is as legitimate as any other team in the FCS to be the next national champion.
Hell, looking back at my Top 10 Way-Too-Early 2019 Favorites article in January, having UC Davis at No. 6 is too low for me.
Fans and media might be a little too fixated on those first two sentences at the start of this column. But people forget the Aggies were less than a minute away from knocking off eventual national runner-ups Eastern Washington on the red turf in the quarterfinals. They scored, then converted a gutsy 2-point conversion to take a 29-28 lead with 1:13 to play.
The Eagles responded and scored with 26 seconds left, going 75 yards in four plays.
The next week, EWU pounded an exhausted-looking Maine team who had to travel across the country in back-to-back weeks. Had UC Davis held on to beat EWU, it would have hosted Maine in what most can assume would've been a win.
Now, the would've-could've-should've game is dangerous. But the point is the Aggies should have the mindset this offseason that they should've been playing in the national title game.
And here's the thing: UC Davis has most of its team back.
Jake Maier was the 2018 Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year and will be a top quarterback in the FCS. He'll have nine of his Top 10 pass catchers back along with the running back duo of Ulonzo Gilliam and Tehran Thomas (1,662 combined yards and 19 touchdowns) and 4/5 of the offensive line who started in the quarterfinal game.
Defensively, the team returns six of its 11 top tacklers.
"I think we can start playing today and we'd be pretty darn good," head coach Dan Hawkins said this week on the High Motor Podcast. "Jake Maier is starting to get NFL interest. He's not the tallest guy but he can sure sling it. He's everything you want. He's a Drew Brees type guy … We have a lot of firepower. And we're good on defense, too. We have some future NFL guys on that side of the ball."
The Aggies have a tough nonconference schedule highlighted by road games at Cal and North Dakota State. But their toughest Big Sky games are all at home against Montana, Weber State and Montana State. EWU is not on the 2019 schedule.
Of the preseason favorites to contend for a national title, most have major question marks:
- NDSU has a new HC, OC, DC, starting QB and several new starters.
- EWU lost both coordinators and was senior heavy.
- SDSU lost both coordinators and its longtime starting quarterback.
- Maine had some shuffling of its coaching staff after its HC left.
- JMU has a brand new coaching staff and OL and QB concerns.
UC Davis needs to replace Doss' 118 catches, 1,334 yards and nine touchdowns. And the Aggies need to tighten up a bit more on defense after allowing 27.38 points per game.
But this is a program that is coming off of its first FCS postseason appearance. And if not for an amazing game-winning drive by EWU, we'd likely be talking about UC Davis as the national runner-ups. The upward trajectory of this team since Hawkins took over after the 2016 season is incredible. With the amount of returning experience coming back, signs point to another big jump forward.
Had they been in Frisco, maybe those who follow the FCS would be talking about the Aggies more entering the 2019 season. But the feeling I get on social media is most think UC Davis will be pretty good again, but not Tier 1 good.
So I'm here to tell you all that the Aggies are going to be right there in the national title discussion at the end of the regular season.
Listen to the full Dan Hawkins interview here: