Lenoir-Rhyne Football enters 2014 at number 5 in our rankings. Check out our Top 25 Season Preview for more on the top college teams to watch this fall. Can’t find your team in the Top 25? View our full rankings to see where every team stands.
Last Season: 13-2 (7-0) South Atlantic Conference
The Bears bookended their 15-game season with their only two losses of the year. They opened the season with an 18-10 loss to a Concord team that would go on to finish the season with the third-best defense in the country. Miles Freeman ran for 110 of the Bears’ 215 rushing yards in his first start under center for Lenoir-Rhyne, the fewest Lenoir-Rhyne would amass on the ground in a game for the rest of the season.
Freeman was the perfect quarterback for coach Mike Houston’s triple-option offense. He led Lenoir-Rhyne on a 8-0 run through the beginning of their South Atlantic Conference schedule before tearing a leg muscle and going down for the season. It’s not like the Bears were an “air it out” team before Freeman’s injury (he only threw the ball eight times per game on average), but once he was sidelined they pretty much gave up on the passing game all together. In the final six games of the season, the Bears threw a total of 25 passes. They rushed their way to the National Championship game, but for the first time since their season-opening loss to Concord, Lenoir-Rhyne failed to rush for 300 yards and lost 43-28 to Northwest Missouri State.
-Zach Bunn OL – First team All-SAC
-Graham Duncan RB – 86 carries, 784 yards, 3 TDs
-Josh Justice QB – 75 carries, 422 yards, 10 TDs
-Jimmy Long DL – 59 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF, 1 blocked kick
-BJ Woodley DL – 55 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 1 FR
-Myer Nolan LB – 100 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack, 5 pass defenses, 1 FF
-Michael Green S – First team Daktronics All-American, 88 tackles, 8 TFL, 8 INTs
What to Watch For
Low Turnover – Another team might suffer from the loss of three experienced running backs in Corron Boston, Graham Duncan, and Josh Justice, who combined for 198 carries, 1,534 rushing yards, and 15 touchdowns last season, but this isn’t another team. This is Lenoir-Rhyne – a team where 198 carries, 1,534 rushing yards, and 15 touchdowns account for only around a quarter of their total production on the ground – just a drop in the very deep bucket. Five players who finished last season with over 400 yards will be back, including a now-healthy Miles Freeman. The offensive line turnover is the big question with three starters moving on.
On defense, they lost star safety Michael Green – he of the absolutely silly eight interceptions last season, second-most in D2. He was named to the Daktronics All-American team and won’t be easy to replace.
This Lenoir-Rhyne team is going to be tough to beat. They’ll have the offensive weapons to repeat as the best rushing offense in D2, and with the return of Miles Freeman, they even have a chance to improve on their 370.9 rushing ypg from 2013. Along with Northwest Missouri State, the team who beat the Bears in the D2 National Championship game, Lenoir-Rhyne is one of a handful teams most likely to take the crown this season. They’ll have to watch out for conference-rival Carson-Newman, who will have revenge on their minds after the Bears handed them two of their three defeats last season – including the one that knocked them out of the playoffs. Lenoir-Rhyne’s championship aspirations will hinge on their ability to get past their conference rival and overcome the stout Northwest Missouri State defense when they inevitably meet in the playoffs once again.