Earlier this week, Brian McLaughlin posted a piece questioning North Dakota State’s invincibility. Leading up to this weekend’s FCS kickoff, we’re going to feature a few of the teams who might be the David to NDSU’s Goliath. Yesterday I profiled the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, a team that got close. Today, we move on to another contender – this one outside the conference.
Imagine tripping just before the finish line during an Olympic marathon, your opponent suddenly claims the gold medal you thought was yours.
Imagine your picturesque wedding day, a year of planning and hard work, ruined by thundershowers just as your glowing bride makes her entrance.
This is how the top-seeded New Hampshire Wildcats must have felt in last year’s FCS semifinal against Illinois State, when they took a 18-6 lead into the fourth quarter at home only to let it all slip away to a 15-point rally.
Can head coach Sean McDonnell – who also led the New Hampshire Wildcats to a semifinal appearance in 2013 – rally a squad that lost a ton of talent to graduation?
If McDonnell’s boys are going to repeat last year’s impressive 12-2 mark (8-0 in the CAA) and challenge the class of the FCS in North Dakota State, quarterback Sean Goldrich has to play lights-out during his senior year.
The big 6-foot-3, 205-pounder threw for over 2,000 yards for the second straight season, including 16 touchdowns to just six interceptions. He also upped his completion percentage from his sophomore year from 59.8 to 63.7 percent.
The biggest concern for the Wildcats’ offense isn’t Goldrich’s arm, but rather who he’ll hand off to when he doesn’t pass. The team’s top three rushers from 2014 are all gone. Dalton Crossan looks to be the squad’s main guy if he can stay healthy. The junior missed most of spring ball after a leg injury – the one that forced him to sit out eight games a year ago – continued to plague him.
If Crossan can’t go, Donald Goodrich – who ran for 192 yards and a pair of scores last year – and fellow sophomore Trevon Bryant are sure to get their fair share of looks.
Talking to FCS Football News this offseason, McDonnell commented, “Donnie ran the ball real well. He’s had a hell of a spring. He’s put himself in the picture at the position. I feel really good about him and Bryant, and the way they practiced this spring. I think with those three guys we’ll be pretty good. Will we get the production we got last year at the position? Time will tell.”
The defensive side of the ball was solid last year outside an opening-weekend shelling against Toledo. They surrendered 54 points to the Rockets, and then the Wildcats ripped off 12 wins in a row thanks to an opportunistic defense that led the conference with 39 sacks and held opponents to 20 or fewer points on eight occasions.
The captain of this defensive ship is once again linebacker Akil Anderson, who led the squad with 82 tackles (45 solo) while also registering eight tackles for a loss, a sack, an interception, and a forced fumble. He’ll have to help shoulder the burden left behind after the graduation of Shane McNeely who was second on the defense with 75 tackles (42 solo).
One spot the Wildcats must improve is in the kicking game. Three different placekickers connected for an underwhelming 7-of-13 field goals and only a pair of tries from over 30 yards split the uprights the entire season.
New Hampshire hits the road for the first three weeks of the season and will play more road games (six) than home contests (five). They won’t have to face two of the CAA’s best in Villanova and James Madison, and they get the Richmond Spiders at home. Their only FBS matchup of the season against San Jose State in week 1 is one to keep an eye on. The Spartans won only a trio of games last season and were mired in shaky quarterback play throughout the year. If the Wildcats can control the clock with their new ground attack, combined with timely throws from Goldrich, the Wildcats could find themselves as the first FCS squad to knock off an FBS opponent in 2015.