No offense to Colorado State and Nebraska, but the Colorado Buffaloes toughest out-of-conference test might just come from FCS powerhouse New Hampshire on September 15th. OK, maybe that was an exaggeration, but the Buffaloes cannot overlook their final tune-up before Pac-12 play. Under head coach Sean McDonnell, UNH has reached the FCS playoffs in each of the last 14 years. Ranked 3rd in Athlon’s 2018 FCS preview, the Wildcats return 18 starters, nine on each side of the ball.
Here’s a look at the 2018 New Hampshire Wildcats.
Offense (Returning starters: 9)
Senior quarterback Trevor Knight, recently named the 2018 CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, will lead a proficient Wildcats passing offense for the third straight season. Knight threw for 3,433 yards and 26 touchdowns last season. Also returning are Knight’s top three weapons from last season, wide receivers Neil O’Connell (97 rec, 1,396 yards, 10 TD), Malik Love (70 rec, 733 yards, 3 TD) and Kieran Presley. Junior Evan Gray (181 rush, 650 yards) returns to lead a UNH rushing attack that ranked a dismal 102nd in the FCS last season, averaging 101.5 yards per game. The Wildcats must get some help from their offensive line if they expect to bolster those rush numbers this fall. In 14 games last season, UNH’s line allowed a whopping 52 sacks, ranking them 116th in the FCS in that category.
Defense (Returning starters: 9)
UNH’s 4-2-5 defense ranked 30th in the FCS in points allowed last season and registered 35 sacks and 27 takeaways. The Wildcats return eight of their top-10 tacklers from last year’s unit including linebacker Dean Quinlen, who led the CAA with 124 total tackles last fall. Junior safety Rick Ellison (69 tackles, 2 INT) and junior cornerback Isiah Perkins (team-leading 5 INT) anchor a Wildcats secondary that allowed 231.9 pass yards per game in 2017. Another defensive player to watch is defensive end Jae’Wuan Horton. The junior finished second on the team in tackles for loss (13.0) and sacks (8.5) last season.
Sophomore wide receiver C.J. Turner and junior running back Brandon Gallagher should return kicks again, while safety Evan Horn will return punts. Drew Sanborn should take over punting duties for Max Pedinoff and UNH will also have to welcome in a new placekicker this fall.
Since 2004, the Wildcats have six wins against FBS teams, second most among FCS teams. However their last win against a Power 5 program came in 2006, when they defeated Northwestern 34-17. I wouldn’t be surprised to see New Hampshire put up points against the Buffaloes this fall, but a win in Boulder isn’t likely. Colorado’s front seven will be the deciding factor in this one. Defensive ends Mustafa Johnson and Chris Mulumba will take advantage of a weak Wildcats offensive line forcing the experienced Knight into mistakes. Meanwhile, Steven Montez, Travon McMillian and company should have no problem moving the ball against UNH’s defense. Buffs win 41-21 and head into Pac-12 play undefeated.