Courtesy photo / University of New Hampshire athletics
Courtesy photo / University of New Hampshire athletics
New Hampshire Wildcats
Date with CU: Sept. 15, 3 p.m. MT at Folsom Field in Boulder
Head coach: Sean McDonnell, 19th year (150-88)
Series: First meeting between CU and New Hampshire
Wildcats in 2017: 9-5, 5-3 in Colonial Athletic Association; lost to South Dakota State, 56-14, in FCS quarterfinals
Returning starters: 18 – 9 on offense, 9 on defense
Offensive players to watch: OL Jack Carroll, So. (started all 14 games last year); RB Evan Gray, Jr. (181 att., 650 yards, 8 TD; 20 catches, 135 yards, 1 TD); OL Dayne Herron, Sr. (Started 13 games at left tackle last year); QB Trevor Knight, Sr. (291-for-471, 3,433 yards, 26 TD, 10 INT; rushing: 146 att., 162 yards, 1 TD); WR Malik Love, Jr. (70 catches, 733 yards, 3 TD); TE Justin Malone-Woods, Jr. (12 catches, 165 yards, 1 TD); OL Matt Mascia, So. (11 starts in 2017); WR Neil O’Connor, Sr. (97 catches, 1,396 yards, 10 TD); WR Kieran Presley, Sr. (36 catches, 459 yards, 3 TD).
Defensive players to watch: LB Quinlen Dean, Jr. (124 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INT); S Rick Ellison, Jr. (69 tackles, 2 INT); S Evan Horn, So. (43 tackles, 3 INT); DE Jae’Wuan Horton, Sr. (55 tackles, 13 TFL, 8.5 sacks); LB Jared Kuehl, Sr. (66 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 5 sacks); CB Isiah Perkins, Jr. (42 tackles, 5 INT, 8 PBU); DE Kyle Reisert, Sr. (10 tackles); CB Prince Smith Jr., Jr. (55 tackles, 1 INT, 9 PBU); DT Ryan Sosnak, Sr. (35 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 sacks); DE Brian Carter, So. (28 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks).
Notable: New Hampshire has qualified for the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs in each of the last 14 years, the longest current streak in the country. … Since 2010, the Wildcats are 1-7 against Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams, defeating Georgia Southern, 22-12, last year. … UNH’s last win against a Power 5 team was a 34-17 victory at Northwestern on Sept. 9, 2006. Since then, the Wildcats are 0-2 against Power 5 teams, losing to Pittsburgh in 2010 and Minnesota in 2012. … O’Connor earned several FCS all-American honors last year and has received preseason all-American consideration this year. He has 164 catches for 2,303 yards and 16 TDs in his career. … Knight has played in 32 games during his career, with 5,271 passing yards, 41 TD and 21 INT. … Carter was named an FCS freshman All-American by Phil Steele. … CU will pay UNH $400,000 to play this game – much lower than the going rate around the country.
Typically, when Power 5 conference teams schedule opponents from the Football Championship Subdivision, a victory is nearly a lock.
When Colorado welcomes New Hampshire to Folsom Field for the home opener on Sept. 15, the Buffaloes are sure to be favored, but it may not be a cake walk.
This month, BuffZone.com is previewing each of Colorado’s opponents, with this installment focusing on New Hampshire, one of the top teams in the FCS.
New Hampshire (9-5, 5-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association last season) reached the FCS quarterfinals a year ago, and comes into the season as a consensus top-15 team.
Athlon Sports has the Wildcats at No. 3 in its preseason rankings, while Lindy’s has them at No. 6 and Street & Smiths’ at No. 12.
Although CU is 5-0 against FCS teams under head coach Mike MacIntyre, New Hampshire might be the best team the Buffs have faced from that level.
Coming off another playoff appearance, the Wildcats return 18 starters, including one of nation’s top receivers. Senior Neil O’Connor caught 97 passes for 1,396 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
“I’d love to see him continue to create more explosive plays and do things in the open field,” UNH receivers coach Michel Ferzoco said to UNHwildcats.com this spring. “If he can be as productive as he was last year or build on that, hopefully we’ll be putting up some points and winning a few more ball games.”
O’Connor and the rest of the UNH receivers will benefit from the return of senior quarterback Trevor Knight, who threw for over 3,400 yards and 26 touchdowns last year, while posing a threat with his feet, as well.
“Really special kid,” quarterbacks coach Keith LeVan said to UNHWildcats.com. “His talent is through the roof. He’s got a great ability to extend the play and because he’s played so many snaps, he knows where everybody is, so he’s fun to watch on a daily basis.”
LeVan added that the Wildcats took too many sacks a year ago and that has been an emphasis this offseason.
Defensively, UNH ranked 30th in the FCS in points allowed and returns nine starters.
Linebackers Quinlen Dean and Jared Kuehl lead the defense, which racked up 35 sacks and 27 takeaways last year. The Wildcats were top 35 nationally in sacks and tied for 10th in takeaways.
The experience on defense led to a great spring that the Wildcats hope carries over to the season.
“The defense, we’ve got a lot of guys coming back,” senior defensive end Jae’Wuan Horton said to the Concord Monitor after the spring game in May. “We’ve all been around each other for a while. We vibe together.”
It’s not just the defense that’s settled in, however. Most of the offense is back, too, and long-time head coach Sean McDonnell is entering his 19th season leading his alma mater. After a rough start to his tenure, McDonnell has now led the Wildcats to 14 consecutive playoff appearances, and has his eye on another.
Whether the Wildcats are ready to challenge the Buffaloes on a Power 5 stage in September remains to be seen, but there’s no question they carry confidence into their season.
“This is the best spring that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Knight said to the Concord Monitor. “Everyone got so much better this spring and it’s been such a great offseason through the workouts and everything; just so much energy.”