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2016 Big Sky Preview: Northern Arizona

2015 Record: 7-4 (5-3)

Key Returners: Case Cookus, Emmanual Butler

Key Departures: Casey Jahn, Dejzon Walker, RJ Rickert, Alex Holmes

The Lumberjacks are coming off of a pretty good season, finishing the year at 7-4 and just missing the FCS playoffs. A crushing season ending loss to conference champion Southern Utah ended their chance at a playoff spot. There’s a lot to look forward to if you’re Jerome Souers and the Lumberjacks. They’re returning the FCS freshman of the year as well as an FCS All-American. If that doesn’t pack people in the Walkup Skydome I don’t know what will. The media has picked the Lumberjacks to win the conference this coming season. Souers was able to keep his team from having their annual October letdown and keep them in the thick of the playoff race throughout the season. Souers will be looking to get the Lumberjacks into the playoffs for the first time since 2013 where they were defeated by South Dakota State.

The talk around Flagstaff is the reigning FCS freshman of the year, a quarterback named Case Cookus. He’s pretty good at the quarterbacking. As a freshman last season he threw for 3111 yards and 37 touchdowns against only five interceptions. His completion percentage was 68.9%, playing in all 11 games. He finished 11th in passing yards in FCS last season, and second in passing touchdowns. Those are impressive stats. Also returning is his favorite target from last season, FCS All-American Emmanuel Butler. Butler caught 1208 yards worth of passes and 15 touchdowns. He averaged 109 yards per game. With these two returning it seems like the NAU offense should be in good shape. However, the receiving corps behind Butler are a little thin after graduating three seniors. They will rely on guys who probably haven’t had as much playing time. Will this have an impact on Cookus? You might think he would go through a sophomore slump given that they will be breaking in inexperienced wide receivers. The rushing attack will see a mostly new face this season after senior Casey Jahn graduated. Jahn ran for over 1000 yards last season. Replacing him will likely be Corbin Jountti or Kendyl Taylor. Jountti rushed for six touchdowns last season.

The Lumberjacks finished 11th in total offense last season averaging 470 yards per game. The NAU passing attack finished at eighth in the country averaging 303 yards per game. Their rushing attack was nothing to scoff at either. However, I hate to keep beating this dead horse, the NAU defense was ranked 116th in the country last season. They were +3 in the touchdown ratio. The defense gave up 474 yards per game last season. Three times last season their defense gave up more than 40 points including 77 to Arizona. The Jacks have some work to do on the defensive side of the ball if they want to win this conference. The Jacks were -2 in the turnover margin, tied with Northern Colorado at 75th in the country.

This year’s schedule is a nice balance for the Jacks. They’ll open up the season on the road at Arizona State then head east for a game against Western Illinois. Their home schedule highlights include Eastern Washington, Montana, and Southern Utah at home. If they can manage to win those games they will win the conference. That seems like a really tall task for this team given that they will see some halfway decent defenses in Montana, Weber State and North Dakota. Their offense will need to be clicking in those contests for them to be wins. They can’t afford any stumbles though, the conference will be a log jam at the top, much like it was last season.

Sep 3, 2016    at Arizona State
Sep 10, 2016    at Western Illinois
Sep 17, 2016    New Mexico Highlands
Sep 24, 2016    Eastern Washington
Oct 1, 2016    at Northern Colorado
Oct 8, 2016    at Montana State
Oct 15, 2016    Idaho State
Oct 22, 2016    Montana
Nov 5, 2016    at Weber State
Nov 12, 2016    at North Dakota
Nov 19, 2016    Southern Utah

Written by 

I’m a Wyoming native living in Missoula, Montana. I’m the owner of WyoNation.com, a fan site for the Wyoming Cowboys. Now that I live in the heart of the Big Sky Conference I write about things that focus on those teams. I watch and read a lot of college football, probably more than is healthy. Hit me up on the Twitters @MrTitleist or @WyoNationDotCom
Go Pokes, Go Griz!

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