2016 Big Sky Preview: Northern Colorado

2015 Record: 6-5 (3-5)

Key Returners: Hakeem Deggs, Trae Riek, Jacob Knipp

Key Losses: Trevor Douglass, Jonathan Newsom, Sean Leslie

Northern Colorado saw some success last year, more so than they’ve had over the last few years. Was it a sign of the program turning around, or was it the chips falling into place at the right time? The Bears finished last season at 6-5 overall last season, one of their better seasons since joining the Big Sky conference. It could be argued that their schedule set them up for success, but perhaps they made some improvement at the same time? Earnest Collins is making strides with the Bears, but will the fan base give him patience? His record since taking over the Bears sits at 15-41. If it weren’t for his new 5 yr. contract I would say he needs to turn in another winning season if he doesn’t want to find himself looking for a job after the season is over. The Bears had one player make the preseason All-Big Sky team, however, he is a special teams player. Players from other disciplines will need to step it up for the Bears to continue their upward trend.

The Bears had a fairly strong offensive showing last season, finishing with the 57th best offense in the country last year, in terms of yards gained per game. They finished with 384 yards per game and 45 offensive touchdowns. Like most Big Sky teams the Bear defense was a dumpster fire. Finishing at 121st defensively that is good enough for third worst in the country and dead last in the Big Sky. The Bears gave up 497 yards per game and found themselves -7 in the touchdowns category. The Bears finished -2 in the turnover margin, good enough for 75th. How the Bears finished with a winning record was nothing short of amazing, but considering their schedule last year you have to think that playing a bit better defense would have gotten them into the playoff hunt.

Northern Colorado is returning their quarterback from last season, Jacob Knipp. He played in 10 games last season and threw for nearly 2000 years and 13 touchdowns. They also return their top rusher from last season, sophomore Trae Riek. Riek finished with 817 yards and seven touchdowns. He also had 349 yards receiving and two touchdowns. They also return their second leading rusher, Brandon Cartagena, who finished with 270 yards and three scores. Leading receiver, Stephen Miller also returns, who finished with 448 yards and five scores. The Bears have plenty of veteran players returning on offense, can they improve the defense enough to keep them in football games? As mentioned above, the a single UNC player found himself on the preseason watch list. Hakeem Deggs was named to the list after averaging 35.4 yards per kick return last season. Deggs should carve out some space at wide receiver this season.

The Bears schedule this season isn’t as forgiving as it was last year. They’ll face fellow Front Range school Colorado State, and also go through the buzz saw of Northern Arizona, Eastern Washington, and Montana, plus a home date with North Dakota. All of those teams are picked to finish at the top of the conference. The Bears will need a few miracles if they want to come close to replicating the results of last season. There’s nothing certain on this schedule for Northern Colorado given their history in the Big Sky. There’s a very real possibility that they will only finish with a couple of wins. Will that mean the end of the road for Earnest Collins? It’ll be a question worth asking at the end of the season. The Bears will probably need five wins to keep in as the captain of the ship.

9/3    vs. Rocky Mountain
9/10    at Abilene Christian
9/17    at Colorado State
10/1    vs. Northern Arizona
10/8    at Eastern Washington
10/15    at UC Davis
10/22    vs. Sacramento State
10/29    at Portland State
11/5    vs. North Dakota
11/12    vs. Montana
11/19    at Cal Poly

Written by 

I'm a Wyoming native living in Missoula, Montana. I'm the owner of, 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!

Related posts