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New Hampshire leads FCS teams seeking to rebound

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - New Hampshire may have been the most disappointing team in the FCS last year.

Coach Sean McDonnell's program missed the playoffs after 14 straight appearances and was the highest-ranked team in the preseason - at No. 7 - to finish with a losing record (the next-closest was No. 20 Villanova).

"The league (CAA Football) was as good as it's been competitive-nature," McDonnell said.

"We've got to get better at the things we didn't do and at the quarterback position."

New Hampshire isn't the only FCS team coming off a disappointing campaign. Here are seven seeking to rebound in 2019:

AUSTIN PEAY

2018 Record: 5-6, 3-5 Ohio Valley

What Went Wrong: Coming off a breakout 8-4 season in 2017, the Governors had their first preseason ranking (No. 23), but failed to meet the higher expectations. Their offense too often stalled on third down.

Possible 2019 Rebound: New coach Mark Hudspeth had great success at North Alabama and Louisiana-Lafayette and is strong replacement for Will Healy, who left to take over at Charlotte. The Governors are explosive in the offensive backfield with quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall and running back Kentel Williams. Only five defensive starters return, but one is All-OVC defensive end Jaison Williams.

LEHIGH

2018 Record: 3-8, 2-4 Patriot

What Went Wrong: Lehigh represented the Patriot League in the 2016 and '17 playoffs, but the production of quarterback Brad Mayes and running back Dom Bragalone fell and the defense continued to have holes (the Mountain Hawks surrendered over 40 points in five losses).

Possible 2019 Rebound: Coach Andy Coen retired due to health concerns and former Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore (2004-17) was hired back to a league he knows well. Seventeen starters return, although the offensive losses are big. The league has been down the last two seasons, so a quick bounce-back is possible.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

2018 Record: 4-7, 3-5 CAA

What Went Wrong: Quarterback Trevor Knight, the CAA preseason offensive player of the year, was injured in the second quarter of the season opener at Maine and didn't return until a shell-shocked UNH was 0-4 on the way to a 1-6 start.

Possible 2019 Rebound: In addition to Knight graduating, his replacement, Christian Lupoli, and key safety Rick Ellison transferred out of the program. Sophomore Tommy Herion is the only returning quarterback with game experience. Running back Carlos Washington Jr. was outstanding late in his freshman season and is a building block. While the first month of the season will go better, the conference will be strong again and the Wildcats may just hover around .500.

NORTHERN ARIZONA

2018 Record: 4-6, 3-4 Big Sky

What Went Wrong: After opening with an FBS win at UTEP, the Lumberjacks lost star quarterback Case Cookus to a season-ending injury the following week. The offense wasn't as potent without the 2015 STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award winner.

Possible 2019 Rebound: During Cookus' career, NAU is 16-12 with him in the lineup and 7-8 without him, but he's back as a fifth-year senior under new coach Chris Ball, the former Memphis defensive coordinator. The Lumberjacks have 17 returning starters, including All-Big Sky first-team cornerback Khalil Dorsey. They will be tough to beat at home, but the road portion of the schedule is difficult.

WESTERN CAROLINA

2018 Record: 3-8, 1-7 Southern

What Went Wrong: After winning their first three games, the Catamounts lost their final eight games. SoCon opponents averaged nearly 46 points against them.

Possible 2019 Rebound: Dual-threat quarterback Tyrie Adams is one of the top players at his position in the FCS and he'll work with solid talent in the offensive skills. Still, the offensive line is re-tooling after losing four starting seniors and the defense has to get better. The two other times they went 1-7 in the SoCon under coach Mark Speir, the Catamounts won five conference games the next season.

YALE

2018 Record: 5-5, 3-4 Ivy

What Went Wrong: A losing record in the Ivy League was stunning for the defending champion. The Bulldogs had injury issues, including to quarterback Kurt Rawlings and running back Zane Dudek, the league's leading rusher and scorer in 2017, and were minus-11 in turnover margin.

Possible 2019 Rebound: That Rawlings has to compete with Griffin O'Connor, the 2018 Ivy rookie of the year, and Dudek with Alan Lamar, who made the All-Ivy first team, underscores the great depth in the lineup. They're only replacing one starter.

YOUNGSTOWN STATE

2018 Record: 4-7, 3-5 Missouri Valley

What Went Wrong: The defense lost key starters Justus Reed and Kyle Hegedus to injury before the season even began last year. Quarterback Nathan Mays was knocked out after four games.

Possible 2019 Rebound: The 2016 FCS runner-up lost a lot to graduation, so improvement in the rugged Missouri Valley won't be easy. But the Penguins could get off to a good start out of conference and build confidence under coach Bo Pelini. They need to develop offensive playmakers around Mays.

Updated April 8, 2019

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