#25 Northern Arizona FCS Football 2017 Preview


Northern Arizona Lumberjacks


Overall Rank: #25

#4 Big Sky

With some key injuries, Northern Arizona struggled to a 5-6 record in 2016. The Lumberjacks picked up some decent victories during a four game winning streak in the middle of the season, but that was not enough to recover from a tough start and finish to the 2016 campaign. Coach Jerome Souers enters his 20th season as the head coach at Northern Arizona and this could be the year they make their fifth playoff appearance during his reign and their second since 2003.
2016 Record: 5-6, 4-4
2016 Postseason: None
Coach: Jerome Souers (112-103 at Northern Arizona, 112-103 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Brian Sheppard
Defensive Coordinator: Andy Thompson
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Joe Logan, RB, 726 yards
Passing: Case Cookus, QB, 1,173 yards
Receiving: Emmanuel Butler, WR, 1,003 yards
Tackles: Jake Casteel, LB, 67
Sacks: Clarence Smith, DE, 3.0
Interceptions: Khalil Dorsey, CB, 2
Other Key Returnees: WR Elijah Marks, WR William Morehand, OL Tyler Shank, OL Blake Porter, CB Andrew Goss, K Griffin Roehler
Key Losses: RB Kendyl Taylor, QB Blake Kemp, WR Delshawn McCellon, LB Jake Thomas, S Keith Graham, DE Siupeli Anau, DL Deon Young, S LeAndre Vaughn
The health of Case Cookus will go a long way in determining how successful this group is in 2017. Cookus missed most of last season with an injury after throwing for 3,117 yards and earning all sorts of honors as a freshman in 2016. He was well on his way to another great season before the injury. And that is good news for wide receiver Emmanuel Butler, the first NAU receiver to ever record two 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Last year he caught 69 passes for 1,003 yards and nine touchdowns. With Cookus back, expect those numbers to be even more impressive. Elijah Marks and William Morehand are also proven receivers. Joe Logan will handle a bulk of the carries. He rushed for 726 yards and five touchdowns on just 115 carries as a freshman. With a talented offensive line, led by Tyler Shank and Blake Porter, this will be one of the most explosive offenses in the country.
The defense has more holes to fill. The line lost Siupeli Anau, who record 8.5 sacks and 15.0 tackles for loss, and Deon Young, who added 3.5 sacks. The most productive part of the NAU defense last season was their pass rush, but that will not likely be the case again in 2017. Players like Clarence Smith and a few junior college transfers will have to be ready to make an immediate impact. At linebacker, Jake Casteel returns after tallying 67 tackles. The secondary struggled at times last season, but cornerbacks Andrew Goss and Khalil Dorsey are a good duo to build around. Dorsey had a superb freshman campaign and had nine pass breakups with two interceptions. He could emerge as one of the best cornerbacks in the Big Sky sooner or later.
The Bottom Line:
A healthy Cookus should account for a couple more wins. However, if Northern Arizona is going to reach the playoffs, they will need the defense to improve. With non-conference games against Arizona and Western Illinois to start the season, the Lumberjacks could find themselves at 0-2 again. Last year they lost to Arizona State and the Leathernecks to start the season. Their other non-conference game is on October 7th against Illinois State. Obviously that one will not be easy either. The good news is that Eastern Washington and North Dakota are not on the schedule. A trip to Cal Poly on September 23rd could be the most difficult conference game on the schedule this year and the Lumberjacks are 10-1 all-time against the Mustangs. A win there and the Lumberjacks should head into November with a shot at winning the Big Sky.
Projected Postseason: None
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 156.6 (57th in nation, 8th in conference)
Passing Offense: 318.8 (7, 3)
Total Offense: 475.5 (9, 3)
Scoring Offense: 32.8 (21, 6)
Rushing Defense: 153.4 (51, 5)
Pass Defense: 259.7 (103, 9)
Total Defense: 413.1 (82, 6)
Scoring Defense: 28.5 (69, 6)
Turnover Margin: 0.27 (45, 4)
Sacks: 2.45 (27, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 0.73 (5, 1)
HERO Sports 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#2 Chance Brewington
#60 Terrell Brown
#119 Gregory Jordan