#35 Western Carolina FCS Football 2015 Preview

George Hammond

Western Carolina Catamounts

Overall Rank: #35
#4 SoCon

Western Carolina Team Page#35 Western Carolina FCS Football 2015 PreviewBuy Western Carolina Football Tickets

In some places, a 7-5 record isn’t much to get excited about. In Cullowhee, N.C., it was a big deal. That 7-5 mark gave WCU its first winning regular season since 2005 and just its second winning mark since 2001. The five league wins matched a school best and the second-place finish in the Southern Conference was the school’s highest since 1986. And with most of the starters returning on both sides of the ball, excitement is building for another season – and that’s not been the case for several years in western North Carolina. The turnaround has been directed by Mark Speir, who will enter his fourth season. At the end of last season, the feisty Speir took ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit to task after the latter called the matchups between SEC schools and FCS schools “embarrassing” and the worst thing in college football. Herbstreit’s statements came as WCU was playing in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, against the Crimson Tide (Alabama won, 48-14.) This season, WCU has two FBS opponents – Tennessee and Texas A&M.

2014 Record: 7-5, 5-2
2014 Postseason: None
Coach: Mark Speir (10-25 at Western Carolina, 10-25 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Brad Glenn
Defensive Coordinator: Shawn Quinn

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Darius Ramsey, RB, 763 yards
Passing: Troy Mitchell, QB, 2,541 yards
Receiving: Terryon Robinson, WR, 643 yards
Tackles: Daniel Riddle, LB, 74
Sacks: Caleb Hawkins, DE, 3
Interceptions: Trey Morgan, DB, 6

Other Key Returnees: WR Spearman Robinson, WR Karnorris Benson, OL Jake Thornton, OL Josh Wineberg, DB Sertonuse Harris, OL Tyler Philpott, DT Helva Matungulu, LB Tyson Dickson.

Key Losses: DB Ace Clark, LB Christon Gill, PK Richard Sigmon.

For starters, the experience factor alone should help the Catamounts. Speir played a lot of youngsters the last two seasons, but those players have grown up and are ready for success. Offensively, quarterback Troy Mitchell, a second-team All SoCon selection, leads the attack. Mitchell set a school record for total yards last year and became the first WCU player to pass the 3,000-yard mark in total yards. WCU has its three top receivers returning in Terryon Robinson, Spearman Robinson and Karnorris Benson. In addition, running back Darius Ramsey, who had 763 yards rushing in 2014, leads the ground attack. Defensively, WCU is counting on a healthy linebacker Tyson Dickson, who had 44 tackles in the first half of last season before getting injured.

The Catamounts must replace their top two tacklers from 2014 in Christon Gill and Ace Clark. The pair combined for 189 tackles last season. And considering WCU ranked 109th nationally in rushing defense in 2014, it’s easy to see where the focus will be in preseason. The Catamounts allowed their opponents to convert 47.4 percent of third-down attempts last year. The other area on defense that needs an upgrade is team sacks. WCU was 116th nationally last year, and it must put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The Bottom Line:
If you look at last year’s SoCon statistics, one might wonder: How did WCU have a winning record? Out of 11 categories, it ranked as high as second in just one and was fifth or lower in seven others. What the Catamounts have, obviously, are playmakers. But it won’t be easy this year with two FBS opponents and what should be a stronger SoCon. The key stretch will come in mid-October when WCU faces Wofford, Samford and Chattanooga in three consecutive weeks. The Catamounts should be in the hunt with Mitchell and company, but they might fall short of getting that FCS playoff bid.

Projected Postseason: None

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 168.7 (52nd in nation, 6th in conference)
Passing Offense: 219.2 (55, 2)
Total Offense: 387.8 (58, 5)
Scoring Offense: 27.2 (57, 5)  
Rushing Defense: 228.3 (109, 7)
Pass Defense: 176.4 (16, 4)
Total Defense: 404.8 (72, 6)
Scoring Defense: 26.7 (61, 5)
Turnover Margin: 0.42 (32, 3)
Sacks: 1.00 (116, 7)
Sacks Allowed: 1.17 (17, 3)

Madness 2015 Recruit Rankings:
#3 Marvin Tillman
#13 Hassan Belton
#142 Kalen Whitlow


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