#31 Maine FCS Football 2015 Preview

George Hammond

Maine Black Bears

Overall Rank: #31
#6 CAA

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After winning the Colonial Athletic Association title two years ago with a squad that was picked to finish in the lower half of the league standings, Maine slipped back last year – but it was a drop that wasn’t unexpected considering the personnel losses from that championship team. The Black Bears, however, did win three of their last four in 2014 to build momentum heading into this fall. Included in that span was Maine’s 33-20 triumph over FCS playoff team Richmond. The Bears are hoping a year’s experience among their young players will bolster an offense that was last in the CAA in 2014. The defense was a different story as Maine finished second in the CAA in total defense and several key players from that unit return in 2015.
2014 Record: 5-6, 4-4
2014 Postseason: None
Coach: Jack Cosgrove (121-121 at Maine and overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Kevin Bourgoin
Defensive Coordinator: Joe Harasymiak

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Nigel Beckford, RB, 471 yards
Passing: Dan Collins, QB, 908 yards
Receiving: Jordan Dunn, WR, 282 yards
Tackles: Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, LB, 95
Sacks: Trevor Bates, DE, and Zachary Hume, LB, 5.5
Interceptions: Trevor Bates, DE, and Cabr Goncalves, LB, 3

Other Key Returnees: DE Mike Kozlakowski, QB Drew Belcher, OL Bruce Johnson, CB Sherrod Baltimore, OL Benedict Wezel, OL Dan Carriker, OL Isaiah Brooks, OL Jamil Demby, FB Jeremy Salmon, WR Jared Osumah

Key Losses: WR Damarr Aultman, WR Arthur Williams, P Jeff Ondish, DB Axel Ofori

The defense was solid last year and there are enough returning parts to do a capable job again in 2015. Leading the way will be linebacker Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga who was the team’s top tackler in 2014 with 95. The team’s outstanding defensive player last year, Tshimanga had 12-plus tackles in four games. Also back on defense is defensive end Trevor Bates, who had 60 tackles in 2014 and was named the team’s most valuable player. Bates will get help on the defensive line from redshirt senior Mike Kozlakowski, who missed almost all of the last two seasons with injuries. Sherrod Baltimore returns to anchor the secondary, which did lose key personnel. Offensively, the entire line returns intact, including Bruce Johnson, who received preseason accolades. Quarterbacks Dan Collins and Drew Belcher return as well. Collins started the first six games last year before suffering a season-ending injury. Belcher, at 230 pounds, is a running threat (312 yards in 2014) who started the other five games last season.

The running game has to improve. Maine was 106th nationally in rushing offense last year and 11th in the CAA. There were signs, however, that the running game was coming around at the end of last season as Maine had two 100-plus-yard rushers in two of its last three games. Nigel Beckford should be a big part of that attack as he rushed for 471 yards last year (4.0 ypg). Maine must replace two of its top three receivers as well, including Damarr Aultman, who had 48 receptions for 498 yards. Arthur Williams, who had 16 catches, is also gone. The secondary will be fairly inexperienced and the Black Bears need to find a replacement for punter Jeff Ondish (40-yard average).

The Bottom Line:
Maine was picked to finish seventh in the preseason CAA coaches and media poll, but with 21 starters back the Bears can’t be overlooked. As mentioned, two years ago Maine surprised the entire league and veteran coach Jack Cosgrove has posted a 91-68 mark over the last 13 seasons. The key will be the offense, and with Collins and Belcher having more experience, the unit should be more productive. The schedule is difficult as Maine opens at Boston College and following a week off then travels to Louisiana to take on Tulane for the first meeting between the two schools. So it’s likely Maine starts 0-2. Then comes a key league stretch as Maine faces Rhode Island, Richmond and Albany in successive weeks. The Bears don’t face Delaware or James Madison. This won’t be a playoff team, but if things go right the Bears could finish as high as fifth in the CAA.

Projected Postseason: None

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 109.3 (106th in nation, 11th in conference)
Passing Offense: 149.8 (104, 10)
Total Offense: 259.1 (114, 12)
Scoring Offense: 16.4 (107, 9)  
Rushing Defense: 144.5 (34, 4)
Pass Defense: 172.2 (15, 2)
Total Defense: 316.7 (24, 2)
Scoring Defense: 21.3 (23, 3)
Turnover Margin: 0.91 (7, 4)
Sacks: 2.36 (37, 8)
Sacks Allowed: 3.73 (113, 12)

Madness 2015 Recruit Rankings:
#67 Sterling Sheffield
#138 Julian Dunn


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