#38 Southern Utah FCS Football 2017 Preview


Southern Utah Thunderbirds


Overall Rank: #38

#7 Big Sky

Southern Utah had quite a bit of work to do last year following their great 2015 season. First year head coach Demario Warren did an admirable job and led his team to a 5-3 record in a tough Big Sky Conference. In the end a couple of mid-October losses to North Dakota and Weber State kept the Thunderbirds out of the playoffs, but this is a group that should be knocking on the door again in 2017.
2016 Record: 6-5, 5-3
2016 Postseason: None
Coach: Demario Warren (6-5 at Southern Utah, 6-5 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Justin Walterscheid
Defensive Coordinator: Rod Chance
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: James Felila, RB, 154 yards
Passing: Patrick Tyler, QB, 2,296 yards
Receiving: Ty Rutledge, WR, 155 yards
Tackles: Mike Needham, LB, 75
Sacks: Taylor Pili, DL, 5.0; Robert Torgerson, DL, 5.0
Interceptions: Mike Needham, LB, 5
Other Key Returnees: S Tyler Collet, S Mitch Dalley, S Kyle Hannemann
Key Losses: RB Malik Brown, RB Raysean Pringle, WR Mike Sharp, TE Steven Wroblewski, WR Brady Measom, LB Junior Tufuga, CB Josh Thornton, P Tate Lewis
Quarterback Patrick Tyler quickly rose up their depth chart during his first season with Southern Utah. He ended up taking most of the snaps for the Thunderbirds and threw for 2,296 yards and 23 touchdowns. He completed nearly 60 percent of his passes and was intercepted just six times. For his senior season, expect even better things from Tyler. However, the Thunderbirds lose a lot of talent at wide receiver, most notably Mike Sharp who caught 75 passes for 898 yards and a dozen touchdowns. Ty Rutledge, who only saw action in seven games last season, is the team’s top returning receiver. When healthy, Rutledge is a quality option, but others need to step up too. The story is the same at running back where Malik Brown departs after rushing for 1,027 yards and seven touchdowns. James Felila showed some potential as a freshman, rushing for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries. He will be asked to do much more as a sophomore.
The defense has a few major holes to fill as well. Linebacker Junior Tufuga tied the team high with 75 tackles and cornerback Josh Thornton picked off three passes and broke up eight more. There are eight starters returning though and that experience should help boost what was one of the worst pass defenses in the FCS in 2016. The Thunderbirds did do a good job of getting to the quarterback and that should continue with Taylor Pili and Robert Torgerson leading the way. Those two tallied 5.0 sacks each last year. The strength of the unit should be at linebacker despite the loss of Tufuga. Mike Needham tallied an impressive 75 tackles, 3.0 sacks and five interceptions. He is always around the ball. The return of Chineda Ahanonu from his LDS Mission will add another proven playmaker to the linebacker corps. Back in 2014 he tallied 152 tackles. The secondary that was consistently in trouble in 2016 returns Tyler Collet, Mitch Dalley and Kyle Hannemann, but trying to replace Thornton could be an issue all year long.
The Bottom Line:
The non-conference slate only has one FBS team on it this year, but it is hardly any easier. After trips to Oregon and Stephen F. Austin, SUU hosts Northern Iowa on September 16th. With the tough Big Sky awaiting after that, this team may have to win two of those games to have a realistic shot at the playoffs. The good news, perhaps, is that Cal Poly, Eastern Washington, North Dakota and Northern Arizona all come to Cedar City. On paper those are likely the four toughest Big Sky games on the schedule. If Southern Utah is an upper echelon team in the Big Sky, they could win those games. If not, they could lose all four conference home games and it is not like the four road contests will be easy either.
Projected Postseason: None
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 165.1 (48th in nation, 6th in conference)
Passing Offense: 219.4 (53, 8)
Total Offense: 384.5 (59, 10)
Scoring Offense: 29.2 (38, 8)
Rushing Defense: 154.0 (52, 6)
Pass Defense: 301.0 (121, 13)
Total Defense: 455.0 (108, 9)
Scoring Defense: 28.4 (68, 5)
Turnover Margin: 1.09 (9, 2)
Sacks: 2.36 (32, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 1.64 (41, 5)
HERO Sports 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#229 Donovan Faumui