#12 Central Arkansas FCS Football 2017 Preview


Central Arkansas Bears


Overall Rank: #12

#2 Southland

Central Arkansas entered the final week of the 2016 regular season with an opportunity to win a Southland title. However, with the 59-23 loss to Sam Houston State, it was the Bearkats that went undefeated in conference play, while Central Arkansas had to settle for an 8-1 mark. The Bears entered the playoffs with plenty of momentum though. Their only other loss was way back on September 10th against Samford and they even beat Arkansas State. Following a 31-24 victory over Illinois State in the first round of the playoffs, Central Arkansas fell to #2 seed Eastern Washington 31-14.
2016 Record: 10-3, 8-1
2016 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Steve Campbell (23-13 at Central Arkansas, 50-21 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Nathan Brown
Defensive Coordinator: Greg Stewart
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Carlos Blackman, RB, 616 yards
Passing: Hayden Hildebrand, QB, 3,051 yards
Receiving: Roman Gordon, WR, 312 yards
Tackles: George Odum, LB, 86
Sacks: Chris Chambers, LB, 6.0
Interceptions: Jaylon Lofton, CB, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Keshawn Ledet, CB Tremon Smith, OL John Cook, DE Cardell Best, DL Chris Terrell, P Patrick Ponder
Key Losses: RB Antwon Wells, WR Desmond Smith, WR Jatavious Wilson, DB Tyler Williams, DB Devin Spurlock, LB Garrett Sharp, DL Jordan Toliver
The potent offense should continue for Central Arkansas and it starts with the return of all five starting linemen, led by John Cook and Stockton Mallett. They will pave the way for what should again be a balanced ground game. Carlos Blackman returns after rushing for a team high 616 yards. Sophomore Keshawn Ledet added 322 yards and four touchdowns and Jarvis Cooper will get some carries as well. Once again there may not be a superstar back that emerges, but the Bears have plenty of proven options returning from a team that ranked second in the Southland Conference in rushing offense. Quarterback Hayden Hildebrand can run a little too, but he threw for over 3,000 yards last year and will again be a major threat through the air. Hildebrand will have quite a few new receivers to work with though and a few of them need to step up and be ready to contribute. Roman Gordon and Brandon Cox are the most experienced receivers on the roster. Redshirt freshman Joe Hampton is one to watch and could play a large role at receiver in 2017.
The biggest losses on defense are at defensive tackle, but the line should still be a talented and experienced unit. Cardell Best, Chris Chambers and Chris Terrell are decent ends and there is experience at tackle with seniors Eric Jackson and Javian Williams leading the way. Chris Chambers led the team with 6.0 sacks from his hybrid end/linebacker spot last season. James Graves and Raphael Garner are back at linebacker and George Odum will man the rover position after leading the Bears with 86 tackles last season. Cornerback Tremon Smith is one of the best in the conference and the opposition often avoids throwing in his direction. That will put a lot of pressure on Tavion Garrison on the other side of the field as he steps into a starting position. Having Jaylen Lofton at strong safety and emerging sophomore Juan Jackson at free safety should help cover for any problems Central Arkansas has replacing Tyler Williams at cornerback.
The Bottom Line:
Central Arkansas may not have to wait so long before losing a conference game in 2017. They play Sam Houston State on September 30th. The Bears also get Southeastern Louisiana and McNeese State at home and those are arguably the three toughest conference foes they face this season. If Central Arkansas can come out strong, they could make a lot of noise. Before the big game against Sam Houston State, they face Kansas State, Murray State and Southeastern Louisiana. Those are four very tough games, but if the Bears can manage to come out with a 3-1 record, they will spend October and November trying to hold onto a very high ranking and possibly a bye in the playoffs. However, even with a 2-2 start or even a 1-3 start, the Bears have the depth and talent to win the last seven games on their schedule and make the playoffs.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 187.2 (29th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 237.2 (39, 4)
Total Offense: 424.4 (23, 4)
Scoring Offense: 33.1 (19, 2)
Rushing Defense: 72.8 (2, 1)
Pass Defense: 263.5 (106, 6)
Total Defense: 336.3 (22, 1)
Scoring Defense: 21.7 (20, 1)
Turnover Margin: 0.31 (42, 3)
Sacks: 2.62 (20, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 1.15 (16, 1)
HERO Sports 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#125 Justin Morris