#15 New Hampshire FCS Football 2012 Preview

George Hammond

New Hampshire Wildcats

Overall Rank: #15
#4 CAA
New Hampshire FCS College Football 2012 Team Preview
New Hampshire Team Page


A blocked extra point proved to be the difference in New Hampshire’s heartbreaking 26-25 loss to Montana State in the second round of last year’s Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The missed extra point was reminiscent of the 1976 NCAA Division II first-round playoff loss to Montana State for Wildcat coach Sean McDonnell. In that contest, McDonnell played defensive back and New Hampshire missed a late PAT that would have tied the contest. Still, New Hampshire enters this season as owners of the nation’s longest active streak of FCS playoff appearances with eight. And the Wildcats have enough key pieces returning to possibly run that consecutive streak to nine. New Hampshire returns seven offensive starters and seven on defense.

2011 Record: (8-4, 6-2)
2011 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Sean McDonnell (96-62-0 at New Hampshire, 96-62-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Ryan Carty
Defensive Coordinator: John Lyons

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Dontra Peters, RB, 595 yards
Passing: Andy Vailas, QB, 18 yards
Receiving: Joey Orlando, WR, 679 yards
Tackles: Matt Evans, LB, 165 tackles
Sacks: Jared Smith, DT, 2.5
Interceptions: Chris Houston, LB, 6

Other Key Returnees: Chris Zarkoskie, OG, Ricky Archer, OG, Mike Coccia, C, Mickey DiLima, OT, Seamus O’Neill, OT, Alan Buzbee, LB, R.J. Harris, WR

Key Losses: Kevin Decker, QB, Chris Chandler, WR, Sean Cullen, TE, Mickey Mangieri, WR, James Jenkins, DE, Kyle Flemings, CB, Brian McNally, DE, Rod Walker, S

Judging by last year’s numbers, the defense would appear to have its work cut out for it. It yielded 31.58 points a game in 2011 and was at or near the bottom of the CAA pack in several defensive categories. But it could be a real plus this season — particularly at linebacker where senior Matt Evans, who won last year’s Buck Buchanan Award as the nation’s top defensive player, returns. Evans is the first player in school history to win the honor, and he is listed on several All-America teams this year including a first team spot in the College Sports Madness preseason All-America team.  But he’s not the only key returning New Hampshire player. Senior linebacker Alan Buzbee, who started all 12 games last year, returns as well. The offensive line should be solid, too, as all five starters, plus two key reserves, remain intact. Co-captain Chris Zarkoskie is back for his third season as a starter while junior Seamus O’Neill, an All-CAA Third Team selection last year, mans left tackle. There’s plenty of experience at running back, too, where all four of last season’s top rushers return led by senior co-captain Dontra Peters at tailback. That’s not all — sophomore R.J. Harris and senior Joey Orlando (all CAA selections) head up a talented receiving corps. 

New Hampshire has had so many outstanding quarterbacks through the years that it’s a given the Wildcats will have a good one. And that could be the case again this season, but with CAA Offensive Player of the Year and team most valuable player Kevin Decker gone, there has to be some concern. Senior James Brady is expected to be Decker’s replacement, but he played a limited role in 2011. A transfer from Georgetown, Brady was 13 of 17 for 300 yards in the spring game. Last year, the defensive line was experienced on the edges and young in the middle, but the roles will be reversed this season. Gone are co-captain Brian McNally, an All-CAA defensive end and James Jenkins, a two-year starter at defensive end. 

The Bottom Line:
New Hamphsire has been a model of consistency as indicated by its consecutive playoff streak, but the Wildcats tend to walk a fine line, too. For example, six of last year’s eight victories came by seven points or less. Last year, they had a veteran quarterback, this year they don’t. Will it make a difference in some of those close contests? The schedule is tough, too, but it always is in the CAA. Last year, New Hampshire lost its opener at Toledo and then beat Lehigh in overtime. A difficult start awaits in 2012 with road games at Holy Cross and the Big Ten’s Minnesota. The home opener is against Central Connecticut State, but then New Hampshire faces Old Dominion and Delaware (all in September). A bad start could stall the Wildcats’ bid for another playoff run, but with Evans, Peters and company, expect another playoff appearance.

Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs

2011 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 153.08 (57th in nation, 6th in conference)
Passing Offense: 274.67 (16, 1)
Total Offense: 427.75 (18, 3)
Scoring Offense: 32.83 (19, 3)
Rushing Defense: 180.83 (94, 11)
Pass Defense: 246.67 (105, 11)
Total Defense: 427.50 (105, 11)
Scoring Defense: 31.58 (95, 11)
Turnover Margin: -.17 (64, 6)
Sacks: 1.92 (67, 6)
Sacks Allowed: 2.75 (87th, 10)

Madness 2012 FCS Football Recruit Rankings:
#111 Dalton Crossan