Making the postseason has become commonplace for the New Hampshire Wildcats.
The program has made it to the playoffs for 13 straight years, the longest active streak at the FCS level. The problem has been making deep runs once the team gets there.
Only twice during that time have the Wildcats made it past the Quarterfinals. For as great of a run as they have had, this team has never even made it to an FCS Championship Game. The Wildcats will try to change that in 2017.
2016 New Hampshire Football Season In Review
Last season, the Wildcats needed a win in the last week of the regular season to ensure a spot in the postseason. New Hampshire was 6-4 entering the final game and desperately needed a win against the Maine Black Bears in order to continue its season, and the Wildcats squeezed out a 24-21 victory on the back of Dalton Crossan.
Crossan ran all over Maine, logging 163 yards on the ground and scoring a touchdown. His success was in stark contrast to a Maine rushing attack that averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a team.
The Wildcats relied heavily on Crossan late in the season. He dominated in their opening playoff game against Lehigh, carrying the ball 24 times for 184 yards and two touchdowns in a 64-21 rout.
However, quarterback Trevor Knight struggled in his sophomore season. He completed just 56.1 percent of his passes and averaged just 5.4 yards per attempt. He was woeful in the playoff loss to James Madison, though he was coming off of an injury and wasn’t at his best.
The defense held firm against most teams, but it couldn’t stop James Madison or Albany. The Dukes racked up 97 points on this team in two meetings, while the Great Danes ran for over 300 yards in a 36-25 win.
2017 New Hampshire Football Season Preview
The first order of business will be replacing Crossan. He was the most important player on New Hampshire’s offense last season, and the Wildcats will need to find a capable running back to step into his role. Expected starter Trevon Bryant suffered a season-ending injury in spring practice, further impacting the depth of this position.
Evan Gray left spring as the presumptive starter but is extremely inexperienced. The sophomore only carried the ball 14 times last season and will likely split time with Donald Goodrich and Jerickson Fedrick.
The wide receivers are very good for a team that doesn’t throw the ball that much. Malik Love had an excellent spring, and head coach Sean McDonnell raved about his hands. Neil O’Connor is more of a deep threat than his teammate and will be used to stretch the field.
Defensively, the secondary is the potential cause for concern. This group is very talented but very young and inexperienced as well. The starting five defensive backs are all sophomores and some of them have seen very little action. Prince Smith Jr. and Pop Lacey will lead the group, but it could have some struggles.
2017 New Hampshire Football Schedule
August 31: New Hampshire vs. Maine
September 9: New Hampshire at Georgia Southern
September 16: New Hampshire at Holy Cross
September 23: New Hampshire vs. Rhode Island
September 30: New Hampshire vs. Bryant
October 14: New Hampshire at Stony Brook
October 21: New Hampshire vs. Towson
October 28: New Hampshire at James Madison
November 4: New Hampshire at William and Mary
November 11: New Hampshire vs. Elon
November 18: New Hampshire at Albany
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
New Hampshire is fortunate the way its conference slate shapes up for the second season in a row. The Wildcats once again dodge powerhouses like Richmond and Villanova, which will help their chances at the postseason. However, their two toughest CAA games will be on the road.
The game against Albany at the end of the season could very well be for a playoff spot. The Great Danes pounded the Wildcats on the ground last season and will rely on the legs of Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks to get the job done once again. Provided Ibitokun-Hanks rehabs well from a torn ACL, fade New Hampshire in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests at the end of the season.