The idea of Charlotte having a football team has been a nice story these last few years. But it is about to get REAL in 2015 with the Niners playing their first full season as a FBS member in Conference USA.
No more games with the likes of Campbell, James Madison, Gardner-Webb, or Coastal Carolina. Now the Niners will see the likes of Marshall, Western Kentucky, and Rice among others in CUSA. Sprinkle in Temple and Kentucky this season, Louisville in 2016, Kansas State in 2017, Tennessee in 2018, Clemson in 2019, and Duke in 2020, 2021 and WELCOME TO THE BIG TIME 49ERS!
Offensively, the Niners should fit right in with their new league. They averaged 38 points per game in 2014. Last year, Marshall averaged 45 points per game and Western Kentucky averaged 44. There was a game last season that was 67-66. You get the picture, defense was not a requirement to be good in this league in 2014.
Let's focus on the offense first. The Niners have some big time weapons in RB Kalif Phillips and WR Austin Duke. Phillips rushed for 14 hundred yards and 20 TD last season while Duke hauled in 13 hundred yard receiving and 9 scores. Both players have landed on All Conference USA pre season teams.
QB Matt Johnson is back as well after injuring his knee 8 games into the 2014 season. But there could be a competition for that starting spot with Lee McNeill (who started the last 3 games) and redshirt freshman Brooks Barden.
The 2 best defenses last season in Conference USA belonged to the 2 teams that played for the conference title in Marshall and Louisiana Tech, but here is a ray of light. Western Kentucky had the worst defense in the league giving up 39 points per game (43 points per game in conference play), but still finished 8-5.
Charlotte's defense had major problems last year getting off the field on 3rd downs. Opponents converted on the key down 46% of the time. They also gave up 31 points per game in 2014 playing a FCS schedule. With a new defensive coordinator in Matt Wallerstedt in 2015, most experts see the struggles continuing in their first year as a full FBS member.
There is no doubt that defense will be the key to success for the Niner in 2015. The front 7 should be solid and the secondary has a lot of players who have college game experience now.
Pick up any pre season magazine and NO ONE has the Niners finishing better than 7th in the Eastern Division of Conference USA. 7th sounds OK until you realize there is only 7 teams in the Eastern Division. Some are even saying Charlotte will not win one conference game this season and at best will have a final record of 2-10.
I for one don't believe that. They will win more than 2 games. They will win a conference game. They will be competitive and that is the most important aspect of this equation.
Sure, everyone in Niner Nation would love to see them exceed expectations, but the big question will be can they compete at this level?
Ready or not, here it comes.
It's an exciting time to be a Charlotte 49ers football fan. WELCOME TO THE BIG TIME!
September 4th's game at Georgia State can't get here soon enough.
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