The 2015 Charlotte 49ers made the jump in competition from the FCS to the FBS to become a full member of Conference USA. As expected, they struggled mightily versus the higher level of competition. While there were several low moments throughout their inaugural FBS season, the future is bright for this squad.
Let's take a few minutes to look back at the first season of football at the Football Bowl Subdivision level for Charlotte.
If there was one positive to take away from the anemic offensive performance of the 49ers, it would be the play of Kalif Phillips. The junior running back just missed out on a 1,000 yard season with 961 yards on 190 carries. He was by far the most effective offensive performer for Charlotte with a 5.1 yards per carry average. No one on the team came even close to matching his production.
The 49ers passing game in 2015 was a complete mess. Charlotte rolled out three different quarterbacks that combined to throw 23 interceptions compared to only 12 touchdowns. Lee McNeill saw the majority of the action with 189 pass attempts, but Matt Johnson was the most effective with 771 yards passing on only 87 pass attempts.
The future of the 49ers passing attack is with freshman Brooks Barden. While seeing action in seven games, Barden showed glimpses that he could make the step forward and win the starting job in 2016. His development as a passer will determine what direction the program takes moving forward.
Austin Duke and Trent Bostick were able to step out from the crowd at receiver, with a combined 1,006 of the team's 2,089 yards receiving on the season. Both players will be back for the 2016 season.
One of the best things to come out of a struggling passing attack is the fact that nearly everyone got a chance to catch the ball. Overall, 15 different players caught a pass in the 2015 season.
For the part of the season, the 49ers defense played some inspired football in holding several talented offenses below their season averages. As the season progressed, it was clear that a significant lack of depth had caught up with them. At one point, seven straight teams scored 30 or more points versus the Charlotte defense.
One thing that was impressive about the Charlotte defense was the ability to make tackles for a loss at this level. Led by Larry Ogunjobi (14.5 tfl), the 49ers made 85 tackles for loss during the season.
It was tough to see the 49ers get pushed around at times by bigger and stronger offensive lines, but it was a year of learning out to play at the FBS level.
Special Teams: C
For a team like Charlotte, still learning how to play versus FBS programs, special teams were not terrible. Punter Arthur Hart was just below 40 yard per punt, but had only 19% (14 of 75) of his punts returned. The problem is that two were returned for touchdowns.
Blake Brewer handled all of the kickoffs and field goals for the season. He did about as well as expected for a FCS kicker making the jump to the FBS. Brewer was fairly accurate from inside 40 yards (11-16), but was only 3-11 from beyond 40.
Giving up return touchdowns was a big problem with two punt returns and one kickoff return touchdown given up on the years.
The 49ers were exactly what we thought they were: a young program that was not ready to compete on the FBS level. They did have an FBS win over Georgia State, a bowl team, and several close calls, but they were not on the same overall level as many of their opponents.
Kalif Phillips. The junior running back was the only real offensive option for the 49ers in 2015. Despite fewer carries than he should have gotten, he still nearly broke the 1,000 yard mark. Expect him to come back in 2016 for a great senior season.
You have to take into account for the 49ers that they have not been a program for very long at all and faced their first ever FBS opponents this season. It was not the most ideal way to bring the program up, but there is significant optimism for the future with this program.
They are in a solid recruiting area with the ability to sway more high ranked recruits to spurn the Power Five Conferences and head to Charlotte. I would not be surprised to see Charlotte in a bowl relatively quickly.