If you haven't heard already, on this blog or on any other site on the Web, the Charlotte 49ers will be an FBS program in 2015 as a member of Conference USA. Weeks ago, we learned who they'd be playing (league-wise) and when. Granted, they're transitioning, but they'll be in for some tough ones at least for the first few years. Here's a look at their home schedule and my impressions of each game:
Presbyterian, September 12
A game against the FCS Blue Hose, a team Charlotte played in its inaugural season in 2013, shouldn't present much trouble (at least not on paper). The first time they played (September 28, 2013), Charlotte did fall behind 14-7 after the first quarter before outscoring Presbyterian 38-7 the rest of the way. This time around, with more experience under their belt, and much better athletes than their foes on the other end of the field.
Florida Atlantic, September 26
This one will come down to whether or not the Niners can put a cap on the Owls' running game, led by Jay Warren and dual-threat QB Jaquez Johnson (over 1,000 yards rushing and nine touchdowns combined). Now, 1,000 yards rushing isn't a ton, but Charlotte has shown a propensity for giving up decent amounts of yardage on the ground (nearly 200 a game). Add that to the fact that Johnson threw only five picks in 2014 and you'll see that he's at home passing the ball as well.
Temple, October 3
The Owls are an FBS team that looks to be trending upward since making the jump to FBS in 2005 (from 2-10 to 6-6 under second-year head coach Matt Rhule). Part of that is thanks to some good play junior-to-be quarterback, P.J. Walker (13 touchdowns and over 2,300 yards passing, three touchdowns rushing), and a defense led by linebacker Tyler Matakevich (10.5 TFLs, 117 tackles). But the Niners can take heart in the fact that Temple's O-line hasn't been particularly good in protecting Walker (sacked 20 times) and the fact that he's not one to rack up huge numbers every game. This one might be able to be won if they're able to wrap him up and shut down Matakevich, but I'm not seeing it.
Southern Miss, October 24
You know, I'll be honest and say that out of the Niners' five home games this year against FBS opponents, they might actually have a good shot at winning this one. Mainly because the Golden Eagles are...well...bad. I'll grant them the fact that they won three games in 2014 (up from one in 2013), but one was against Alcorn State (FCS) and the other was against App State (a first-year FBS team last year) by a single point. It wouldn't surprise me if Charlotte won, but if they lost, I guess it wouldn't surprise me either.
Marshall, October 31
The good news for the Niners going into this one: Rakeem Cato, the great Herd QB, and his favorite target, Tommy Shuler, graduated at the end of the 2014 season along with a group of difference-making seniors. The bad news: it's still Marshall, and they still have some pretty good athletes on the team. (See Johnson, Devon) I'm not confident early on that they'll be able to contain a guy like Johnson on the ground, especially given their lack of an ability to stop the run thus far. (There's some buzz, by the way, that this might be a night game because, well, Halloween. This is the first year Jerry Richardson Stadium will have lights; the spring game in a few weeks will be played in the evening as a result.)
UTSA, November 14
This game will be very interesting because it will feature two teams with very similar profiles: the Roadrunners, who started their program in 2011 as an FCS independent, made the jump to FBS and the WAC in 2012 before C-USA in 2013. UTSA has been basically a model for Charlotte and how they themselves are building (and have built) their own program. My first impression is that these two teams actually match up fairly evenly, but then again, Larry Coker has had a several year head start in recruiting FBS athletes. We'll see.