The University of North Carolina at Charlotte 49ers’ are moving into Conference USA after just two seasons at the FCS level. The transition to FBS is always a difficult one, and it will be a difficult task for Charlotte to pull a Georgia Southern and surprise people.
That is partly due to their recent existence, but also because in the first two years of the program, the Niners played zero FBS schools and went 10-12. They play 11 FBS schools in 2015; the competition level rises, and it becomes more of a learning experience than anything else.
To be completely fair, expectations should not be high for the 49ers in 2015. There is an opportunity for Charlotte to surprise people in 2015, but in order to do it, they will have to adjust quickly to the new level of competition. The 49ers’ schedule is not insane, and gives them an opportunity to show what they are made of. Here is a game by game prediction of the 49ers’ 2015 inaugural schedule:
4 @Georgia State L This could be a highly entertaining game, to be televised (the first one!) on ESPNU that afternoon. This will allow for the 49ers to make a statement if they win against a GSU team that has struggled to prove much during their tenure at the highest level. Nick Arbuckle, Georgia State’s quarterback, is a really solid weapon and could be a difference maker in this contest. If Arbuckle out-duels Matt Johnson, which I think he will, then give the game to Georgia State.
12 Presbyterian College W Plain and simple, Charlotte blew them out 45-21 in 2013, and expect more of the same this year, with much of the talent from that team returning.
19 @Middle Tennessee L Middle Tennessee will be too much for the 49ers. Rick Stockstill’s team, which is laden with seniors, has made bowls in three of the last four seasons, which has helped the development of this program. The experience and leadership of the squad, plus the overall superiority of talent is not something Charlotte can match.
26 Florida Atlantic L FAU is a team that didn’t show much in 2014, struggling on their way to an abysmal 3-9 season. They had a woeful offense last year, but Charlotte’s defense was just as woeful, which means that FAU can get some points on the board if they get everything together, especially the run game. This game is a good chance for Charlotte to get their first conference win, but I think FAU is still a little better.
2 Temple L Temple is another team on the rise. Coach Matt Rhule’s team loves to play defense, but severely lacks in the offensive department, which could make this an interesting matchup. The Owls’ 24th ranked defense from 2014 will try to stifle Charlotte all day long. What the 49ers have going for them is the said lack of offense from Temple. Don’t expect this to be a high scoring affair, but with a team like Temple, who many are considering a serious threat in the American, it’ll be hard for the Niners to get the dub here.
17 @Old Dominion L No Taylor Heinicke, no problem. The Monarchs should take care of business in Norfolk, as Charlotte’s lingering defensive issues should plague them against a team with a high powered, fast paced offense, and new quarterback Shuler Bentley, who can apparently sling it just like his predecessor
24 Southern Miss L This is Charlotte’s best chance to win in conference to this point. Southern Miss has not been the same since Larry Fedora bolted for North Carolina, not making a bowl and even going winless in the one year Ellis Johnson era. However, they did win three last year, and many projections see Southern Miss gaining one more win this year. Whether it’s this game remains to be seen, but this game may be a weird, tough, slugfest between the two.
31 Marshall L…O-L Marshall had a chance to play Cinderella last year and failed. Some people believe that they can do the same again this year, and sorry Charlotte fans, but this game will not be close. The coin toss may even be a blowout. Marshall is expected to be among the favorites in CUSA, and Michael Birdsong and Devon Johnson are expected to carry the load for the Herd. Marshall could have 4 touchdowns by halftime in this one.
7 @Florida International L This is another game with potential for Charlotte, but the Niners will come up just short. The Panthers are another team looking to bounce back from a disappointing season. They need a lot of work, as they pretty much struggled all around. This game could be fun because it’s pretty much a coin flip game, and honestly there was hesitation with the pick, but I like FIU.
14 UTSA W!!!!! Charlotte wins against an FBS opponent for the first time, and gets the win in conference for the first time against a seriously rebuilding Roadrunners squad. UTSA has 3 returning starters. TOTAL. Larry Coker is a national championship winning coach, and they add Michigan transfer Russell Bellomy, who could potentially start, but the lackof starting experience will make it a difficult year. The Roadrunners are going to be challenged by the Niners in what should be an absolute thriller. I like the Niners.
21 @ Kentucky Do we have to? Kentucky’s improvement continues, and Patrick Towles is a very underrated quarterback. SEC cupcake Saturday includes this game and it won’t be close.
28 @Rice L The Turkey Day weekend festivities conclude with a road game near the Gulf. Driphus Jackson is one of the better players no one talks about in America. Charlotte could keep this game close if their offense continues to produce, but Rice pulls out the win by multiple possessions in the end.
So, Charlotte should struggle in their opening season, finishing with a 2-10 record. But, there is certainly reason for optimism as Charlotte should be able to compete in a number of games. Fans can expect to see this team continue to grow and improve in the future, and it may not be long until Charlotte is in the thick of the CUSA bowl parade.