Coach Brad Lambert (third season, 10-12 at Charlotte and overall)
Returning starters: 20, 9 offense, 9 defense, 2 special teams
Recruiting rank: 128
Strength of schedule: 116 (44.5%)
It’s a brave new world for the UNC-Charlotte football program in 2015, as the 49ers will move up to the FBS level in just their third season of existence. After competing as an FCS independent the last two seasons, head coach Brad Lambert will take his team into Conference USA for the 2015 season.
Junior quarterback Matt Johnson returns after starting for the 49ers the past two seasons. Johnson completed 52 percent of his passes last season with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions, and he was also the team’s second leading rusher with 383 yards. However, backup Lee McNeil, who’s more of a pocket passer than a runner, saw action in all 11 games as well, and Charlotte is likely to play both quarterbacks again this season.
The Charlotte passing game will benefit from the return of top receiver Austin Duke, who provided 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014; however, production from the rest of the receiving corps was limited. The 49ers will need the receivers around Duke to step up, with sophomore T.L. Ford a candidate to have a breakout season.
The 49ers don’t have a deep backfield, but they will bring back junior running back Kalif Phillips, who rushed for over 1,400 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2014. Charlotte will ride Phillips all season, but they will benefit from some of the other backs on the roster becoming viable options. Paving the way for Phillips and company will be an experienced offensive line that brings back four starters, including standout left tackle Jamal Covington and center Thomas La Bianca, a two-year starter.
“Thomas is a physically dominant player on the field, but he is an absolute great kid off of it," Lambert said. (Charlotte49ers.com)
Defensively, the 49ers will return most of their starters from the 2014 season, although that defense gave up 31 points per game at the FCS level. Up front, nose tackle Larry Ogunjobi is a difference maker after leading Charlotte with 11.5 tackles for loss and five sacks last season. At linebacker, Dustin Crouser and Karrington King had standout seasons as redshirt freshmen in 2014, and the duo could be even better in 2015. In the secondary, senior safety Branden Dozier will be the leader of the Charlotte defense after leading the 49ers in tackles last season.
On special teams, place kicker Blake Brewer and punter Arthur Hart both return after solid seasons last year. The 49ers also return a slew of potential kick returners, including senior Damarrell Alexander, who returned a kick for a touchdown last season.
Charlotte has the lowest ranked recruiting class by CFP for 2015. The 49ers did sign hometown defensive back Nafees Lyon, who should eventually work his way onto the depth chart. As a prep, Lyon snagged three interceptions during his senior season and nine for his career. Of the 17 players signed, nine are from North Carolina, 12 from North or South Carolina and six from Charlotte, NC.
Many of the players on the Charlotte roster have a great deal of experience from playing the last two seasons, which will help the 49ers as they make the transition to the FBS level. However, last year this same group of players went 5-6 at the FCS level, and even with some improvement and team good chemistry, Charlotte could be in for a rude awakening when they get to the FBS level in 2015.
*Recruiting analysis and statistic listings compiled by Justin Burnette.
Fum Lost: 14
Int Lost: 11
TOs Lost: 25
Sacks Allowed: 12
Fum Gained: 9
Int Gained: 13
TOs Gained: 22
TO Margin: -3
*2014 season stats listed unless otherwise noted.
DB Nafees Lyon
Fr. 5-10 180
Charlotte, NC (Mallard Creek)
OL Jamal Covington
r-Jr. 6-4 305
Two-year starter and 12 team sacks allowed.
OL Thomas La Bianca
r-Jr. 6-3 285
Two-year starter and 12 team sacks allowed.
QB Matt Johnson
r-Jr. 6-3 230
8 games, 1941 passing yards, 242.6 passing yards per game, 52 percent completion, 13 passing touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 136.4 QB rating, 383 rushing yards, 6.1 yards per carry, 47.9 rushing yards per game and 1 rushing touchdown.
RB/R Damarrell Alexander
r-Sr. 5-10 165
10 games, 201 rushing yards, 5.6 yards per carry, 20.1 rushing yards per game, 2 rushing touchdowns, 2 receptions, 15 receiving yards. 7.5 yards per catch, 1.5 receiving yards per game, 457 kick return yards, 22.9 yards per kick return and 1 kick return touchdown.
RB Karif Phillips
Jr. 5-11 185
11 games, 1436 rushing yards, 6.3 yards per carry, 130.5 rushing yards per game, 20 rushing touchdowns, 7 receptions, 87 receiving yards, 12.4 yards per catch and 7.9 receiving yards per game.
SR Austin Duke
r-Jr. 5-9 152
11 games, 79 receptions, 1373 receiving yards, 17.4 yards per catch, 124.8 receiving yards per game, 9 receiving touchdowns, 81 rushing yards, 5.1 yards per carry, 7.4 rushing yards per game, 1 rushing touchdown, 22 punt return yards, 5.5 yards per punt return, 35 kick return yards and 17.5 yards per kick return.
DL Larry Ogunjobi
r-Jr. 6-3 290
11 games, 48 tackles, 30 solo tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 10 quarterback hurries, 1 fumble recovered, 2 passes broken up and 2 passes defended.
LB Dustin Crouser
r-So. 6-2 220
11 games, 81 tackles, 43 solo tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3 fumbles forced, 3 passes defended, 5 passes broken up and 2 interceptions.
LB Karrington King
r-So. 5-11 215
11 games, 79 tackles, 44 solo tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 quarterback hurries, 1 forced fumbles, 1 pass broken up and 1 pass defended.
DB Branden Dozier
Sr. 6-0 200
11 games, 86 tackles, 52 solo tackles, 2 fumbles recovered, 11 passes broken up, 12 passes defended, 1 interception, 1 fumble return for touchdown and 1 interception return for touchdown.
K Blake Brewer
Jr. 6-1 220
18-25 field goals, 2-4 field goals 40-49 yards, 2-4 field goals over 50 yards and 46-49 point after attempts.
at Campbell W 33-9
vs Johnson C Smith W 56-0
at North Carolina Central W 40-28
at Elon L 20-13
vs Charleston Southern L 47-41 OT
at Gardner-Webb L 27-24
at Citadel L 63-56 2OT
vs James Madison L 48-40
vs Coast Carolina L 59-34
vs Wesley College W 38-33
vs Morehead State W 52-14
at Georgia State
at Middle Tennessee
vs Florida Atlantic
at Old Dominion
vs Southern Miss