Presbyterian College football opens the 2014 season with the first of three games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, taking on Northern Illinois on Thursday, August 28. PC looks to pair a talented corps of seniors with a strong group of newcomers and improve on a 3-8 season in 2013.
Northern Illinois begins a new chapter without Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch, who led the Huskies and one of the nation’s top offenses before graduating in the spring. Thursday’s meeting marks the first-ever game between the two sides and the Blue Hose will aim to win their second season opener in their last three tries.
PC sophomore quarterback Heys McMath burst onto the scene midway through last season and will get his first crack at an FBS team with help from a rebuilt offensive line and a pair of All-Conference senior wideouts in Jeremiah McKie and Tobi Antigha. The defense will aim to improve for the second straight season and shut down Northern Illinois’ new offense.
PC stands 31-65-5 overall in season openers and 1-6 since its move to NCAA Division I in 2007. The Blue Hose will look to bounce back from a season-opening loss to Wake Forest in 2013, a game PC lead 7-0 early on.
Preseason All-Big South Conference wide receivers Jeremiah McKie and Tobi Antigha lead the seniors, as does Preseason All-Big South longsnapper Cannon Jordan. McKie starred as the league’s best return man last season and Antigha enjoyed a career year with a team-leading six receiving touchdowns.
Sophomore quarterback Heys McMath enters the fall as the No. 1 option behind center. McMath made his collegiate debut six games into the season and threw for 1,142 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 190.3 yards per game.
An experienced running back corps returns seniors Demarcus Rouse (103 carries, 514 yards, seven TD), LaQua Mayes (320 yards, 71 carries, three TD) and sophomore Blake Roberts (52 carries, 322 yards, one TD) but will likely feature redshirt freshman Darrell Bridges in his rookie season.
Senior linemen Hunter Gray and Devinn Ritter anchor an offensive line that allowed six fewer sacks than PC opponents last season. Nichols hopes the line will bolster the team’s running game, an area of emphasis for the Blue Hose this season.
The Blue Hose defense enters its second full season under defensive coordinator Tommy Spangler, who helped to bring opponent scoring down by nearly a touchdown and limited foes to 75 fewer yards per game.
Redshirt sophomore lineman Ugonna Akoh led the team last season in tackles for loss (14) and sacks (3.5) in 10 games. The defense returns 12 of its 17 sacks and both of its two interceptions. Returning tackler Breyon Williams (70 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack), as do four of the team’s five leading tacklers. The unit receives a boost in the return of 2012 All-Conference linebacker Donelle Williams, who missed most of 2013 with an injury.