North Alabama preview capsule

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(Stats Perform) – North Alabama is one of 17 FCS programs (out of 127 overall) that have announced they will play at least one nonconference game this fall. Due to coronavirus concerns, other programs postponed their schedules until a potential spring season.

LOCATION: Florence, Alabama

STADIUM: Braly Municipal Stadium

HEAD COACH: Chris Willis (16-5, three seasons)

2019 RECORD: 4-7 FCS independent

2020 FALL SCHEDULE: at Liberty (Oct. 3), Jacksonville State (Oct. 17), at Southern Miss (Nov. 7), at BYU (Nov. 21)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)

3 KEY RETURNEES: WR Jakobi Byrd, DL Wallace Cowins Jr., CB K.J. Smith

BIGGEST SHOES TO FILL: QB Christian Lopez

OUTLOOK: Starting its third season on the FCS level, UNA has quite the fall schedule with its first FBS opponents (three) since 1997 as well as Ohio Valley Conference power Jacksonville State. The big question is whether the Lions can replace Lopez, a two-year starter. East Carolina transfer Reid Herring is no longer with the program, so either Blake Devers or Rett Files – Devers is more experienced – will be at the controls, fortunate to have a standout group of wide receivers in juniors Byrd, Dexter Boykin, Cortez Hall and Andre Little, who have combined for 298 receptions, 4,336 receiving yards and 29 TD catches the last two seasons. Three transfers were added to the offensive line, including 6-foot-9 LT Connor Robbins from Georgia State, but top returning RB Jaxton Carson won’t play this fall due to a preseason injury. The defense seeks improvement after opponents averaged 33.6 points last season, and there’s basically an eighth returning starter in LB Christon Taylor, who missed last season. Cowins led Big South defensive linemen in tackles and Smith, who was granted an additional season of eligibility by the NCAA, is a shutdown cornerback. The kicking game is in good hands (and feet) with PK/P Joe Gurley.

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