JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – This is the first part in an 11-part series breaking down all of Carson-Newman football's opponents for the 2017 season. This feature analyzes the Eagles' Aug. 31 opener against Pikeville.
For a sixth consecutive season, Carson-Newman football will open up the year on a Thursday at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
Last year the Eagles departed a smidge from tradition with a Thursday afternoon game against No. 7 Humboldt State. The Eagles lost that contest in a shootout 52-45, C-N's only loss in the string of Thursday openers.
Fans discounting Pikeville as NAIA cannon fodder should only look to the last time the Eagles' opened the season against an NAIA opponent from the Mid-South Conference to know why that's not the case.
Carson-Newman opened the 2015 season against the Mid-South's University of the Cumberlands with plenty of offensive fireworks. C-N eked out a 59-56 win, which set a Burke-Tarr Stadium record for most combined points scored in a Carson-Newman football game.
The University of the Cumberlands rolled up 443 yards of total offense and NAIA long jump champion and current Houston Texan Wendell Williams brought two kickoffs back for touchdowns.
Pikeville is coming off a 6-5 campaign and a season where the Bears scored wins over No. 17 Campbellsville and No. 17 Georgetown for a second place finish in the Mid-South East Division.
The Bears will already have a game under their belts when they take on Carson-Newman. Pikeville opens up the season Aug. 24 at Campbellsville.
Pikeville will be looking to replace one of the program's top 10 all-time rushers in Jamar Kirskey, however, his backup, Willie McCloud returns for his junior season after rushing for 482 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. The Bears also return three other rushers who tallied at least 100 yards last year.
McCloud was most effective against Kentucky Christian. He had a two-touchdown, 78-yard performance that day.
The Bears have a bit of a conundrum to deal with at quarterback. Warren Sani started last season as the starter and averaged 239 yards through the air with four touchdowns before going down with a season-ending injury.
Sani is back on the roster for his senior season and will battle it out with Bowen Smith who replaced him midway through the year. Smith only passed for five more yards (722-717) in 10 games compared to Warren's three.
Regardless of who head coach Allan Holland Jr. turns to at quarterback, the Bears' signal-caller will have plenty of options at wide receiver. The Bears' top-four options, Braxton Whitmore, Austin Pray, Jordan Olinger and Anfernee Brown all return with multiple touchdowns to their names from a year ago.
Defensively, the Bears allowed more than 210 yards on the ground per game last year and will have to contend with the Eagles' veer-option attack, which doesn't figure to change much under first-year head coach Mike Turner.
That statistic is a touch skewed because, much like the South Atlantic Conference when Lenoir-Rhyne, Brevard and C-N all ran the triple option two years ago, the Mid-South Conference is a run-happy league.
The Bears only allowed 131 yards per game through the air last year. Opponents managed to outscore the Bears by a slim 269-244 margin a year ago.
The Better Know The Opponent series continues July 24 with Saint Augustine's.