WINNING AT HOME
The Hornets entertained and enraged fans with their erratic play at Hornet Stadium last season, winning just two of six games and suffering heartbreaking losses of three or fewer points to Big Sky Conference playoff teams Northern Arizona, Southern Utah and Montana, the latter two in overtime. The 34-7 loss to UC Davis in the season finale was the crusher.
Interim head coach and defensive coordinator Jody Sears must improve a defense that ranked 11th among 13 Big Sky teams and was unable to make the critical stops late in close games. Big Sky honorable-mention defensive end Darnell Sankey will be counted on to lead after moving to the middle linebacker spot vacated by Todd Davis, now with the New Orleans Saints.
KEEPING SAFRON UPRIGHT
Do-it-all record-breaking quarterback Garrett Safron has started every game the past two seasons and the Hornets need it to happen one more year if they hope to end their 26-year playoff drought. Experienced seniors John Wallace and Derek Nielsen and juniors Lars Hanson and Aleksandar Milanovic must be stellar on the offensive line.
HELP FOR CARTER
Preseason All-Big Sky Conference wide receiver DeAndre Carter returns, but Morris Norrise, Shane Harrison and Cole Hikutini – No. 2 through No. 4 reception yardage leaders – have departed. That means largely untested Dominic Coulter, Nnamdi Agude and Justin Cox must step up to keep Carter from being double- and triple-teamed.
FAST START A MUST
The Hornets need to open the season strong in their first five games to build momentum for what should be a tough second half. Road games at Incarnate Word on Saturday and Idaho State (Big Sky opener on Sept. 27) and at home against Weber State and Menlo should be winnable. A respectable performance against Cal on Sept. 6 would help, too.