*Disclaimer: I lived in Flagstaff for most of my life and grew up rooting for NAU
On the surface, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks are actually pretty similar to the Arizona Wildcats as far as their offense is concerned. Questions about who will be the starting quarterback, but a running back in Zach Bauman coming back after having his third straight 1,000-yard season. Chase Cartwright is sort of the Lumberjack version of B.J. Denker, having some game experience including a win at UNLV last year, but not enough to set him apart from the competition.
Unlike Arizona, NAU is most known for their strong defense. Six of their top-eight tacklers return from the 2012 season, and have one of the strongest secondaries in the Big Sky Conference led by seniors Lucky Dozier and Anders Battle.
The NAU website has position previews for each position for you to read. Be sure to take a look at each one:
Head Coach Jerome Souers is entering his 16th season in Flagstaff. As a guy who lived in Flagstaff for the first nine of these years, I'm honestly shocked that Souers is still there. Every year, NAU has high expectations, which usually include a real chance at making the FCS 16-team playoff. But almost every year, they struggle down the stretch, and don't make it. There was a year where they went to McNeese State and won their first round game, which brought the second round to Flagstaff. It was exciting, but, as usual, ended with a loss.
2012 In Review
Overall Record: 8-3
Big Sky Record: 6-2
Key wins: At UNLV 17-14, at Montana 41-31
Key Losses: At Arizona State 63-6, vs. Southern Utah 35-29 (3OT), vs. Cal Poly 42-34
Those SUU and Cal Poly games were the final two games of the year, and essentially knocked the Lumberjacks out of the FCS Playoffs after starting the year with an 8-1 record.
I was at the games against Arizona State and Southern Utah. The NAU offense could not get anything going against ASU because starting QB Cary Grossart and Zach Bauman both left that game early due to injury.
The Southern Utah game was just a mess. The first half was all Thunderbirds, including a pick 6 and a safety. NAU's defense dominated the game in the second half, and the Jacks took a 15-12 lead with five minutes left. But Southern Utah drove down the field, and tied it up with a field goal as the clock expired. The game went three overtimes. Southern Utah scored on a touchdown pass from Brad Sorensen, and the Thunderbirds prevailed after stopping NAU on their possession of the third OT. It was a tough loss to watch at the Skydome.
The win at Montana was huge for Lumberjack faithful. While Montana doesn't really see NAU as a rival since they have Montana State, people in Flagstaff definitely see the Montana Grizzlies as their biggest rival. Zach Bauman went for a school-record 253 yards in that game, leading the Jacks to a 41-31 win at Washington-Grizzly Stadium
Arizona-NAU All-Time Series
The Wildcats have a record of 11-1 all-time against their neighbors to the far north. That's right, NAU's beaten Arizona before. That game was a 7-6 offensive barn burner played in Phoenix in 1932.
Since 2002, the teams have matched up at Arizona Stadium six times. The Wildcats have won all of those contests by a combined score of 209-69.
I'll have more on NAU and what exactly to watch for later in the week.