Every week, we find someone who covers the opposing team and ask them a few questions about the upcoming game. This week, we talked to the Voice of the Lumberjacks, Mitch Strohman, and asked him about his thoughts on this game.
1. As Jason discussed earlier this week, NAU is ranked 24th in both of the major FCS polls. What are the expectations for the Lumberjacks coming into this year?
Mitch Strohman: It's fair to say the expectations for NAU coming into this year were moderate. The Big Sky coaches picked the Lumberjacks to finish fifth in the 13 team conference and the media was a tad more bearish in picking NAU to finish in 6th place. I think a lot of people around Flagstaff and northern Arizona were perhaps even more bearish looking at the Lumberjacks' brutal schedule. NAU opened the season two weeks ago at then-No. 24 (FCS) Stephen F. Austin in east Texas, the Jacks this week play at last season's Pac-12 runner up, No. 20 Arizona, before going to FCS powerhouse Montana next week and then hosting Montana State, the team several Big Sky coaches believe will be crowned conference champs.
That all being said, my expectations were a bit higher for the Lumberjacks for three reasons. One, what I saw in preseason camp that people not going to those practices didn't have access to see: the skills of freshman quarterback Case Cookus. Two, the return of two uber-talented offensive weapons in tight end RJ Rickert (from Mesquite High School) and wide receiver Dejzon Walker (from Eddie Basha High School) from injuries that kept them out of all of last year. Three, a new up-tempo, no-huddle, read-option offense that was impressive in Spring Camp and even more impressive in fall camp. NAU has scored 75 points with 930 yards of offense to start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2001. Regardless of the outcome Saturday night in Tucson, my higher expectations for the Lumberjacks have been met thus far.
2. The last time NAU played Arizona, NAU was led by Zach Bauman. This year, what NAU players should Arizona fans keep an eye on?
Mitch Strohman: Well, most eyes this season have been drawn to freshman quarterback Case Cookus for his amazing start to his career: 2 games, 528 yards passing, 71.4% completion rate, five touchdown passes and zero picks and even 74 yards rushing with a touchdown. Heck, Case was inches out of bounds from catching a touchdown pass at Stephen F. Austin on a double pass play and he was named FCS freshman of the week in his collegiate debut. But I will suggest on offense for Wildcat fans to eyeball #45, fullback/slot/tight end Nick Butier (BEW-tear). Butier is a punishing blocker with tremendous pass catching skills who can and will play several positions. He's a guy who could perhaps make a living playing football on Sundays some day.
On defense, the easy pick is #22 cornerback Marcus Alford, an FCS All-American candidate who has a pick-six the last two seasons. However, Wildcat fans, I can't resist recommending to you #41, redshirt freshman linebacker Jake Casteel. Yes, the son of Arizona defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. Jake, as many of you know, was an all-state linebacker in Tucson a year ago at Salpointe Catholic High School. Jake has a sack in two games for NAU this season and you know he'll be extra fired up for this game. By the way, I interviewed Jake's dad for our Lumberjack Radio Network pregame show and I can say dad is not only proud of his son, but will be keeping one eye on the field when his son is trying to stop the high powered Wildcat offense! It was a great interview!
3. Quite a few FCS teams have beaten or almost beaten FBS teams this season, with Kansas losing to South Dakota State, Washington State losing to Portland State, and Auburn nearly losing to Jacksonville State. Do you think NAU can put a scare into (or even beat) Arizona this week? What will it take for that to happen?
Mitch Strohman: No question you're seeing more and more FCS teams not only scare the football pants off the FBS teams they play (See: Cal Poly at ASU and Jacksonville State at Auburn last Saturday), you're seeing them beat FBS teams (See: Portland State at Washington State, North Dakota at Wyoming, etc.). More top high school recruits are jumping on opportunities to play right away at some FCS schools. Add to that more FCS schools upping their investments in their football programs, making them more attractive to better quality athletes. In my opinion, as college football success and television exposure becomes one of the best ways to showcase your university overall, this trend will continue. Yes, NAU can compete at Arizona and can win the game even as huge underdogs. The way they do that is believing they CAN win and to believe in their souls they can win no matter how often that belief is challenged Saturday night. The Lumberjacks have nothing to lose by coming to Tucson and playing their hearts and guts out against a Wildcat team that is among the best in the nation at the FBS level.
4. What is your prediction for the game?
Mitch Strohman: Ahh, the best part of this Q-and-A! Would any Wildcat fan reading this expect me to do anything but pick a NAU upset in the desert? So therefore, I will meet those expectations and pick a NAU upset in the desert! Go Lumberjacks and go 'Cats (after Saturday's game)!
Thanks to Mitch for taking the time to answer our questions, and be sure to follow him on Twitter @mitchstrohman! You can also check out the interview with Jeff Casteel that Mitch mentioned on Hits 106.1 on Saturday night between 7:05 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.