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Arizona vs. NAU preview: First look at the Lumberjacks

Sophomore quarterback Case Cookus is the real deal

Northern Arizona v Arizona State
NAU quarterback Case Cookus
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The 2017 college football season is finally here!

The Arizona Wildcats will host the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks on Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. MST in Tucson in Week 1.

UA looks to start the season on the right foot against the in-state opponent, and here’s a brief look at NAU:


A look at NAU

2016 Record – 5-6 overall, 4-4 Big Sky

Key Offensive Players – Case Cookus (QB), Joe Logan (RB), Emmanuel Butler (WR), Elijah Marks (WR), Tyler Shank (OL)

Key Defensive Players – Clarence Smith (DE), Jake Casteel (LB), Byron Evans II (LB), Khalil Dorsey (CB), Andrew Gose (CB)

NAU belongs to the Big Sky Conference in the FCS ranks of college football. This is a conference that has been on the upswing over the last few seasons because of recognizable teams like Eastern Washington, Montana, North Dakota and Portland State.

In 2016, the Lumberjacks were the preseason favorite to win their conference, according to the FCS Media Poll. However, they suffered several key injuries that derailed their season, which ultimately ended with a losing record.

This preseason, the FCS Media Poll predicted NAU will finish third in the Big Sky but is considered a serious contender as they won three first place votes. NAU is returning their leading rusher and receiver in Joe Logan and Emmanuel Butler, respectively.

They are also returning their starting quarterback and former FCS National Performer/Freshman of the Year Case Cookus, who was one of the key players injured last season.

Cookus leads college football in career passing efficiency (184.70), as he has posted some gaudy numbers through the air.

In 15 career games, the sophomore has averaged 285.6 passing yards per contest, along with a stellar touchdown-to-interception ratio of 50 to 6.

On defense, one of NAU’s leaders is a familiar name in linebacker Jake Casteel. He is the son of former UA defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. Casteel has played in every game over the past two seasons and finished 2016 as NAU’s third-leading tackler.

Byron Evans II is also a name that may ring a bell for the Wildcat faithful. His father, Byron Evans, won the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year award in 1986 as an Arizona Wildcat.

Another key component to NAU’s front seven is Clarence Smith, who is a transfer from Utah. Smith spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons with the Utes and knows what to expect from a Rich Rodriguez-coached offense.

NAU’s secondary is returning their two best corners from 2016, Khalil Dorsey and Andrew Gose. These two were very consistent last season as they combined for 20 pass breakups and 97 tackles. They will be a good test for UA quarterback Brandon Dawkins right out of the gate.

The Wildcats should be a heavy favorite to win this matchup but they should not take the Lumberjacks lightly. NAU has plenty of talent that can test multiple position groups on both sides of the ball.

Here’s how the two teams stack up statistically:

via UA’s game notes

The game will be televised and live streamed by the Pac-12 Networks.