The Northern Arizona University football team sits at No. 3 in the Big Sky Conference Preseason Polls for both the coaches and media, each of which were announced on Monday morning during 2018 Big Sky Football Kickoff festivities by league officials.
The Lumberjacks received 121 points in the coaches’ poll, including three first-place votes in finishing third. Eastern Washington (134 points/six first-place votes) and Weber State (124 points/three first-place votes) were the only two programs to finish above NAU in the coaches’ preseason rankings.
The media poll saw the ‘Jacks garner a total of 535 points and one first-place vote. Eastern Washington (651 points/27 first-place votes) and Weber State (636 points/19 first-place votes) also held the top two spots in the media’s preseason poll.
The Lumberjacks return 19 starters and 39 letterwinners from last season’s squad that earned the program’s sixth NCAA FCS Playoff appearance, including 2017 All-Big Sky First Team quarterback Case Cookus, who boasts 72 career touchdown passes and 7,703 passing yards entering 2018.
NAU brings back one of the most prolific receivers in the FCS as senior Emmanuel Butler returns to the fold after missing all but two games last season due to injury. Butler has compiled 152 receptions, 2,541 yards and caught 26 touchdown passes in his career. He has also totaled a pair of 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
Butler is just 49 receptions, 501 yards and two touchdowns away from tying Northern Arizona’s career records in each of those categories. He already holds the single-season records for yards (1,208) and touchdowns (16), which he set in 2015.
Defensively, the ‘Jacks return all four starters from one of the nation’s top performing backfields last season in cornerbacks Maurice Davison and Khalil Dorsey as well as safeties Wes Sutton and Kam’ron Johnson.
The quartet limited opponents to an average of just 174.3 yards per game through the air, which ranked 19th nationally and combined for a total of 12 interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns.
The Lumberjacks begin the 2018 campaign on the road at FBS-member UTEP on Sept. 1 before facing Eastern Washington in the 2018 home opener on Sept. 8 at the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome.
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