SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly's 2017 football season opener against Colgate matches the No. 1 rushing offense in the Football Championship Subdivision a year ago against the No. 1 defense against the rush.
For the last four years, the Mustangs' Triple Option spread offense has finished No. 1 in the FCS during the regular season in rushing, averaging 343.5 yards per game on the ground last year and shattering school and Big Sky Conference records with 387.3 yards a contest in 2015.
Colgate's defense against the rush gave up just 69.4 yards a game to its opposition a year ago.
Something must give when the two teams clash in a Week Zero contest on Saturday, August 26, in a nationally televised game in front of ESPNU cameras inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium. Kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m.
Cal Poly's offense features two-time All-Big Sky first-team fullback Joe Protheroe (1,334 yards, 13 touchdowns in 2016), 2016 All-Big Sky center Joey Kuperman and senior slotback Kyle Lewis (591 yards and six touchdowns rushing, 22 catches and four touchdowns receiving).
Colgate's defense is anchored by senior defensive lineman Pat Afriyie, the 2016 Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year and STATS FCS All-America second-team selection.
The 2017 Patriot League Preseason Defensive Player of the Year led the conference and tied for fourth in the FCS with 21.0 tackles for loss in 2016, helping Colgate rank as the nation's stingiest rush defense. He was also tied for the league lead and fourth in the nation with 1.0 sacks per game (10 sacks in 10 contests) during his junior season.
Like Protheroe, Afriyie was a first-team selection on the three-team, 97-player STATS FCS Preseason All-America Team. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Afriyie also has been named to the College Football America 2017 Yearbook FCS Starting Lineup, which is the group's version of a preseason All-America team.
"It all comes from the mentality that we have to do things a certain way, at the highest standard possible, and do everything as perfectly as we can," Afriyie said during a recent Patriot League teleconference. "We have to hold ourselves accountable to everything."
Afriyie enters this season third on the Colgate all-time list with 24 total sacks, just 4.5 sacks off the school record. He uses his athleticism, quickness and an ability to read offensive play selection to get to quarterbacks and ball carriers. Afriyie also is used extensively on special teams and finished 13th in balloting for the Buck Buchanan Award a year ago.
Both teams will have a new quarterback this fall.
While the Mustangs seem to be settled on junior Khaleel Jenkins as their starting signal caller, fourth-year Colgate head coach Dan Hunt has not decided on who he will start when his squad visits the Golden State.
A year ago, Sage Attwood backed up Jake Melville, who threw for 2,028 yards and rushed for 830 more. Attwood threw just two passes in 2016. Carmine Scarfone and Grant Breneman are challenging Attwood for the job as well. Breneman is a freshman while the sophomore Scarfone can make plays with his feet as well as his arm. Scarfone's athleticism keeps him in the hunt for the starting nod as well.
"We've got to find out who our quarterback is and do that quickly," said Hunt. "In our offense, a lot runs through them. That will be the emphasis in camp. We've got some great candidates and we're going to have some depth in that position – more than we have had in a while. But we've got to find the starter and get that guy operating our system, because we have to execute our offense at a high level in the first four games of the season for sure.
"We're in a situation where whoever our quarterback is in Game 1, it will be their first real playing time," Hunt added. "For the last couple of years, we really haven't had a lot of depth at that position. Whenever the quarterback had the ball and ran, we kind of held our breath.
"This year, we're going to have three or four guys who, if they had to play, I feel comfortable with them in the game. The freshman would be one of them, for sure. But it's nice as a luxury to not be tied to if the quarterback gets hurt, we don't have anybody behind him. We're starting to gain a little bit of depth. I'm sure everybody wants depth, but for what we do — to have two or three who could come in and keep us going — it's the first time we've had that luxury."
Also named to the All-Patriot League Preseason Team were senior offensive lineman Ryan Paulish and a pair of defensive backs, junior Tyler Castillo and sophomore Abu Daramy.
Cal Poly finished 7-5 a year ago, tied for fourth place in the Big Sky, and qualified for the 2016 FCS playoffs for the fourth time in the last 12 seasons.
Colgate posted a 5-5 mark and was third in the Patriot League at 4-2. The Raiders did not qualify for the postseason, one year after a 9-5 mark, their eighth Patriot League title and a playoff run that reached the quarterfinal round before a loss at Sam Houston State in 2015.
Colgate returns 44 lettermen, but welcomed back just nine of last year's 22 starters, six on offense and three on defense. The Raiders' strength, besides Afieyie on defense, could lie within two 700-yard rushers ... Keyon Washington (765 yards, seven TDs in 2016) and James Holland (732 yards, 16 touchdowns in 2015, sidelined with an injury most of the 2016 season).
Alex Greenawalt, second on the team with 32 receptions, also returns.
The August 26 meeting will be the first between the two teams in football. In fact, the Mustangs have never played any of the seven current members of the Patriot League (Colgate, Lehigh, Fordham, Bucknell, Holy Cross, Lafayette and Georgetown).
Tickets for the game are available here.