Forecast: 1st by Big Sky media, 1st by coaches
Preseason ranking: 18
Last season: 7-4 overall, 5-3 Big Sky (tied fourth)
Starters returning: 12 (6 offense, 6 defense)
Coach: Jerome Souers (Oregon, '83), 107-94 in 19th year at NAU and overall
This team can go as far as Case Cookus and Northern Arizona's suddenly blazing offense can take them. The Lumberjacks have perhaps the best QB-WR combo with Cookus and junior Emmanuel Butler ready to go and a rather forgiving schedule to work with. NAU gets typical powers Montana and Eastern Washington at home and misses upstart Portland State this year. All that has the Big Sky's coaches and media pointing to the Jacks as the team to beat and a likely candidate to give the league's longest tenured head coach, Jerome Souers, his first Big Sky title since 2003. Prediction: 1st.
Case Cookus is not only the Big Sky's returning Freshman of the Year award winner but the nation's. Cookus earned All-America honors by leading the country in touchdown passes with 37. He threw for 3,117 yards with a 69.0 completion percentage against just five interceptions. He'll be aided by the return of four starting offensive linemen and his top pass catcher, Emmanuel Butler.
The defense returns most of its strength up front with three starting linemen back to complement two of its top four tacklers from last year -- LB Jake Thomas and S LeAndre Vaughn -- who are also back. The defense will need to do a better job of creating turnovers after picking up just 14 last year though.
Notable: Northern Arizona has gone undefeated at home in two of the past three years with a 14-1 record in that span. The Griz visit NAU and Walkup Skydome on Oct. 22.
Quotable: "You don't try to follow it up. I'm not worried about my individual stats. I'm worried about trying to get wins for my team." — QB Case Cookus