Team: Rhode Island
2014 Record: 1-11
Returning starters: QB James Caparell, RB Harold Cooper, WR Phadrae White, TE Charlie McKeeman, OL Tyler Catalina, OL Kevin Gallogly, OL Sam Hartman, OL Dave Steinmetz, DE Joe Simon, DE Selwyn Nicholas, DT Marcus Pantoja, LB Adam Parker, LB Connor Caponegro, S Tim Wienclaw, CB Myles Holmes, CB Abdul Ibrahim
Most important offensive player: QB Paul Mroz. The Rhode Island offense sputtered consistently last year and the passing game was especially poor, with the Rams ranking 106th out of 121 FCS teams in passing offense. The 2015 Rams will have a veteran offensive line and some skill guys who can get the job done. A little improvement under center will go a long way.
Most important defensive player: LB Adam Parker. URI asked graduated linebacker Andrew Bose to do a lot last year and he responded with a team-high 125 tackles. Bose hooked on with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent. In his absence, Parker will shoulder a similar load. He recorded 102 tackles playing alongside Bose last year.
Emerging offensive player: Harold Cooper, RB. When UConn transfer Lyle McCombs went down with an injury last season, the URI offense suffered, but at least got some flashes of brilliance from Cooper. In his true freshman campaign, the 5-foot-7 speedster rushed for 417 yards and showed potential for bigger things to come.
Emerging defensive player: Nas Jones, S. A January enrollee, the true freshman needed only a few spring practices to rise to the first-team defense. He had two interceptions in the spring game and will bring game-changing ability to the defensive backfield.
How they matchup with Syracuse: This URI team is not as talented as the one that pushed for an upset against the Orange when the teams met in 2011. That said, in a rough 2014 season, the Rams showed an ability to hang in games, even against some of the best teams in FCS football, like New Hampshire. If the defense can match last year's unit, the Rams may be able to keep things close for a while. But the offense lacks the firepower to keep up with an FBS power-conference team.
Season outlook: This will be year two of Coach Jim Fleming's rebuilding project. There were moments in 2014 where the Rams looked poised to make it a quick rebuild, but games consistently got away from them. There will not be a dramatic talent influx hitting the field this year, despite the presence of what the staff feels is a good recruiting class, but turning some of those slipped-away games into wins would make for a successful campaign. With 16 returning starters, the Rams have enough experience to get it done. Fleming wants them to believe they can do it, too.