PUEBLO, Colo. (August 29, 2016) – The No. 5 Colorado State University-Pueblo football team will begin its quest for a sixth straight Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championship with a road test at No. 18 Colorado School of Mines, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app.
SCOUTING THE PACK
• The ThunderWolves earned a No. 5 ranking in the Preseason AFCA poll, which matched their final 2015 rank from the coach's association. The Pack were No. 4 in the D2Football.com Poll, one better than their No. 5 spot in the final 2015 listing.
• CSU-Pueblo was pegged to finish first in the RMAC Preseason Coaches' Poll, predicting a sixth consecutive conference title after winning in each of the last five seasons. The Pack went a perfect 9-0 in 2015 to secure their sixth overall conference championship and fourth perfect league season in the last five years.
• Seven players were honored as Preseason All-RMAC.
• CSU-Pueblo returns five starters from each side of the ball, which includes nine All-RMAC honorees from a season ago.
• The ThunderWolves have reached the NCAA Quarterfinals in three of the last four seasons (2012, 2014 and 2015). The Pack are 1-2 in those contests, which includes a 31-7 home loss to Grand Valley State last season to end the year with a 12-2 record.
• CSU-Pueblo has secured 12 or more wins three times in program history (2012, 2014 and 2015).
• The ThunderWolves had won 10 straight against the nations top 25 before the loss to GVSU. Since 2008, the Pack are 15-5 against nationally ranked teams.
SCOUTING THE OREDIGGERS
• The Orediggers finished the 2015 season with an 8-3 overall record after starting 7-0. A loss to CSU-Pueblo in week 8 started a 1-3 finish for the Orediggers in the first year under Head Coach Gregg Brandon. Colorado Mines went 6-3 in conference play to sit tied for third with Fort Lewis.
• CSM's Brandon and CSU-Pueblo Head Coach John Wristen coached together at both Northwestern and University of Colorado before meeting as opposing head coaches last season.
• The player to watch on the Orediggers is senior quarterback Justin Dvorak. His 369.3 yards per game
and 45 total touchdowns (RMAC record) led NCAA Division II last year.
• Protecting Dvorak are four returning all-conference offensive lineman.
• Colorado Mines has 14 returning starters with seven coming from each side of the ball.
SERIES HISTORY VERSUS CSM
The ThunderWolves have won five straight against the Orediggers and own a 17-8 advantage in the all-time series.
• The Pack recorded a 49-21 victory last year at home and in the last road meeting, downed CSM 20-12.
• In the five-game win streak, CSU-Pueblo has outscored Colorado Mines 175-88 (35.0-17.6).
• The ThunderWolves jumped out to a 28-0 halftime lead in the win last season. In the end, the Pack (entered as No. 6) racked up 546 yards of offense (434 rushing), while the Orediggers (entered as No. 7) totaled 367 yards.
CSU-Pueblo was No. 5 in both the AFCA and D2Football.com final 2015 polls. The Pack begins the new year with the No. 5 ranking in the AFCA poll and No. 4 by D2Football.com.
• The ThunderWolves ranked in the top 10 nationally for a NCAA Division II-best 37 straight weeks from Oct. 17, 2011 (eighth) to Oct. 6, 2014 (second).
• The Pack have been ranked in the AFCA top 25 since Sept. 5, 2011 (21st).
• CSU-Pueblo is the winningest NCAA Division II football program of the decade (2010-15) with a 69-8 (.896) record.
• The Pack have recorded 28 consecutive regular season home victories, dating back to a 66-0 win against New Mexico Highlands Oct. 30, 2010. CSU-Pueblo went 7-1 overall in 2015 (one playoff win, one loss) and 8-0 (three playoff wins) at home in 2014 for a 15-1 overall record in the last two seasons. Since reinstating the program in 2008, the ThunderWolves are 41-10 (.804) at the ThunderBowl.
• CSU-Pueblo owns a 15-4 (10-4 at home) record versus ranked opponents (Division II) since 2011. That includes a 5-1 record against the nation's top 10. The Pack had won 10 straight against nationally-ranked opponents (6-0 in 2014 and 4-1 in 2015) before the playoff loss to Grand Valley State. Ranking history since 2011 page 4
• CSU-Pueblo finished the 2015 season scoring more than 40 points in eight of the 14 games, which included seven straight games. The Pack averaged 36.9 points per game in 2015 to sit 27th nationally. They are 42-0 since 2008 when scoring 35 or more points.
• Big scoring plays were a signature of success last season for the Pack. Nineteen times the ThunderWolves posted a play of 45 yards or more for a score, which included a touchdown in all three areas of the game.
• The ThunderWolves were extremely successful in the second quarter last season with 177 points scored (12.6 ppg). The defense allowed just 51 points (3.6 ppg) in the second frame.
• The Pack scored a touchdown in all facets against WT last season with an 80-yard touchdown run, two interceptions for scores and a 98-yard kick return for a touchdown.
• The red zone was good to the ThunderWolves on both sides of the ball last season, as the defense ranked 40th nationally by allowing the opponent to score 71.4 percent of the time. The Pack offense scored on a 86.3 percent clip to sit 22nd in Division II and first in the RMAC.
• CSU-Pueblo accumulated five scoring drives of 90 or more yards last season and 16 scoring drives overall of 80 yards or more. The Pack marched 95 yards on 10 plays for their first score of the contest against Colorado Mesa (Nov. 7).
• Head Coach John Wristen's earned his 70th win as head of the program Sept 19, 2015 against Western State, then his 80th win against Midwestern State in the NCAA Second Round. He is 80-18 in eight seasons at CSU-Pueblo.
• Game two at home against West Texas A&M will be Wristen's 100th game as head coach of the Pack. He is five victories shy of tying the school's all-time record for wins of 85, which is held by Joe Prater (1956-73).
CSU-PUEBLO POSITION NOTABLES
• The ThunderWolves will miss running back Cameron McDondle, a 2015 Harlon Hill Trophy finalist that finished third in the final voting, as he rushed for more than 100 yards in 31 career games, had four 200 yard games and rushed for a single-game program record of 308 yards Oct. 24, 2015 against Colorado Mines. He rushed for 2,000-plus yards in back-to-back seasons and last year finished second nationally in rushing yards, rushing yards per game and rushing touchdowns.
• Cameron (2,235) combined with brother Bernard McDondle (1,439) and rushed for the NCAA Divsion II record for most yards gained by two players, same team in a season with 3,674 yards.
• Bernard will take the load of the carries this season after he averaged 8.8 yards per carry to lead all of NCAA Division II.
• He rushed for 1,439 yards to rank 10th nationally, while his 14 touchdowns sat 14th and the 110.7 yards per game finished 28th in Division II.
• The ThunderWolves had never had two 1,000 rushers in a season, let alone a 2,000 yard and 1,000 yard rusher. In fact, in NCAA Division II football history (since 1946) only three times before the brothers did it last year had there been a 2,000 and 1,000 yard rusher on the same team, in the same season.
• No surprise, the ThunderWolves ranked sixth nationally in rushing offense with 291.0 yards per game. Four straight games the Pack rushed for more than 300 yards (Oct. 3-Oct. 24), and twice in a row they went over 400 yards (Oct. 17-24), which included the 452 yards at Chadron State that fell just 29 yards shy of the school record of 481 rushing yards, set by the 1977 team against Westminster.
• The Pack finished third in the conference and No. 30 nationally in sacks allowed per game (1.36). CSU-Pueblo welcomes back two starters from the offensive line last season (Ty McCulley and Corbin Feenstra). Austin Miles also started the final six games on the line.
• The ThunderWolves are returning just 37.1 percent of their receptions from a season ago (37 of 147). Of those 37, just nine are from a true wide receiver (Cole Forsgren, 9 receptions for 90 yards).
• Junior tight end Zach Boyd finished second on the team in reception yards (371) and receiving touchdowns (5). He was third in receptions with 17.
• The ThunderWolves were first in the league and 31st in NCAA Division II in passing yards per completion (14.1).
• Sophomore quarterback AJ Thompson led the RMAC in pass efficiency at the end of the regular season. He entered the game in week two at West Texas A&M due to injury to starter Malcolm Ruben and went on to win his first 11 starts as a collegiate QB. Thompson finished the season with 1,478 yards and 14 touchdowns with a 145.9 pass efficiency rating and a 57.7 completion percentage.
• The Pack have been one of the most stingiest and unforgiving defenses in the nation the past five seasons. Since 2011, the ThunderWolves have ranked in the top 22 nationally each season in scoring defense, which includes leading the country in 2011 and 2014. CSU-Pueblo has also ranked in the top 21 in turnover ratio (or turnovers gained) with the nation's best mark in 2014.
• CSU-Pueblo has eight shutouts since 2008 and last season ranked third nationally in scoring defense, as it has allowed 15.8 points per game. The Pack held their opponent to 10 points or less six times last season and are 32-0 since 2008 when doing so.
• In 2015, the Pack defense created 31 turnovers (24 interceptions) to rank 11th in Division II and turned them into 99 points. The 24 interceptions finished third nationally, while the three defensive touchdowns sat 25th in NCAA Division II. Twelve different players had interceptions last year, guided by Joseph Jones' four interceptions. The Pack totaled 363 return yards. The three players who brought a pick back for six are all returners in LaRon Tarkington, 25 yards and Samuel Singleton, 10 yards at West Texas and Darius Williams, 53 yards at Adams State. Of the 24 picks, 16 were from players returning in 2016.
• The Pack's team passing efficiency defense was 19th nationally (105.6).
• The ThunderWolves are 41-3 since 2008 when they force three or more turnovers in a game.
• The Pack recorded three or more sacks in nine of the 14 games in 2015. The ThunderWolves totalled 42 sacks to rank 19th in NCAA Division II with 3.00 sacks per game. CSU-Pueblo was 18th in tackles for loss per game (8.2 tflpg, - 500 yards).
• The Pack lost defensive end Morgan Fox, the 2015 runner-up for the Gene Upshaw Award, to graduation after he led the nation in sacks per game and established new single season and career records for sacks.
• CSU-Pueblo's rushing defense was established on game one of the program re-boot in 2008. The Pack allowed 13 yards rushing against Oklahoma Panhandle State (Sept. 8, 2008) and since have held their opponent to less than 50 yards rushing on 18 more occasions. Twice last season the Pack allowed 15 or less net yards on the ground. Western New Mexico totaled 15 yards on the ground, then the following week the Pack allowed just 10 rushing yards at Adams State. Six times since 2008 the ThunderWolves have allowed 10 or less rushing yards, with the record standing at -4 rushing yards at New Mexico Highlands Nov. 9, 2013.
• The ThunderWolves allowed 94.6 rushing yards per game to sit 10th nationally.
• The Pack finished 16th in the NCAA and first in the RMAC in total defense with 308.8 yards allowed per game.
• CSU-Pueblo's 3rd down conversion percentage defense was 21st (31.9%) nationally.
• The ThunderWolves will be without their top kick returner in Kieren Duncan this season. His 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against West Texas A&M was tied for the third longest in NCAA Division II last season and helped the ThunderWolves sit eighth nationally in kickoff returns (24.72 yards per return).
• Duncan finished 18th nationally in combined kickoff returns with 804 yards.
• The Pack will also be without their all-time leading scorer in kicker Greg O'Donnell. He went 14-of-17 on field goal attempts (82.4%) last season and converted on 63-of-66 extra point attempts.
• With five blocked punts, the special teams unit finished third nationally in the category in 2014. The Pack blocked four kicks last season (two punts, two field goals) to rank 44th nationally. The first blocked punt was returned 19 yards for a score by Zach Young against Central Washington.
• In addition to replacing their top returner and place kicker, the Pack will also have a new long snapper.
VS. RANKED SQUADS:CSU-Pueblo owns a 15-4 (10-4 at home) record versus ranked opponents (Division II) since 2011. The ThunderWolves went 6-0 versus the nation's top 25 in 2014 and also added a 47-21 win against Sam Houston State (No. 15) to record the team's first-ever victory against a ranked FCS team. The Pack went 4-1 against ranked opponents last season and had won 10 straight against the nation's best before the loss to Grand Valley State.
#PACKPROS:CSU-Pueblo has three former players in the NFL as of Aug. 19. Ryan Jensen (2009-12) enters his fourth season with the Baltimore Ravens and Mike Pennel (2013) is in his third season with the Green Bay Packers. Morgan Fox (2011-15) earned an undrafted free agent contract with the Los Angeles Rams and is currently on the preseason roster. Pennel played in 16 games (five starts) for the Packers last season. He totaled 25 tackles (nine solo) with a sack and forced fumble. Jensen played in 11 games (six starts) on the offensive line for the Ravens in 2015. The Pack also have two players in the Canadian Football League (CFL), as C.J. Roberts (2010-14) plays defensive back for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Darius Allen (2011-14) plays defensive line for the British Columbia Lions. Finally, Paul Browning (2010-14) finished his first season in the Arena Football League (AFL) in July with the Orlando Predators.
THE STREAK:CSU-Pueblo posted three straight 11-0 seasons entering 2014 and was just one of two teams in NCAA Division II history to accomplish the feat. After starting 5-0 in 2014, the Pack owned 42 straight regular season victories, which was the second-longest in NCAA Division II history, behind only Grand Valley State, which posted 48 straight wins from 2004-09. The streak ended Oct. 11 in a 23-22 road loss at Fort Lewis.
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As a member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, Colorado State University – Pueblo competes in 22 varsity sports in NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletics.