Eric Morris’ first season at the helm of the UIW Cardinals football team was one for the record books.
He took over a team that went 1-10 in 2018 and led them to a 6-5 overall record and a share of the Southland Conference championship, the first title in program history.
Despite losing running back Ra’Quanne Dickens, who ran for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2018; sophomore running back Ameer King returns. Also returning is the entire offensive line and sophomore quarterback, Jon Copeland.
So the question is, can UIW surprise everyone again in the 2019 season?
The Cardinals have finished 6-5 a total of three times during the program’s 10-year history and despite losing some key weapons on both sides of the ball, another successful season is not out of the question. However, no one expects it to be easy as the critics have picked UIW to finish third in the conference preseason poll.
“Being able to sustain success is one of the hardest things to do as a coach,” Morris said at the team’s media day. “I think we have to trust the process of what got us here, obviously the target is going to be on our back.”
So let’s dive into our crystal ball and predict how UIW’s 2019 season will go:
Aug. 31: UIW at UTSA
Right off the bat, Week 1 features two programs with something to prove. UIW wants to prove that its 2018 season was not a fluke, while UTSA finished 3-9 overall as their defense gave up 31.2 points per game in 2018 and is looking to rebound. This one has all the makings of an instant classic but I give the edge to the Roadrunners at home.
Prediction: UIW 21, UTSA 30
Sept. 7: Texas Southern at UIW
All signs point to a win for UIW in Week 2. Texas Southern went winless on the road in 2018 and finished 2-9 overall. The Tigers gave up 33.1 points per game last season and were lit up for 66 and 70 points respectively in two different games. I fully expected a lopsided win for the Cardinals in their home opener.
Prediction: UIW 45, Texas Southern 14
Sept. 21: UIW at Sam Houston State
The Cardinals easily handed Sam Houston State last season, defeating them 43-26 at Benson Stadium. It was a close game until the third quarter where UIW outscored SHSU 27-7 to open the flood gates. Historically, the Cardinals are 0-4 at SHSU all-time and it will take a massive effort to get this road win. This game will likely be a lot closer than last season but I expect UIW to be handed their second loss.
Prediction: UIW 21, Sam Houston State 28
Sept. 28 Abilene Christian at UIW
UIW went up to Abilene and used a big second-half performance to grab the 44-34 win. This time around with some new pieces on the defensive end, the Cardinals will have to figure it out against a Wildcats offense that is expected to be putting up the points once again. For the second straight week, it will be another close game but this time the Cards come out on top.
Prediction: UIW 30, Abilene Christian 21
Oct. 5 UIW at Houston Baptist
For the first time since 2016, the Cardinals will take on Houston Baptist. That year, UIW survived to grab a 28-26 win at home. Since then, the Huskies have been on a downward trend, going 1-10 the past two seasons. With two teams going in different directions, this one looks like another win for UIW.
Prediction: UIW 40, Houston Baptist 14
Oct. 12 UIW at Southeastern Louisiana
Last season, the Cardinals easily took care of business against Southeastern Louisana 52-34. UIW quarterback Jon Copeland threw for three touchdowns and 411 yards in the win and will likely need another big performance from him to get a victory. Coming into their sophomore seasons Copeland and running back Ameer King will be too much for Southeastern Louisana to handle.
Prediction: UIW 45, Southeastern Louisana 28
Oct. 19 Lamar at UIW
Last season saw the Cardinals just seconds away from knocking off Lamar on the road until a blocked field goal attempt was returned for an LU touchdown, giving the home side the win. I fully expect the Cardinals to learn from their mistakes from that night and edge out Lamar for the home win.
Prediction: UIW 23, Lamar 17
Oct. 26 Northwestern State at UIW
The Demons of Northwestern State got some big wins last season against Lamar and McNeese but they were narrow wins. With Copeland leading a high-powered UIW offense, this game could go easily to the Cardinals but only if they respond with a stellar defensive effort since the Demons’ offense can score the football. This has all the signs of a shootout but I like Copeland and UIW at home.
Prediction: UIW 49, Northwestern State 38
Nov. 2 Nicholls State at UIW
This is likely going to be the date circled on the schedule for Morris and his team. Last season, Nicholls easily handled business as they defeated UIW 48-21. This time around the biggest question marks will center around Copeland and the Cardinals defense. UIW’s offensive line will do what they can to protect Copeland but the jury is still out on the defense. So I’ll take Nicholls on the road.
Prediction: UIW 35, Nicholls 52
Nov. 9 UIW at Stephen F. Austin
The last time the Cardinals went to visit SFA, they narrowly fell 37-31. In 2018, UIW routed the Lumberjacks 31-7 in their home opener, so what will this season hold? Well as Eric Morris said, there is a target on the Cardinals’ backs and SFA will likely want some revenge for that beating last season. SFA’s defense struggled last season and with new pieces, it will be hard for them to contain the Cardinals’ offense. I feel Morris will have his players ready after the loss to Nicholls as UIW rebounds for a victory.
Prediction: UIW 37, Stephen F. Austin 20
Nov. 16 UIW at New Mexico State
This has “scheduled loss” written all over it. The Cardinals have improved over the past year but not even Copeland’s cannon of an arm will help UIW in this game. New Mexico State will easily handle the Cards, sending them to their second loss in three games.
Prediction: UIW 28, New Mexico 65
Nov. 22 Central Arkansas at UIW
The season finale will see UIW at home against Central Arkansas. Last season, the Cardinals would grab the win despite Copeland going down with what would turn out to be an ACL injury, Dickens would help lead UIW to the win in his absence.
Copeland is now healthy and King is a solid replacement for Dickens but Central Arkansas will have an improved defense from a year ago. And that’s the reason I give the road team the edge in this one.
Prediction: UIW 35, Central Arkansas 42
The main key for UIW will be their defense. Can they improve on last season and fill some holes? If they can, they will be the surprise team once again. However, I think the Cardinals will end their season with a 7-5 record overall, which is one win better than last season. Will their 6-3 record in conference play be enough to win a conference title? Probably not since the Southland Conference has vastly improved this season but a second consecutive playoff berth is not out of the question.