Charlotte decided to start a football program back in 2011 and played at the FCS level up until last year when the joined Conference USA. The 49ers won their first two games of the season and then proceeded to get beat pretty handily in most of their games for the rest of the season. They were able to keep it within one score in two games but the defense gave up 36 points per game last year including 73 to MTSU. Charlotte has a few very nice players on their offense and defense but overall they are lacking the quality depth that is needed to compete at the FBS level.
The 49ers offense got a nice addition this spring when former Miami quarterback Kevin Olson transferred in from JUCO. Olson has been named the starter and I'm sure the 49er fans and coaches are hopeful that he can fix the biggest issue for the offense which was ineffective quarterback play. Olson started five games last year and threw 13 touchdowns but it's hard to say how well he played overall. I will go out on a limb and say that he is a big upgrade over the three quarterbacks Charlotte played last year.
Kalif Phillips is the best player on the 49er offense and a lot of folks expect him to have a big year. Phillips is a stocky back that has a good amount of burst for a guy his size. While he won't outrun everyone, he can make a cut and make a guy miss or shed a tackler if needed. Louisville has struggled to contain good running backs over the last couple of years so Phillips is definitely a guy to keep an eye on.
I think that Austin Duke will make a play or two in this game. Duke is the best receiver in the short history of the program and he lines up all over the field. Duke is undersized but he does run deep routes pretty often. Trent Bostick is another veteran receiver for the offense as well as former UGA receiver Uriah Lemay. T.L. Ford is a guy that stood out to me in the games I watched but as of now it looks like he's listed as a backup. This group of receivers has some talent but I wouldn't say that they are a group that fans need to worry about. They don't have the speed to get behind the defense, but they are sure handed guys that won't be nervous in a big game.
Charlotte's offensive line went from being very good at the FCS level to being really bad as a FBS team. The 49ers gave up about as many sacks as UofL's line did last year and Charlotte was killed by plays being made in the backfield. Jamal Covington is a solid left tackle but outside of him there isn't much positive to say about this line. Three seniors in the lineup should help with mental mistakes and penalties, but these guys haven't faced a talented defense like Louisville's and I don't see them stacking up well.
The front seven for the 49ers doesn't feature a lot of talent. The defensive line has decent size with Larry Ogunjobi being an effective player who pursues the ball very well. This is the area where Charlotte loses games. The offense isn't all that bad and the secondary is pretty decent, but they get gashed by running backs and they don't get a good pass rush. Daquan Lewis is a really solid linebacker but the guys playing next to him leave a lot to be desired. It will be interesting to see how Lewis plays against the read option. If he can contain Jackson, it could stall a drive or two.
The secondary for Charlotte is pretty solid. Terrance Winchester is a guy that can make a nice play at opportunistic times. Tank Norman was the starter last year but it looks like he is no longer with the team. Winchester is a former walk-on who is really fun to watch. He made a couple of really nice diving interceptions last year that were true "wow" moments. Charlotte plays a good amount of man coverage so it will be interesting to see how these guys stack up against Louisville's deep receiver group.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Kevin Olson, RB Kalif Phillips, WR Austin Duke, DT Larry Ogunjobi, OLB Daquan Lewis, CB Terrance Winchester