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College Football Preview 2022: 25. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina

25. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

One of the nation's top quarterbacks and an easy schedule makes three straight 11-win campaigns a realistic goal

2021 Review
Despite raised expectations following the breakthrough 2020 campaign, Coastal Carolina came out of the gate swinging last fall. They started off the year 6-0, with a 27-point defeat of Kansas and a road squeaker against Buffalo. They went into a late October meeting with Appalachian State knowing the Sun Belt East may be on the line. Even with another masterful performance from QB Grayson McCall, Coastal's defense cost them the game, allowing 575 yards and 22 first downs en route to a 30-27 Appalachian victory. They were able to recover with a pair of victories over the next several weeks, but an injury to McCall cost them in a matchup against Georgia State, as they fell short 42-40. McCall eventually returned and the Chanticleers finished strong, capped off with a Cure Bowl win over Northern Illinois. They finished 11-2 overall, not a bad encore to the special 2020 campaign. However, finishing third in the East was a tad disappointing and the fact Coastal was just five points away from a perfect season should serve as an added motivation in 2022.

2022 Outlook
Offense: There was some fear quarterback Grayson McCall might go pro or transfer to a Power Five school over the offseason, but the electrifying signal-caller decided to stay on for another year. It's hard to adequately describe just how important McCall's return is to the Chanticleers. He made history last fall, becoming the single-season FBS leader in passing efficiency. In addition, he totaled over 3,000 yards of total offense and 31 touchdowns, particularly important considering he missed several games and wasn't 100 percent down the stretch. After two consecutive Sun Belt Player of the Year honors, expect McCall to be a frontrunner once again.

Flanking McCall in the backfield are a pair of capable running backs in Reese White and Braydon Bennett. Both proved to be awfully explosive a season ago, benefitting from head coach Jamey Chadwell's unique offensive scheme. Bennett finished second on the team in rushing behind the departed Shermari Jones, finishing with 636 yards while averaging 8.6 yards per carry. White wasn't quite as explosive but still posted an impressive stat-line, with 515 yards. The pairing complements McCall really well, offering enough speed that defenders have to be constantly on guard. Bennett's also a really strong receiver, finishing with 24 receptions for 295 yards in 2021. Another name to watch here is redshirt sophomore C.J. Beasley, who saw some action last year but could be in store for greater things now that Jones is gone. 

The big question on the offense is on the perimeter, where the receiver corps was hit hard by departures. The Chanticleers top three receivers have moved on, leaving Bennett as their top pass-catcher from the 2021 campaign. The two most significant losses are wide out Jaivon Heiligh and tight end Isaiah Likely, both who will be playing on Sundays in the AFC North. Likely was a fourth-round draft selection by the Baltimore Ravens after a year in which he tallied 59 receptions for 912 yards and 12 touchdowns. Heiligh signed an undrafted free agent deal with Cincinnati after leading Coastal with 66 receptions for 1,128 yards. Heiligh's big-play ability will be sorely missed, while Likely was an absolute matchup nightmare, with receiver speed and athleticism, despite being 6'4", 235 pounds. 

Without those two, Coastal is going to have to bank on improvements from those buried on the depth chart in 2021, or transfers. Juniors Tyson Mobley and Aaron Bedgood are projected as two of the top options on the outside, while Xavier Gravette is the likely replacement for Likely at tight end. While those three are likely to see major increase in touches, Georgia State transfer Sam Pinckney could rise up and be the No. 1 guy. Pinckney has already earned past All-Sun Belt honors after notching 815 yards with GSU in 2020, but he was limited by injury this past fall. It sounds like he'll be fully healthy for 2022 and expected to play a leading role.

The offensive line has some holes, with several longtime contributors gone. There's expected to be shuffling of responsibilities, with guard Willie Lampkin expected to move inside to center and former left tackle Antwine Loper to move to his natural right tackle spot. Other names expected to factor into the rotation include Will McDonald and Donnell Wilson, both who have some experience, but could slide into starting roles due to the departures.

The return of McCall ensures this offense will have plenty of bite and Chadwell's unique scheme has given Sun Belt foes difficulties for several years now. Losing the trio of Jones, Heiligh, and Likely is obviously significant, but the Chanticleers seem to have weapons waiting in the wings. The larger question (literally) is up front. The Sun Belt is an underrated league when it comes to front seven talent and teams are going to push Coastal if they aren't prepared. Identifying starting blockers along the O-Line will be the key of fall camp heading into the regular season.

Defense: The defense is a major question mark heading into 2022, although the defensive line is loaded with talent. The Chanticleers posted strong defensive numbers across the board a year ago, but they were awfully inconsistent and prone to the big play. It won't help that their top five tacklers from 2021 are now gone.

Potentially the most important returnee on the team (with the lone exception being McCall) is defensive linemen Josaiah Stewart. Stewart came south from Massachusetts and made a huge splash as a freshman, with 12.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. In addition, he helped create turnovers, leading the team with three forced fumbles in 2021. Expect him to be the focal point for opposing blockers, which could open up opportunities for the other returnees, namely Jerrod Clark, Rolan Wooden III, and Kennedy Roberts. Clark is an absolute run stopper at nose tackle, while Wooden and Roberts handle defensive tackle duties. 

Stewart will undoubtedly be the starter at defensive end, but this is a position where the Chanticleers have improved their depth. Ja'Quon Griffin joined the team in the offseason from Georgia Tech and will vie for snaps right away. Griffin's the type of talent you don't often see at a place like Coastal and he's not some slouch who can't handle ACC football; he played in 31 games during his GT career. He's most natural at end, but could play inside if needed.

The linebacker corps is where the real concern lies. Silas Kelly and Teddy Gallagher were two of the most important defenders in the program's history, and Coastal will desperately miss both their flamboyance and leadership. Junior J.T. Killen is expected to take on a leadership role, as he's the only returning Chanticleer linebacker who recorded double-digit tackles last fall (17). It's anybody's guess who will join Killen as the starters; a pair of transfers, Adrian Hope and Jahmar Brown, could see immediate playing time. Hope played four seasons at Furman and was named to the All-Southern Conference team in 2021. He has experience in the system, having played for defensive coordinator Chad Staggs when both were at Furman. Brown comes from South Carolina and is awfully talented, but unproven. Expect junior Charles Steele, who has spent most of his time with Coastal on special teams, to also figure into the mix. He plays the hybrid "Bandit" position, but hasn't had an opportunity to show what he can do.

There's both good and bad news in the Coastal Carolina secondary. There is experience returning at the cornerback position and potential throughout the unit, but the Chanticleers lost both hybrid linebacker/defensive back Enock Makonzo and safety Alex Spillum, a pair who finished third and fourth on the team in tackles last year. Veteran D'Jordan Strong is the headliner of the group, starting all 13 games at corner for the team a season ago. After notching five interceptions in his first season with Coastal, back in 2020, Strong didn't record a single INT last fall, but still got his hands in passing lanes, with seven pass deflections. The corner spot opposite of Strong isn't quite as set in stone, with former Old Dominion transfer Lance Boykin battling rising youngster Jacob Proche. Boykin picked off three passes in 2021 and should once again be a factor in the passing game, while Proche has flashed potential and looks ready for a larger role.

The safety spots are slightly unsettled, with Tobias Fletcher and Dre Pinckney back, but still unproven. The pair did see a fair amount of playing time in 2021, but only started a game apiece. They'll be the favorites to start, with Fletcher likely to start at strong safety and Pinckney at free, but keep an eye on another Power Five transfer, Chase Atkinson. The South Carolina native returns to his roots after spending two years at Syracuse, where he didn't see game action. 

Coastal's defense was awfully streaky a year ago and now has a leadership gap with several key losses. The defensive line should be a strength and the secondary has talent, but the linebacker corps could be the team's Achilles heel. Even so, the Chanticleers should be able to get by, as they added several former Power Five transfers at key positions and have continuity on the defensive staff.

Special Teams: Much like the rest of the team, there's a mix of good news and question marks on special teams. The return game should be good, with corner Manny Stokes set to return kicks once again and plenty of options at punt returner. However, placekicker and punter could be concerns as Coastal inches towards fall camp. The top kicker from 2021, Massimo Biscardi, transferred to Mississippi State, leaving backup Liam Gray as the likely favorite. Gray was 1-2 on field goals a year ago and 12-13 on extra point attempts. With Kieran Colahan departing at punter, it's anybody's guess who is going to take over at that spot.

Bottom Line: The Sun Belt Conference has become one of the top Group of Five conferences, which should only be helped by the addition of several programs this year and in the near future. The league's success has coincided with Coastal Carolina's recent run; not only have the Chanticleers won 22 games over the last two years, they've elevated their brand and reputation nationally. As they look towards 2022, the goal is clear: winning the Sun Belt. With McCall running the offense and Chadwell once again patrolling the sidelines, the core of the team is set, but not without questions. The offense will have to identify new playmakers on the outside and reinforce the offensive line, while the defense rebuilds their back-seven. Even so, with an incredibly favorable schedule and one of the nation's best under center, another double-digit win season and potential New Year's Six Bowl trip seems within reach.

Program Profile
Coaching Staff
Jamey Chadwell enters his fourth year as the full-time head coach at Coastal Carolina. He originally joined the program as offensive coordinator, before serving a year as interim head man when Joe Moglia took a leave of absence. Since taking over as full-time head man, Chadwell is 27-10, with a 16-8 mark in the Sun Belt. Defensive coordinator Chad Staggs worked under Chadwell at Charleston Southern and is a former Broyles Award finalist, while the offense is manned by co-coordinators Willy Korn and Newland Isaac.

Recruiting Breakdown
As a Group of Five program that has to recruit against Clemson and South Carolina in their state, it's always going to be difficult for Coastal to land strong recruiting classes. However, they've done a solid job elevating the talent level in recent years, thanks to a recruiting focus in the state of Florida. The 2022 group ranks 70th nationally in the 247Sports composite, headlined by receiver De'Andre Coleman and athlete Matthew McDoom. Coleman may see the field in 2022 due to the losses at receiver, but McDoom is particularly fascinating to me. The three-star athlete is undersized to play the cornerback spot, but has game-changing versatility. Another potential contributor this fall could be junior college transfer Allen Henry, who comes from Coffeyville CC in Kansas. Sure, there's depth throughout the defensive line, but JUCO products like Henry usually are a good bet as instant-contributors.

2022 X-Factor: Sam Pinckney, WR
Without Javon Heiligh and Isaiah Likely, Coastal is going to need new faces to step up on the perimeter, quickly. Sure, holdovers like Tyson Mobley and Aaron Bedgood will get a crack at topping the rotation, but Georgia State transfer Sam Pinckney might be the best bet. He's the most proven commodity of anyone in the receiver corps, starting for several seasons with the Panthers and earning All-SBC honors. If he can stay healthy, he's the type of big, physical receiver on the outside that every college program covets. As a bonus, he's also a skilled blocker, always important in this Coastal offensive scheme.

Five-Year Trend

2022 Projections
Projected Record: 11-2 (7-1 Sun Belt, Win Sun Belt Championship Game)
Offensive MVP: QB Grayson McCall
Defensive MVP: CB D'Jordan Strong
Breakout Player of the Year: LB Adrian Hope
Impact Freshman: ATH Matthew McDoom

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