In line with feedback, we’re changing things up a bit this year in how we do our Uniball predictions. One thing we continue to receive feedback on is the inconsistency of the depth and quality of predictions between one conference and the next, due to the available time and ability of the writers that cover each group of teams, and how much information is made available to them.
To that end we’re going to shake things up this year and rather than attempting to cover all games with as much detail as possible with the resources available, we’re instead going to focus on particular stand out ‘Games of the Week’ – looking more closely at anywhere between one to three games, spread across the tiers, focusing on those games that perhaps looks particularly tasty and we can go into greater detail in the coverage of.
Kicking it off this week in the top tier, we’re going to take a look at a tasty matchup between the new boys in Uniball’s toughest conference, and the team that made them wait another year to get there!
University of Nottingham vs Leeds Beckett Carnegie
It’s a moment Nottingham have been building up to for the last few years now – their debut in the top tier of the British University game.
What’s more, for the gold and green it’s also an opportunity to take some revenge on the last team that best them!
Let’s meet both teams.
University of Nottingham
The story of this Nottingham side truly begins ahead of the 16/17 season where, following a rebrand a few years prior that saw them drop their ‘Outlaws’ moniker and work more closely with their parent institution, the team was boosted by the addition of a number of sports scholars – both international and domestic.
The impact on the field was immediate, and the side cruised to an 8-0 perfect regular season.
Clear favourites for promotion into the top tier, things, however, came unstuck in the postseason when some final second heroics saw them fall in the Northern Semi-Finals… but more on that particular game later.
A devastating blow for an outfit that looked destined to play top-tier football, the end of that campaign also saw the departure of Head Coach Phil Wood. Questions began to be asked whether the gold and green had missed their one shot. Would the scholarships still be there if the team wasn’t playing top flight football?
That question was quickly answered with another strong recruitment coming into 2017/18, and when Jason Scott, fresh off a BAFA NL National Championship victory with the Tamworth Phoenix joined the programme in the vacated Head Coach role, Nottingham’s following campaign was, if anything, even more dominant than its previous one.
They steamrolled their way to an undefeated regular season, and didn’t let up the pace once they reached the playoffs – their 43-0 stomping of the UWE Bullets in the Division One National Championship emphasising that this was a team ready for an upgrade in the calibre of their opponents.
Indeed, Coach Scott told us the team have had no qualms stepping up to prepare for Uniball’s toughest conference:
“I’ve been really happy to how we’ve approached the pre-season. It could be daunting stepping up to the BUCS Premier Division, but the players have shown no fear and have attacked every single practice, which has put us in a great place going into our first game. We’ve recruited well, and we’ll be looking to build on last season’s successes.
I’m excited about the potential this team has, and we’re all looking forward to playing our first game at the highest level in the University leagues.”
Though he wasn’t with the programme at the time, Coach Scott enters his second year with the team knowing that for some of the team’s veterans a match up against Leeds Beckett will have special significance:
“Carnegie are a great team, they had a phenomenal outing in week one, and will definitely be among the teams who will be competing for a National Championship come March. They have a brutally effective offence, and a defence that flows really well. We need to play sound assignment football, and compete on every down – we cannot afford to relax for a moment.
We’ve had a long look at what Leeds do on offence – some of our older players will remember playing them in the playoffs two years ago, and we scrimmaged Loughborough pre-season to help prepare us. We need to tackle really well, and make sure that we win the point of attack on both sides of the ball.”
Ones To Watch
With any programme that draws international scholarship athletes, it’s always tempting to focus on these first and foremost.
Certainly, we’d expect the Nottingham scholars, such as former-Stetson University Tight End Austin Tyrrell to be big impact players – but Coach Scott wanted to emphasise the homegrown talent on their roster:
“We’re very fortunate to have some of the best, young British players on our sideline.
Lots is spoken about the US scholars that we have on our roster, but I think that’s doing a huge disservice to our home-grown talent.
Lewis Thomas – in my eyes – is already one of the best offensive linemen in the country, and Finley Old could develop into a GB Tight End. Leo Corney blends sound fundamentals with great physicality at Cornerback, and Manny Okolo is as disruptive as any defensive lineman I’ve ever worked with.
We definitely have players who can compete at this level, and it’s our job as coaches to put them in a position to succeed.”
With Patrick Daley departing the roster at the end of last season, it’ll be interesting to see who emerges as the go-to under centre for Notts this season – heir apparent Tunde Pratt or one of the newer additions to the Nottingham roster?
Leeds Beckett Carnegie
For fans of underdogs, Carnegie have been one of the most pleasant surprises of the past few seasons.
They appeared to emerge out of nowhere at the end of the 2016/17 season. Having had a mixed bag of a regular season where they didn’t even win their own conference, all of a sudden come playoffs their tightknit ~30man roster was blowing promotion-favourites out of the playoffs!
Even then, heading into the top tier expectations were Carnegie’s time in the Prem would be brief. To that point, no promoted outfit had survived their first year in the top tier, especially not in the hugely competitive Premiership North.
And yet, scroll to the end of the season and the underdogs are sitting pretty at 4-4 – not just holding onto their top tier credentials by displacing the mighty Loughborough, but also turning heads with feats such as being one of the only teams to, albeit briefly, lead the Saints at one point during their first fixture, and best the heavily-favoured Stirling Clansmen.
Come playoffs they headed down to Herts and in truth made short work of Uniball’s most successful programme, Carnegie’s outstanding first premiership outing only eventually being stopped dead by the weather – their Semi-Finals fixture versus the Saints awarded due to a snow postponement.
And yet, somehow, even as the 2018/19 season got underway Carnegie were still holding onto their underdog status as they squared off against Stirling in Week One, and turned heads with their 50-28 blowout of the multi-National Championship-winning scotsmen.
Head Coach Dale Bottomley emphasised that the team had prepared diligently coming into this campaign:
“We’ve been very thorough in our preparations for the 2018/2019 BUCS season – our coaches have done an excellent job working tirelessly to ensure the players were ready for the first game and will do so for every game this season – I can’t give them enough credit.
The players made it clear that their aim is to be exceptional; their commitment to this statement has been superb since the end of March.”
Looking ahead to this weekend, the newly-appointed Head Coach of the BAFA National League’s Yorkshire Rams said that the team’s focus was on performing to the best of their ability:
“We focus on ourselves and how we play, ensuring we prepare as best we possibly can. We know exactly what it’s like to play in a first BUCS Premiership fixture – we will need to make sure we are at our very best to be successful on Sunday.”
Ones to watch
Carnegie have often managed to slip under the radar as something of a ‘no-name’ roster, but as they continue to find success at the top level of the game, that’s getting harder and harder to do.
While they’ve seen a number of significant departures from the offensive line, all signs are they’ve quickly plugged those holes with a mixture of new additions and players stepping up to fill the gaps.
Much like his counterpart at Nottingham, Coach Bottomley played it coy about the international talent Carnegie have available, preferring to focus on their domestic playmakers:
“Sheldon Campbell (team captain) proved his abilities this Summer competing for Great Britain in Finland as a safety. Tyler Broad also trained with the GB practice squad and has been a stand-out in the national league for a few years now. Team Captain Spencer Hind has developed into a leadership role within the programme over the past two years and starred on both O and D last season.
Chris Jones, Conner Rimington and Joe Whitmore have proven their talent on the line and can be relied upon to do anything the team needs on the field. Chris Winrow has been a star at quarterback for us and gained more experience by playing in Finland this Summer.”
Through their first game Winrow split time under centre with former University of Illinois Wideout Kameron Fry.
When last they met…
Division One North Semi-Finals of the 16/17 season.
Nottingham looked utterly unstoppable, having steamrolled their way to an undefeated regular season. Sure, they’d allowed LJMU to put up more points than many expected in the previous round of playoffs, but few expected the short-on-numbers Carnegie outfit to be more than a speedbump on their way to promotion.
However, Carnegie’s inexorable offence kept the game close throughout, and the game headed to overtime all tied up at 20-a-piece.
Notts took the first drive – punched in the score and converted… But Leeds fought back, also finding paydirt to bring the score to 27-26, with a big decision to make… kick for another round of overtime, or punch it in for the win…
The QB keeper found the edge, punching it in to spell heartbreak for Nottingham and the beginning of a new era for Carnegie football.
But who’s winning this one?
Two rosters stacked with talent, and neither one excluded from the conversation as possible title contenders… But who emerges on top?
Predictions for all BUCS fixtures are also incoming, they’ll just be in a simpler, pick’em style format this season.