Our staff was essentially in unanimous agreement over our top five receivers, with only one voter flipping a couple of spots on the ballot. Only five receivers actually got votes. Mentioned, but not voted on: Aaron Lockett and Mitch Running. Not mentioned, and this was a complete surprise: Darnell McDonald, who only holds the Fiesta Bowl record for receiving yards in a game. And we'd be remiss not to throw Curry Sexton's name into the ring as well.
5. Michael Smith
The offensive star of the early Bill Snyder era, Smith earned All-Big 8 recognition twice and later served a long tenure as K-State's running backs coach. He departed for Arkansas in 2013, and some chastised him for disloyalty... without realizing that his move was the direct result of his attendance at the Champions Coaches Forum, where he realized that if he wanted to advance his career he was going to have to make some moves. And he attended that seminar at the behest of Bill Snyder himself, with whom he still apparently has a very good relationship. If Snyder lasts a few more years, Smith's name is going to start coming up in discussion.
4. Quincy Morgan
Morgan, like Michael Bishop before him, came to Manhattan from Blinn College. He became the first Wildcat receiver to ever have consecutive 1,000 yard seasons, and was a second-round pick of the Browns in 2001. He played fairly well in Cleveland, but his career fizzled after being traded to Dallas and having to deal with the mercurial Bill Parcells. He did, however, pick up a Super Bowl ring the following season with Pittsburgh.
3. Kevin Lockett
A member of the very first All-Big 12 first team, Lockett held all of K-State's primary career receiving records until about nine months ago. A key member of Bill Snyder's first four bowl squads, Lockett racked up over 3,000 yards receiving in the purple and white. He was a second-round draft pick by the Chiefs in 1997, but despite a seven-year NFL career, his professional experience never really blossomed.
2. Jordy Nelson
Nelson was a walk-on from Riley County, and was wearing a redshirt when K-State stunned Oklahoma in 2003. Originally slated as a defensive back, Bill Snyder moved Nelson to wide receiver during camp his redshirt freshman year, and as a sophomore during the final year of Snyder's first tenure Nelson hauled in 65 passes to earn himself a spot on the Biletnikoff watch list as a junior. Injuries clouded that campaign, however. As a senior, he was a Biletnikoff finalist and a consensus first-team All-American, racking up over 1,600 yards and even throwing a pair of touchdown passes. Nelson was taken with the fifth pick of the second round by Green Bay in 2008, and has since been named an All-Pro. Nelson won a Super Bowl ring in 2010, and recorded his 400th career reception in the Packers' 2014 season finale; his next touchdown catch will be his 50th as a pro. So how do you beat this resume?
1. Tyler Lockett
By breaking every important career receiving record at K-State, that's how.
Eastern Collegiate Football Conference Preview
|2014 Standings and Info|
|Husson University Eagles||Bangor ME||7-0||8-2|
|Castleton State College Spartans||Castleton VT||5-2||7-3|
|Norwich University Cadets||Northfield VT||5-2||7-4|
|Mount Ida College Mustangs||Newton MA||5-2||5-5|
|SUNY Maritime College Privateers||Throggs Neck NY||3-4||4-6|
|Gallaudet University Bison||Washington DC||2-5||2-7|
|Becker College Hawks||Leicester MA||1-6||1-9|
|Anna Maria College AMCats||Paxton MA||0-7||0-10|
The ECFC used to be really, really awful. Awful in the "only won one non-conference game all year" sense. The league as a whole has improved, although there are still some teams who can't seem to beat anyone outside the conference.
The ECFC will be involved in the great Eastern shuffle in 2017, as Norwich will depart when the NEWMAC begins sponsoring football. But that won't impact the league's automatic bid, as they'll still have seven teams left.
Husson started playing football in 2003, and slowly worked their way toward credibility. The Eagles finished 7-3 in 2008, their final year as an independent. The transition to the ECFC was difficult, however, and Husson lurched to an 0-10 record in 2011. They started their way back up the ladder, and their climb climaxed with a perfect conference record and a home playoff game in 2014.
Unfortunately, the dream ended at the hands of MIT, and now the Eagles will have to contend with the loss of two key talents. ECFC Defensive Player of the Year DB Stephan Dance and Offensive Lineman of the year Alex Young have graduated, along with Young's linemate Matt Archer, TE Caleb King, and KR Shabashe McIntosh. But Husson is actually in very good shape to repeat despite those losses. Returning are QB Joe Seccareccia, RB and ECAC Rookie of the Year John Smith, WR Deon Wiggins, DLs Matt Pellerin and Luke Washburn, LB Ellis Throckmorton, and DB Kenny Sweet. Most of those returning players are sophomores and juniors this year, too, so Husson is set up for an extended run.
Castleton State started football in 2009, and unlike Husson they've mostly been good from the gun. The Spartans were 7-4 in 2012, but collapsed to 1-9 in 2013; last year they bounced right back off the canvas to give Husson a chase. ECFC Offensive Player of the Year WR/KR Kevin Alberque has graduated, but the Spartans sustained no other losses. QB George Busharis, TE Jordan Goodrich, OLs Eric Decker and Jordan Tolar, DL Brett Denning, and DB Eric Mimnaugh return. Catching Husson will be a tall hill to climb, but the Spartans look like they'll improve in 2015.
Norwich spent five years in the Empire 8 getting their heads beaten in before joining the ECFC in 2009. Since then, they have not failed to win 7 games in a season. They've reached the post-season in six straight years, although only once (2011) has that entailed an NCAA playoff appearance; the rest were ECAC Bowl bids. Graduation losses were heavy after last season, however. Gone are RB Al Georgio, OL James Short, DL Kyle Funesti, LBs Addison Nye and Jimmy Labell, and DB Dane Pallotto. Only K Wesley Nederios returns from the Cadets' slate of all-conference selections, and that indicates almost-certain regression in 2015.
Mount Ida has tailed off three consecutive winning seasons to post a pair of 5-5 marks. The Mustangs will lose OL Andrew Miller, DL Anthony Sanders, LB Kayin Smithison, and DB Jovan Wilkins. But RB Melquan Pinkney, WR Matt Greenman, DL Dom Spaulding, LB Sean Chinova, and P Devin Broadley return. The Mount should remain at .500, or perhaps a little better.
SUNY Maritime rose briefly to prominence with an undefeated regular season in 2010, complete with the gripping storyline of head coach Clayton Kendrick-Holmes potentially having to leave the team after their first-round playoff game in order to report for reserve duty in Afghanistan. They lost that playoff game, so it became a football non-issue, but it still put the Privateers in the news for several weeks.
Things have not gone so well since. Maritime was 8-2 in 2011, but they've slipped into mediocrity. Last year's class was senior-heavy; FB Kyle Gardner, OL Casey Boos, DL Hugh O'Brien, LB Nick Coffey, and DB/KR Chris Klass are all gone, leaving only K Diogo Dietrich, the ECFC Special Teams Player of the Year. It could be a long fall for Maritime.
Gallaudet is, of course, our nation's premier university for the hearing impaired, and there have been plenty of stories about the different ways they do things like call plays and manage the snap count. The Bison went 9-2 in 2013, making their first NCAA playoff appearance. But the bottom completely fell out last year. LB Jaris Alleyene and DB Ali McCrea have graduated, but the Bison return FB B.J. Flores, OL Todd Collins, DL Devante Walters, and DB Carnelius Smith. They should bounce back toward .500 in 2015.
Becker has played 10 seasons of football and won 14 games, a big chunk of then at the expense of Anna Maria. WR Dejahn Dawkins, OL Timothy Farina, DL Michael Calafiore, LB Josh Lawrence, and DB Davin Collins return. The Hawks lose nobody who received ECFC honors last year, so they have something to build on this fall.
Anna Maria enters their seventh year of football. Three of their previous seasons ended with 0-10 marks, including last year; the other three were 2-8 finishes. Like Becker, the AMCats lose no notable talent. Returning are RB Chris Bettano, WRs Ryan McCarthy and Will Ricard, OL Kevin Gray, DL Joe Colao, LBs Mike Sinto and Victor Sambola, and P Stefano Marsiale. That's quite a cast, and at worst Anna Maria can expect to post a win or two.
Game of the year: Castleton State visits Husson on October 3 in the conference opener for both squads. Unfortunately for the Spartans, Husson will be coming off two bye weeks to prepare, but regardless the winner will be expected to run the table.
College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Preview
|2014 Standings and Info|
|7||Wheaton College Thunder||Wheaton IL||7-0||11-1|
|11||North Central College Cardinals||Naperville IL||6-1||8-2|
|Augustana College Vikings||Rock Island IL||4-3||5-5|
|Elmhurst College Bluejays||Elmhurst IL||4-3||5-5|
|Illinois Wesleyan University Titans||Bloomington IL||2-5||4-6|
|Carthage College Red Men||Kenosha WI||2-5||3-7|
|North Park College Vikings||Chicago IL||2-5||2-8|
|Millikin University Big Blue||Decatur IL||1-6||3-7|
It was a really bad year for the usually powerful CCIW. Only two teams finished over .500, and the conference only received a playoff bid for champion Wheaton. On the other hand, only one team failed to win at least three games, so there's that. The Thunder and North Central have been picked by the CCIW coaches to yet again fight for the title; the two schools captured all the first- and second-place votes in the pre-season poll, with Wheaton edging out the Cardinals 5-3 in first-place nods. Change is coming, as Carroll (WI) will join the league next season and Washington (MO) will join in 2017.
Wheaton (IL) had missed the playoffs three straight year, going 8-2 each try, before getting past their arch-rivals once again last season. The Thunder lose WR Luke Thorson, first-team All-American C Spencer Clark, OL Dan Barnhart, DL Jared Todd, and DB Michael Risher. No problem for Wheaton, as they'll welcome back RB Danny Puknaitis, WR Luke Thorson, OL Matt Snebold, DL Logan McRae, DB Alex Mendez, and last year's Don Larson Defensive Player of the Year, LB Adam Dansdill, who also received second-team All-America recognition. This is how it goes in Wheaton every single year.
North Central (IL) lost in the 2013 national semifinals by a single point at Mount Union, ending a dream season with a 13-1 record and a host of what-ifs. Last year, the Cardinals missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and only the second time since 2004. Their two losses were a touchdown defeat at Wisconsin-Stevens Point and a three-point loss at Wheaton, making the snub even harder to swallow and leaving Cardinal fans wondering just what they've done wrong.
The Cardinals will move on without the talents of WR Peter Sorenson, the Art Keller Offensive Player of the Year, DL Peter Mann, LB Michael Monterrubio, and DB Jordan Dean. QB Dylan Warden, RB Oshayne Brown, OLs Pat Bolger and Eric Knaperek, KR Alex Ulmer, and K Dom Zavaglia return, so expect the offense to improve while the defense slips a bit. Still, it's North Central. They'll be fighting Wheaton for the crown.
Illinois Wesleyan has been making the playoffs every other year for awhile. Last year was, obviously, not one of those. The Titans lose OL Niall Mulcahy, DL John Worley, and third-team All-American P Matt Kussman. Returning are WR Artie Checchin, DL Kyle Venhuzen, LB Sean Garvey, and DB Kevin Slawkowski. Wesleyan will probably be relevant, but that odd-year playoff pattern is probably about to snap, especially with two more at-large bids being removed from the pool. It's just too hard to get a third team in now.
Augustana (IL) was tangentially in the news just after the new year when North Dakota State won their fourth consecutive national title, matching the Vikings' feat from the early 1980s. This is no longer that Augustana. The Vikes have not won more than seven games since 2005, and they've run up three straight .500 seasons. They've got a coaching change to deal with, as Rob Cushman resigned to take over the head coaching gig at Minnesota-Morris; he's been replaced by Steve Bell, who went 112-44 at Monmouth (IL) over the last 15 years, where he developed notorious trick-shot video artist and former Chief QB Alex Tanney.
QB Sam Frasco, RB Brandon Price, and LB Jack Asquini return; OL Jon Losen, DL Thomas Enke, and DB Ben Fornek graduate. Bell will have some tools to work with, but it may take until 2016 for his success to translate.
Elmhurst startled everyone with a 10-2 campaign in 2012, but otherwise they've been almost painfully average this century. The Bluejays lose QB Joe Camiliere, OLs Drake Hoffman and Adam Connors, DL Nick Spracklen, LB Jake Garabedian, and DB Marvin Carr. That's a lot to lose, and they don't bring back a lot in quantity. But what Elmhurst has returning is definitely quality. Second-team All-American RB Josh Williams is back along with honorable mention All-American TE Garrett Claxon. They're joined by WR Kaylon Miller and DB Valdez Honorable. Can two All-Americans push Elmhurst back out of the neutral zone? We'll see.
North Park beat Carthage 22-20 on October 5, 2013. That was significant because it was the first time since October 7, 2000 that the Vikings had won a CCIW contest, breaking an 89-game conference losing streak. North Park has now won five conference games in the last two years, and that's why they suddenly find themselves picked to finisn somewhere other than last place for the second year in a row. Returning talent also has a bit to do with that; QB T.D. Conway and WR Devin Childress return, giving North Park continuity on offense. Their losses from last year are somewhat severe, however. OL Kenny Pistorius, DLs Matt Liebforth and Trevor Forker, and DB Phillip Pendleton have graduated. Those losses on defense are critical, as the Vikings tended to give up lots of points when they lost last year.
Carthage has slowly been decaying since a 2004 playoff run. The nadir was 2013, a 1-9 season that saw the Red Men finish in last place. DB Marcus Harnett has graduated, but TE Javier Rhoades, LB Greg Money, and DB Shawntrel Garner will be back. That's a solid net positive, but it will still be a struggle to stay out of the bottom of the standings.
Millikin has had only one winning season since 2004, and things look grim this fall. DB Mike Blakely is gone, while WR Brady Cufaude, OL Anthony Berkman, and LB Matt Madrigal return.
Game of the year: Well, duh. November 24, Wheaton visits North Central, and the winner's probably guaranteed a spot in the fall dance.
K-State's top five running backs, and we (finally!) wrap up Division III with the Centennial Conference and the American Southwest Conference. That also marks the point where we're just about halfway done with conference previews, thanks to the ridiculous number of conferences in Division III.