There is football.
Like, before it gets dark and everything.
This afternoon at 7pm CT, amid the Bakken Shale Fields of western North Dakota, the very first actual regular-season college football game of 2015 will kick off.
And here's how you can watch it. If you're patient.
What: Montana State-Northern Lights (0-0, 0-0 Frontier) at Dickinson State Blue Hawks (0-0, 0-0 North Stat)
Where: Henry Besiot Activities Center, Dickinson ND
Recent history: MSU-Northern has won the last two meetings, 40-17 last year in Havre and 14-0 in Dickinson in 2013. Those two wins brought the series record to 7-6 in favor of Dickinson, so the Lights are aiming to even things up.
Streaming: A video stream, without audio, will be available via Stretch Internet/Blue Hawks Live. Unfortunately, there's a $10 subscription fee which I'm sure you're not interested in paying, unless you really, really need to see live college football. Audio streaming is available on KDIX 1230 in Dickinson via Live365, and on KPQX 92.5 in Havre vis StreamOn.
Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Preview
|2014 Standings and Info|
|11||Ferris State University Bulldogs||Big Rapids MI||10-0||11-1|
|21||Michigan Technological University Huskies||Houghton MI||9-1||9-2|
|Wayne State University Warriors||Detroit MI||6-4||7-4|
|Grand Valley State University Lakers||Allendale MI||6-4||6-5|
|Northwood University Timberwolves||Midland MI||4-6||5-6|
|Hillsdale University Chargers||Hillsdale MI||4-6||4-7|
|Northern Michigan University Wildcats||Marquette MI||2-8||3-8|
|Saginaw Valley State University Cardinals||University Center MI||2-8||2-9|
|4||Ohio Dominican University Panthers||Columbus OH||9-1||11-2|
|rv||Ashland University Eagles||Ashland OH||8-2||8-2|
|Findlay University Oilers||Findlay OH||4-6||5-6|
|Tiffin University Dragons||Tiffin OH||4-6||5-6|
|Lake Erie College Storm||Painesville OH||3-7||4-7|
|Walsh University Cavaliers||North Canton OH||3-7||4-7|
|Malone University Pioneers||Canton OH||1-9||1-10|
The big news in the GLIAC is that the folly of the megaconference is a real thing. Malone had already announced their intent to leave the GLIAC for the Great Midwest Athletic Conference following this season. Well, after next season, five other GLIAC schools are following them out the door. Findlay, Hillsdale, Lake Erie, Walsh, and Ohio Dominican have turned in their walking papers. And for the GLIAC, the last one hits the hardest, as ODU has been the league's strongest team for the last few seasons. The move will leave the GLIAC with ten teams, only nine of which play football. The conference will still be in good shape -- and arguably this move is actually for the best for all parties concerned. Sixteen-team leagues just don't work, people.
The balance of power has shifted here, with long-time bully Grand Valley State washed up on the rocks and Saginaw Valley suffering their worst season in a long while. Meanwhile, "that other" Michigan state school ran wild last year, while Ohio Dominican continued their rise to dominance. But while Ferris is picked to win the North again in the preseason coaches' poll, the Lakers are expected to bounce back and challenge and Saginaw is expected to rebound to tolerable levels of decency. Wayne and Michigan Tech will fight it out for third, while Saginaw and Hillsdale are expected to battle for fifth. Down south, Dominican is the overwhelming favorite with Ashland chasing. Lake Erie and Walsh are in a tight race for sixth.
All-GLIAC selections (total, departed/returning): 16 (6/10)
Key losses: OL Jake VanderKlok, KR Dontae Ingraham (39.8 YPKOR)
Key returnees: All-American and Harlon Hill Trophy winner QB Jason Vander Laan (2,381 yards, 30 TD/7 INT; 1,466 yards/20 TD rushing), RB Jahaan Brown (786/8, 34 YPKOR/1 TD), WR Shakur Sanders (736/8), OLs Adam Bennett, Cody Dingledey, and Bryan Bell, DE Justin Zimmer, LBs K.C. Zenner (97 tackles) and Anthony Darkangelo (11.5 TFL), DBs Ato Condelee and Troy Smith (4 INT each), P Trevor Bermingham
The only problem this team had last year was a relative lack of penetrative force on the defensive line. There will be some turnover there, and if the Bulldogs get better production from the front four, well... look, the offense is a devastating weapon led by the best Division II player in the nation. Pair it with a solid defense and Ferris can win a national championship, never mind the GLIAC.
Grand Valley State
All-GLIAC selections: 13 (9/4)
Key losses: QB Heath Parling (2,028, 20/6), RB Chris Robinson (889/9), DL Matt Mosley (13.5 TFL/6.5 sacks), DB Deonte' Hurst (92 T), P Chris Picano
Key returnees: WR Jamie Potts (905/10), OLs Jim Walsh and Brandon Revelberg, DL Matt Judon (19 TFL/8.5 sacks)
The Lakers are not the force they once were under Brian Kelly and then Chuck Martin. But they'd remained relevant; they won the GLIAC outright in 2010, won the North in 2011-12, and made the NCAA playoffs in 2013. Last year, the bottom finally fell out. Grand Valley is expected to bounce back, and they're ranked in the preseason AFCA top 25, but this may be Matt Mitchell's last stand if the Lakers sputter again.
He's going to have his work cut out for him, and it's not clear on paper why anyone's expecting a rebound; such optimism is entirely speculative and depends on incoming and previously underused talent. Sophomore Bart Williams is the only QB on the roster who saw action last year, completing a single pass for nine yards (and a TD) on two attempts. RBs Terrell Dorsey and Kirk Spencer combined for 705/4 last year behind Robinson. Either one of them will have to step up to replace him, or they'll both have to be good for about 750 each.
Wayne State (MI)
All-GLIAC selections: 15 (9/6)
Key losses: RB Desmond Martin (1,578/16), WR Michael Johnson (879/10), All-American LB Nores Fradl (101 T/28.5 TFL/8.5 sacks), DB Gerren DuHart
Key returnees: QB Carl Roscoe (1,615, 10/9), TEs Trent Brodbeck (171/0) and Ethan Walsh, OL Nate Theaker, DE Jake Carrizales (14 TFL/7.5 sacks), LB Anthony DeDamos (12 TFL), DB Zak Bielecki (101), K Paul Graham (14-15, 42-43 on PATs)
The offense is a wasteland right now, even with the return of Roscoe. Romello Brown led all returning running backs with 102 yards last year, though it should be noted that Wayne has managed to produce a 1,000 yard back in nine of the last ten seasons so this could end up not being an issue. WR Jamel Hicks (262/2) is the leading returning receiver by yardage, Brodbeck by catches. Hicks is also expected to take over return duties this year.
Despite Bielecki being the leading tackler returning, the defense is in pretty good shape considering the loss of Fradl, the league's defensive back of the year. (Linebackers are eligible for that award.) Last year was Wayne's best season since losing the 2011 national championship game to Pittsburg State. It's probably a 50/50 flip whether they regress or not.
All-GLIAC selections: 14 (8/6)
Key losses: QB Tyler Scarlett (2,154, 19/5), RB Charlie Leffingwell (1,448/13), DE Nelson Wienke (11 TFL), DB DeShawn Nelson (6 INT)
Key returnees: QB/WR Brandon Cowie (786/7 receiving), WR Andrew Clark (548/3), OLs Josh Knoepke and Frank Vruwink, DL Tanner Agen (10 TFL), LB Paul Kuoppala (66 T), DB Brett Gervais (67 T)
We almost made a mistake here until glancing at the roster again and noticing something important: Cowie is listed as a quarterback. He was 5-5 for 130 and a score last year, which isn't much data but it certainly doesn't look bad; we'd just assumed it was slotback passes. Kevin Miller (233/2) is the leading returning RB. While Gervais was the team's leading tackler, we'll lay off the red alert here; tackle numbers for the team were low across the board because Tech was exceptional at halting drives; the Huskies only recorded 659 tackles compared to 856 for opponents. (To put this in perspective: last year TCU, a pretty good defensive team by most measures, only had 72 fewer tackles than their opponents.) They'll be without Weinke, the GLIAC Defensive Lineman of the Year, but Tech should still be just fine defensively.
If Cowie can step into Scarlett's shoes effectively, and if Leffingwell can somehow be replaced, the Huskies will challenge for another playoff run. One of those is plausible, but the other isn't that likely. 1400-yard backs don't grow on trees.
Saginaw Valley State
All-GLIAC selections: 6 (4/2)
Key losses: QB Keith Moore (885, 7/3)
Key returnees: QB Tyler Palka (736, 4/6), RB Allante Gardner (448/1), WR Bryan Fobbs (612/6), LB Bryan Jones (106 T)
On the morning of November 16, 2013, Saginaw Valley was 9-1 and ranked #15 in the nation. They've gone 2-11 since (including three losses to arch-rival Grand Valley), and those two wins were by a combined nine points.
A freshman last year, Palka supplanted Moore mid-season, and Moore has apparently decided to not be in Saginaw for his senior season. Jones was also a freshman last year, the perfect building block for a rebuilding defense. The Cardinals aren't returning to glory this year, but they're moving in the right direction quickly.
All-GLIAC selections: 6 (5/1)
Key losses: DB Tim Moinet (83 T)
Key returnees: QB Mark LaPrairie (1,990, 8/10), RBs Bennett Lewis (598/6) and Jack Wiseman (430/6), WR John Haley (643/5), DL D.J. Galgnaitis (9.5 TFL), K Steve Mette
Hillsdale's top four tacklers last year were their four defensive backs. Three of them are now gone, which means that on top of a front seven that hardly stopped anyone from getting to the secondary, now there's nobody proven back there to stop them. There's no sugar-coating this. The offense should improve due to experience, but then you get better at swimming if you try and swim upstream too.
All-GLIAC selections: 8 (2/6)
Key losses: DB Ryan Spicuzzi
Key returnees: QB Mark Morris (1,155, 11/4), RBs Jared Briguglio (908/7) and Damian Nicholson (184/3; 329/4 recieving), WR Devonta Elzy (399/0), OL Brad Oxnevad, LBs Mike Keith (103 T) and Michael Fisher (126 T), DB Aryn Curtis (6 INT), K Keegan Haggarty
The Timberwolves suffered a loss much greater than any player this summer when head coach Pat Riepma passed away on July 14. Riepma, the head man at Northwood for 16 years, led the T-Wolves to three GLIAC titles and four NCAA playoff appearances. He'll be missed.
Assistant head coach Leonard Haynes, who has been a part of Riepma's staff since the beginning, will take over on an interim basis for the season. Spicuzzi is listed under key losses because he is quite literally the only graduate who did anything at all last year, and that wasn't much. Northwood is actually in pretty decent shape in comparison to last year, and will be a better football team. Whether it's enough better to climb the standings is another question entirely.
All-GLIAC selections: 7 (4/3)
Key losses: WR Kelvin Smarwt (690/3, and no, that's not a typo), DL Trevor Kruzel (11.5 TFL)
Key returnees: QB Shaye Brown (2,610, 15/9), RB Wyatt Jurasin (655/5), RB Terrance Dye (410/6), WR Marcus Tucker (843/7), OL Kyle Steuck, LB Dalton Stenberg (98 T)
The Wildcats aren't really losing any super-important pieces, so the biggest question in Marquette is whether they're bringing in upgrades. This wasn't a bad team last year, and had four losses decided by a touchdown or less. They won't be great; they won't be awful.
All-GLIAC selections: 17 (2/15)
Key losses: QB Mark Miller (3,394, 27/11), OL Perrin Cunningham
Key returnees: RB Brandon Schoen (1,134/12), WRs Dez Stewart (1,156/11) and Ron McCloud (505/2), TE Jerad Butler, OLs Mike Koehlke and Ben Copher, DLs Sydney Omameh (16.5 TFL/8 sacks), Di'Andre Harrison (10.5 TFL/7.5 sacks), and Hunter Maynard, LBs Austin Osborne (95 T/15 TFL) and Warren Shields, DBs Billy Eakins (4 INT), Cody Culbertson, Da'Twane Harris, and Brad McCurdy (4 INT), All-American K Brent Wahle (44-44 PATs)
The Panthers had to settle for a first-round playoff spot thanks to Ferris, but avenged that before a heartbreaking three-point loss in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Colorado State-Pueblo. Sophomore Grant Russell (191, 2/0) appears set to take over under center, although there's certain to be competition in camp. The defense? Nine of the expected starters on defense received all-GLIAC accolades last year, and the other two were underclassmen. This defense won't budge, and Dominican is a national title contender.
All-GLIAC selections: 13 (8/5)
Key losses: RB Anthony Taylor (1,177/13), WR Daniel Piko (806/5), OL James Triplett, DL Chase Hoobler (10.5 TFL), LB Cody Bloom (97 T)
Key returnees: QB Travis Tarnowski (2,167, 16/6), RB Vance Settlemire (753/6), DL Adam Wallace, DBs Kyle Tombo and James Ester
Ashland will miss Taylor, but Settlemire should fill in for him adequately. The problem is going to be finding impact targets for Tarnowski, the returning Freshman of the Year, to hit. Depth isn't the problem, per se, but WR Kamaron Green (298/4) led all returning receivers. The defense, on the other hand, lost its two key playmakers. If the holdovers can up their production, they'll be okay, but LB Brandon Gency was the only defender other than Hoobler to make more than five stops in the backfield and he also shared the team lead in sacks with Bloom -- at only three. The Eagles will have to find some penetration to also find success.
All-GLIAC selections: 9 (5/4)
Key losses: QB Verlon Reed (2,712, 22/10; 634/7 rushing), WR Lloyd Henry (1,105/8), DL Kevin Brewton (10.5 TFL), DB/KR Nathan Morris (29.2 YPKOR/1 TD), DB Harold Jones-Quartey (105 T)
Key returnees: RBs Chauncey Bridges (643/6) and Dalquone Ford (452/3), OL Chris Reaper, LB Myles Alexander (62 T/9.5 TFL), K Tyler Bugeja (14-15 FG)
Findlay's biggest question: who's playing quarterback? The Oilers have 10 signal-callers on the roster, all freshmen and sophomores. Only sophomore Darnell Fields attempted a pass last season, and he didn't complete the single try. Unless the guy who wins the job can also cover Reed's rushing load, Bridges and Ford will each have to step up. The Oilers do return three receivers who had between 3-400 yards last year, so Henry's loss may not be a devastating blow.
The defense is just blah. Three of the top five tacklers are gone, including Jones-Quartey; Alexander is the leading returnee. Findlay, once a strong program, will continue to struggle somewhat.
All-GLIAC selections: 6 (3/3)
Key losses: WR Marcus Beaurem (743/7), DB Brandon Person (73 T)
Key returnees: QB Antonio Pipkin (2,863, 19/8; 556/5 rushing), WRs Pedro Correa (520/4) and Tony Shead (444/2), OL Mason Butler, LB Terry Harper, DB D.J. Edwards-Stewart (56 T)
Pipkin could use a hand carrying the ball, as RB Jerry Brown (255/2) was the next guy in line. Shead and Correa will need to up their production. The Dragons' top three tacklers have all graduated; Edwards-Stewart led those returning. Tiffin will win a few games, but only because this division is awful.
All-GLIAC selections: 9 (7/2)
Key losses: WR Tommy Jackson (621/1), LB Tanner Wells (85 T)
Key returnees: QB Mitch Hokavar (1,468, 10/7), RBs Anthony Bilal (2,091/29) and Brandon Phenix (525/2), LB Christian Cole (72 T), DB/KR Tony Andrews (9 INT)
Expect even more running of the football with Bilal, the GLIAC Offensive Back of the Year, as nobody returning had more than 300 receiving yards last year. The Storm really don't lose a lot, but they didn't have much to lose in the first place.
All-GLIAC selections: 9 (6/3)
Key losses: QB Brody Tonn (1,043, 8/8), RB Justin Keith (539/6), WR Jerald Robinson (525/10), LB Cameron Trudee (89 T/10 TFL), DB/KR Jamaris Brown (31.6 YPKOR/1 TD)
Key returnees: RB Aaron Male (665/5), WR Anthony Schrock (619/3), DL Skyler Parks (9.5 TFL), LB Brailly Blair (9.5 TFL), DB C.J. Chatman (61 T)
Tonn was replaced as starter midway through the season, and is no longer on the roster. Senior Paul Kempe (224, 1/2) shepherded the Cavaliers through the remainder of the schedule before graduating. Who'll be under center this fall is an open question. Senior Jason Fracassa (775, 7/4) saw some action last year, and is the putative favorite. Chatman is the team's best returning tackler, and the defense is thin. But Walsh did improve last year over the previous two seasons, and the losses themselves are manageable. They might push toward .500 in the weak South.
All-GLIAC selections: 7 (4/3)
Key losses: QB Brandyn Eckhart (758, 5/8(, WR Josh McLaughlin (345/3)
Key returnees: QB Kaleb Scott (639, 3/7), RB Ronnie Beers (478/6), DL Austin Cary, LB Fred Baker, DB Demarco Donaldson (83 T)
Is it possible to lose more games than you play? Asking for a friend.
Game of the Year
There's not even a question about this one. On October 17, Ohio Dominican invades Big Rapids to fight Ferris State to the death.
Great American Conference Preview
|2014 Standings and Info|
|9||Ouachita Baptist Tigers||Arkadelphia AR||10-0||10-1|
|17||Harding University Bison||Searcy AR||9-1||9-2|
|25||Henderson State University Reddies||Arkadelphia AR||8-2||9-2|
|Southeastern Oklahoma State University Savage Storm||Durant OK||6-4||7-5|
|East Central University Tigers||Ada OK||6-4||6-5|
|Southern Arkansas University Muleriders||Magnolia AR||5-5||5-5|
|Northwestern Oklahoma State University Rangers||Alva OK||3-7||3-7|
|Southwestern Oklahoma State University Bulldogs||Weatherford OK||3-7||3-7|
|Arkansas Tech University Wonder Boys||Russellville AR||3-7||3-8|
|University of Arkansas at Monticello Boll Weevils||Monticello AR||2-8||2-8|
|Southern Nazarene University Crimson Storm||Bethany OK||0-10||0-11|
Joining the league this year from the NAIA ranks and the Central States Football League are the Oklahoma Baptist University Bison from Shawnee, which was founded in 1910 and is somehow still the youngest school in the conference. Oklahoma Baptist will not be eligible for the postseason. Northwestern Oklahoma, however, will; they finally completed their transition process from the NAIA over the summer and have been granted fully-active membership in the NCAA. With Oklahoma Baptist joining and making the league a 12-team circuit, the GAC will begin playing a full round-robin with no non-conference games, just as the MIAA does.
Ouachita Baptist suffered a crushing postseason heartbreak, earning a first-round bye then losing in overtime to second-ranked Minnesota-Duluth in the second round. Harding also lost their lone playoff tilt, falling to Pittsburg State in the first round. Southeastern was actually the last GAC team standing, falling to Central Missouri in the Live United Texarkana Bowl, played a week after Ouachita's loss.
The GAC has suffered two crushing blows this summer. Arkansas Tech junior DL Zemaric Holt drowned on July 19. Just over two weeks later, Harding DE Dequan Randle, an incoming transfer from Blinn College, suddenly died in his sleep on August 4 from what was ultimately ruled natural causes. Those losses will weigh on the conference, and the season-ending meeting between the two schools on November 14 will probably be an emotional one.
Ouachita is the favorite to repeat per the preseason coaches' poll, but by a very narrow margin over Harding. In fact, Ouachita received six first-place votes to Harding's three, but only beat Harding by two points in the poll. Henderson State, the clear pick for third place, picked up a pair of first-place votes, while the final nod went to East Central -- who, despite receiving that vote, tied Southeastern for fourth. The next five teams all fell into line neatly, but the coaches aren't 100% certain that Southern Nazarene will avoid sliding behind newcomers Oklahoma Baptist. The Crimson Storm only beat the new kids by two points in the poll.
All-GAC Selections: 18 (13/5)
Key losses: QB Kiehl Frazier (2,051, 19/5; 702/4 rushing), RB Steven Kehner (1,183/20), FB Spencer Knight, WR Drew White (503/4), OLs Aaron Sprinkle and Brent Calhoun, DLs Kyle Lamothe (9.5 TFL/7.5 sacks) and Dave Fair (9/5), DB Zach Mitchell (6 INT), PR Etauj Allen (3 TD)
Key returnees: RB Brandon Marks (705/4), WR/KR KaVontae Pope (564/3), TE Jonathan Powell, OL Mike Russell, LB Mike Williamson (77 T), P Shelton Wooley
Catastrophic losses to be sure, but despite that nobody in the league is returning more all-conference selections than the Tigers. Sophomore Lucas Reed saw at least some action in every game last season, and appears to be the heir apparent to Frazier. The Tigers probably won't roll like they did last year, but they've still got enough to be legitimate front-runners.
All-GAC Selections: 14 (11/3)
Key losses: QB Keenan Kellett (1,032, 12/5), All-American RB Romo Westbrook (1,215/9), RBs Ahmad Scott (421/7) and Alapeti Magalei (652/7), OL Tony Day, DL Romas Roberson, LB Dennis Buckner, DB Darious Lane
Key returnees: RB Zach Shelley (410/7), WR Donatella Luckett (602/5), DE Travon Biglow (11.5 TFL/5 sacks), LB Dayjan Skidmore (56 T)
Skidmore led the team in tackles, and what we mentioned above with Michigan Tech applies here as well. Harding's offense ran over 83 plays a game; their opponents only managed 68, and over 11% of Harding's opponents plays resulted in a loss of yardage. Yes, they have losses, but they're so deep that you can count on the defense still being efficient. The Bison are in the running.
All-GAC Selections: 7 (4/3)
Key losses: QB Kevin Rodgers (3,602, 34/11), All-American WR Darius Davis (1,261/18), DL Glennon Bobo (14.5 TFL)
Key returnees: RB Rodney Bryson (666/6), WR Joseph Snapp (643/6), LB Josh Davis (90 T), K Houston Ray
First things first: Henderson's running backs coach this year is Cadillac Williams. There's your "where are they now" moment for the day.
Junior Dallas Hardison saw action in a few games last year, and is the likely replacement for the departed Rodgers, who was the GAC Offensive Player of the Year last year. The Reddies have depth returning on defense, but replacing an exceptional quarterback and All-American wideout may be too tall a hill to climb. That won't stop Henderson from winning seven or eight games, mind you.
All-GAC Selections: 11 (7/4)
Key losses: QB Spencer Bond (2,274, 16/15; 458/10 rushing), RB Jo Jo Snell (790/6), DE Daniel Holland (18.5 TFL/14.5 sacks)
Key returnees: RB Jamal Hall (474/3), WR David Moore (526/10), All-American OL Travis Hening, LB Jameel Whitney (111 T), DB Spencer Bond (wait, what?) K David Massuere
No, we haven't made a mistake. Bond, a senior who has started at QB for three years, is moving to safety this year. Fellow senior Rocky Moore (247, 1/3) will take over under center. Tim McCarty probably knows what he's doing, but it still seems weird.
Southeastern Oklahoma State
All-GAC Selections: 5 (4/1)
Key losses: WR Anthony Foster (784/3), P Jared Helm
Key returnees: QB Ryan Polite (2,618, 19/13), RBs Devion Wortham (833/10) and Ronnie Green (613/5), WRs Frankie Okafor (509/2) and Kaymon Farmer (434/3), LB Thomas Curry (70 T), DB Raheem Wilson (4 INT)
We had to get all the way down here before we found a returning starting quarterback? The Savage Storm aren't returning a ton of top-flight talent, but they didn't suffer much in the way of losses either. That's probably a good thing overall, as the extra year of experience will help. They'll be above water again.
All-GAC Selections: 11 (8/3)
Key losses: QB Sidarious Blackshire (2,956, 30/8), WRs Zikerious Ware (832/8) and Aaron Johnson (606/7), TE Paul Walker-Hall, DL Nolan Duncan (12.5 TFL), LB A.J. Steele (89 T/9 TFL), DB James Thurston (4 INT)
Key returnees: RB Deandre Jenkins (670/4), WR Jonathan Weisheit (374/3), OL John Miller
The day before the spring game, four quarterbacks were geared up to compete for the honor of replacing Blackshire. Two of them aren't even on the roster anymore. The final battle is going to come down to redshirt freshmen Omari Jones and Barrett Renner. The defense is a wreck; DB Chris Wilson leads all returning tacklers with only 38.
All-GAC Selections: 9 (5/4)
Key losses: DT Justin Martin (10.5 TFL/5 sacks), LB Wes McKinney (104 T/10.5 TFL), DB Shai Kobayashi (18 PD)
Key returnees: QB Dennis Robertson (1,646, 8/10), RBs Kelton Smith (284/3( and Justyn Oliphant (267/1), WR Jermaine Murdock (548/2), LB Logan Genz (141 T/13 TFL), DB Trevon Gooden (15 PD), P Clayton Watson, KR Michael Perry
The Wonder Boys return everyone important on offense, but none of them are screwming out for attention. One can safely assume everyone's job is at risk until someone steps up and performs. On defense, the losses were pretty severe with one key player gone from each unit. The defensive line could really use some help, making Holt's tragic death an issue.
Southwestern Oklahoma State
All-GAC Selections: 7 (6/1)
Key losses: QB Ryley Claborn (624, 3/7), RB Karl Hodge (980/11), WR Brad Smithey (285/1), DT Devin Benton (23 TFL/5.5 sacks)
Key returnees: QB Klark Ashmore (593, 2/7), RB Matt Farris (231/3), WR Teverick Boyd (216/2), TE Collin Bricker (226/1), LB Tanner Thompson (87 T), DB Kevin Joseph (4 INT)
Southwestern's second-leading rusher last year, Cameron Nix (290/2), is moving to DB and this sounds awfully familiar all of a sudden. Boyd is on the roster, but with no number assigned, which is just weird for a returning player. And although the defense seems to be mostly okay, there's a gaping chasm where GAC Defensive Player of the Year Benton used to hang out. This team is an enigma. On paper, one wonders how they won three games last year.
All-GAC Selections: 3 (2/1)
Key losses: RB Rod Smith (398/8), LB Keith Reynolds (65 T), DB/KR Mike Early (4 INT)
Key returnees: QB Hunter Leppert (2,203, 16/6), WR Cody Bordelon (591/6), LB Marshall Everett (51 T)
Leppert might well be the best quarterback in the league this fall, so that's something for the Weevils to be optimistic about. No returning rusher broke the 200-yard mark, though, so UAM is going to have to find a running game just to protect him. Leppert's second and third targets, Deadrien Terry (488/3) and Ivory Washington (404/3) are also gone. On the other hand, it's not like any of those losses are terribly devastating; merely competent replacements will fill the gap. The defense, on the other hand, is trashed. Everett led all returning tacklers, and it's not because UAM was exceptionally great at forcing three-and-outs.
Northwestern Oklahoma State
All-GAC Selections: 3 (2/1)
Key losses: RB Avery Morris (328/4), LBs Alex Hemberger (134 T/12 TFL) and David Boatwright (59 T)
Key returnees: QBs Ty Hooper (716, 5/6) and Reid Miller (545, 4/4), RB Jarion Tudman (299/3), WR Tamarick Courtney (304/1), DE Jody Saint Fleur (10 TFL/7.5 sacks), LB Brandon Cannon (57 T)
Hooper saw about half the action as a freshman last year, but he'll still be competing with junior Miller for snaps in 2015. The offense does not inspire awe. Defensively, well... look at the tackle numbers for Hemberger and Boatright. Nobody finished between them, which tells you just exactly what the Rangers lost. Aside from Saint Fleur, it's a disaster area which first-year coach Matt Walter will be trying to clean up.
All-GAC Selections: 2 (0/2)
Key losses: WR Austin Williams (553/3), LB Matthew Gregg (100 T/9.5 TFL)
Key returnees: QB James Mauro (1,360, 7/14), RB Lorenzo Alexander (909/6), WR Jonathan Martin (298/1), OL Will House, LB Larry Butler III (79 T)
Craig Hubbard is also in his first year on the job, and he has a lot more to work with -- at least on offense. The Crimson Storm will probably not be able to outrun people, hence their predicted finish.
All-CSFL Selections: 22 (0/22)
Key losses: WR Nyko Symonds (560/3), LB Tyler Day (59 T)
Key returnees: QB Blake Woodard (1,872, 18/12), RBs Jordan Barnes (1,028/9) and Dawson Myers (830/15), WR Derek Serowski (431/8), TE Connor Kinsey, OLs Zach Clark, Brandon Garrett, Mark Knapp, and J.T. Ketch, DLs Kimes Gilbert (10.5 TFL), Gage Wimer, and Ed Morgan, LBs Levi Jennings and Brynden Pitzer (59 T/10.5 TFL), DB/KR Eugene Estes, DBs Jalien Garrett and Nic Shegog, K Trey Tully (6/7)
Oklahoma Baptist wasn't a bad football team last year, and look at all those returning players. Oh, my. But they're transitioning to Division II now, and into a pretty tough league. So I wouldn't expect a repeat of last year's 8-3 season. Still, the Bison could surprise, and it's absolutely accurate to say that picking them to finish dead last might just have been a little myopic.
Game of the Year
As long as both Ouachita and Henderson are key contenders for the conference title, the Battle of the Ravine is the conference's marquee game. That'll close the season on November 14, when the Reddies will suit up in their own locker room and then just walk right across Arkansas Highway 7 to Cliff Harris Stadium, home of their arch-rivals. It's the oldest rivalry in all of Division II (although not entirely continuous). It's in a beautiful setting; Arkadelphia is a gorgeous little town. It's the shortest road trip in college football, less than 500 yards. Henderson's lead in the series is only 42-40-6, so it's also intense. For the last few years, it's been critically important to the NCAA Division II playoff picture, and it almost certainly will be again this year.
Simply put, it's one of the best traditions in college football... regardless of division.
We'll recap today's game, because it's the only college football this week, remember. And we'll finish our Division II previews with the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, and then get started on Division I FCS with the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Two HBCU conferences, one post. (Monday, we'll get back to Picking the Big 12.)