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Kansas State Top Five: Defensive Line. Also, Michigan and Massachusetts conference previews

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Our panel of experts face their first real challenge.

Is our staff right about this one?
Is our staff right about this one?
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

The Lead

Today our staff selects the top five defensive linemen in Wildcat history. Today's list wasn't as easy as the last two days; although the top four were pretty clear-cut, as was number one, our second through fourth picks could have gone in any order. And all this is despite the fact that your Benevolent Despot can't believe that the entire staff left both Dirk Ochs and Ian Campbell completely unmentioned. Feel free to bludgeon them appropriately in the comments.

Also missing the cut was Monty Beisel; mentioned, but receiving no votes, were Meshak Williams and current Wildcat Travis Britz.

5. Mario Fatafehi

Fatafehi, a Honolulu native, was a transfer from Snow College in Utah who won Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year honors in 1999 and was a first-team All-Big 12 selection the following year, as well as earning a first-team All-America nod from Football News. Fatafehi was drafted in the fifth round by Arizona, but never really made a mark in the NFL.

4. Ryan Mueller

Recency bias may play a role here, but there can be no doubt that Mueller was certainly deserving of votes. He broke out in 2013 with an 11.5 sack season, earning the first of two first-team All-Big 12 honors and stealing the Defensive Lineman of the Year award. Mueller also received second-team All-America mention from the Football Writers Association of America. The walk-on from Saint Thomas Aquinas in Shawnee went undrafted.

3. Tim Colston

Colston was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 1995, and earned third-team All-American honors from the Associated Press. An absolute beast during the Wildcats' rise to prominence, Colston actually earned one of the defensive line spots in a 2010 Yahoo! article by Matt Hinton naming a team comprised of the greatest draft snubs of the previous 20 years. Colston ended up signing with the Carolina Panthers, but only played two games.

2. Nyle Wiren

Wiren, who played alongside Colston, holds the K-State career sack record with 27.5, and was an honorable mention All-American in 1996. Undrafted, Wiren went on to an 11-year career with the Tampa Bay Storm in Arena Football, and won Arena Bowl XVII in 2003. More recently, Wiren was Stone Cold Steve Austin's double in Adam Sandler's remake of The Longest Yard, and we're not sure whether to forgive him for that or not. (Just kidding, Nyle. It's all good.)

1. Darren Howard

A near-unanimous pick from our panel, Howard shared the starring role on the defense with Mark Simoneau from 1996-1999. Howard was actually drafted first, going to the Saints early in the second round; amusingly, Howard left New Orleans for Philadelphia during the same off-season Simoneau left Philadelphia for the Saints.

That does it for the defense. If you had to play a team which somehow had the 15 guys we've named on their roster as seniors, would you just go home instead?

Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Preview

2014 Standings and Info
SCHOOL LOCATION MIAA OVERALL
Adrian College Bulldogs Adrian MI 5-1 8-3
Albion College Britons Albion MI 4-2 6-4
Trine University Thunder Angola IN 4-2 6-4
Hope College Flying Dutchmen Holland MI 3-3 6-4
Olivet College Comets Olivet MI 3-3 6-4
Kalamazoo College Hornets Kalamazoo MI 2-4 2-8
Alma College Scots Alma MI 0-6 2-8

The MIAA -- the oldest conference in college athletics, even pre-dating the Big Ten -- is locked into two scheduling alliances this year. The first, and one which has been a thing for awhile, is with the NACC. Both leagues have seven teams, leaving everyone needing four non-conference games; the two leagues help one another out with each school playing two games against the other conference. The first of those games this year is on September 29, as all seven NACC schools visit the MIAA. The second takes place on what would be the conference schedule bye week for each school, and the NACC school hosts all seven of those contests.

The second is a challenge series against the CCIW (except for North Park), taking place on September 12. The CCIW schools host all seven games.

Adrian has not had a losing season since 2001, but hasn't been able to sustain a run of 8-win years beyond two seasons during that stretch either. That said, last year marked the first time the Bulldogs had won 8 games in three out of four years in a long, long time, and they captured their second MIAA title in three years in the process.

The Bulldogs lost ten all-conference picks to graduation, though. Those losses include RB Dae'Von Robinson and WR Nathan Hartline, and of the eight defensive starters who received recognition, seven have graduated. That includes three DBs and the entire starting linebacking corps. Damon Fuller, a freshman last year, does return on the D-line, as does fellow sophomore RB Emmanuel Stewart. The offensive line will be bolstered by returning stars Jordan Simon and Quest Gosnell. But look... you can't lose that much talent from one defensive unit without backsliding. Not at this level.

Albion had their best season since 2001 in 2013, but took a step back last year. Craig Rundle won his 105th game as head coach on the final day of the season, becoming Albion's winningest head coach. He surpassed the mark of his immediate predecessor, Pete Schmidt, who brought a national title back to Albion in 1994. The Britons return some talent, as QB Dominic Bona, RB/KR Mike Czarnecki, and OLs Chris Wilson and Andrew DiFranco return. WR Zach Brigham, DL Dillon Ervin, LB James Hartley, and DB Chris Jakubik have graduated. Albion should probably be the favorite to supplant Adrian in 2015.

Trine is a long way off from their 2008-10 domination of the league, which saw the Thunder run off 20 straight wins and capture three MIAA titles. They'll be under new management in 2015, as head coach Matt Land has been promoted to assistant VP for athletics; former defensive coordinator Troy Abbs was in turn promoted to replace Land. QB Taylor Masiewicz, the MIAA's Offensive MVP last year, returns along with OL Dalton Raper, LB Taylor James, and DB Michael Spears. WR Anthony Yoder, TE Zac Hess, DL Ryan Hogan, DB Tyler Guzy, and K Joel Lopshire have graduated. A returning player like Masiewicz is huge, especially considering the losses suffered by Adrian and Albion. But with a new coach and little skill talent returning alongside their QB, it's hard to see Trine winning the league. Second place, on the other hand, seems within reach.

Hope has floated between three and seven wins the entire century. The Dutchmen had six all-conference selections last year, all of whom were first-teamers. Only P Dean DeVries returns, and you know what that means.

Olivet finally righted the ship in 2013 after a five-year stretch which saw the Comets lurch to a miserable 2-48 record. They're now on consecutive six-win seasons, and have a ton of talent returning. RB Damorria Lilly, WR Kyle Bryson, TE Dominik Givins, and OLs Jacob Cramer and Ty Rozema will all be back. The Comets only lost one all-conference player, but he's an important one: MIAA Defensive MVP and third-team All-American DL Ryan Armstrong. Olivet will push again this year, almost certainly passing Hope and possibly even a collapsing Adrian.

Kalamazoo returned to the doldrums after managing to win 11 games in two years. The Hornets lose WR Alex Dietrich, OL B.J. Cagney, DL Alan Mercer, and LB Connor Rzeznik. LB Dylan Zerki returns, but he's the only star coming back. It'll be a long automn.

Alma spent the first decade of the 21st centure being average or better, but since the odometer turned into the 2010s things have been bleak. The Scots have only won 9 games in the last five seasons. DL Terry Calagon returns; two-time first-team LB Sam Young does not. They'll be fighting for the cellar with Kalamazoo.

Game of the year: Trine visits Albion on October 24, and the winner will probably take the title.

Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference Preview

2014 Standings and Info
SCHOOL LOCATION MASCAC OVERALL
rv Framingham State University Rams Framingham MA 8-0 10-1
Western Connecticut State University Colonials Danbury CT 6-2 7-4
Worcester State University Lancers Worcester MA 5-3 7-3
Fitchburg State University Falcons Fitchburg MA 4-4 6-4
Westfield State University Owls Westfield MA 4-4 5-5
Bridgewater State University Bears Bridgewater MA 3-5 4-6
University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth Corsairs Dartmouth MA 3-5 4-6
Massachusetts Maritime Academy Buccaneers Buzzards Bay MA 3-5 4-6
Plymouth State Panthers Plymouth NH 0-8 1-9

It's a great autumn for the MASCAC. They finally acquire an automatic bid to the playoffs, which will prevent a repeat of last year's disappointment when 9-1 Framingham State was left out of the field. And they've dodged the latest explosion of northeast Division III realignment, as they're unaffected by the NEWMAC's decision to add football in 2017.

Framingham State used to be really bad. As in 13-70 from 1999-2007 bad. But since 2010, the Rams are 45-11, and have not lost a conference game since dropping their final two contests in 2011. That's a 24-game winning streak, and there have been two playoff appearances and an ECAC Bowl win during that span. They're not done yet.

Although the Rams lose six all-conference selections including MASCAC Defensive Player of the Year DB Kevin Donahue, they return a bunch of talent. Offensive Lineman of the Year C Nick Stanfield, Defensive Rookie of the Year LB Svenn Jacobson, QB Matt Silva, RB Jalen Green, DL Quentin Jones, and DB Matt Mangano will all be back. Framingham will be tested by Western Connecticut, but a fourth straight undefeated conference slate is not a poor bet.

Western Connecticut State took second place last year despite only having two first-team selections: P Ryan Falaguerra and K Michael Killoran. Killoran returns, as do C Maleek Riley and DB Bobby Durham; RB Tory Mack has graduated. The Colonials immediately became competitive on joining the MASCAC after winning only five games in five years as members of the New Jersey Athletic Conference; that's probably all the information you really need to compare the conferences.

Worcester State bounced back from an unpleasant 3-7 campaign in 2013. The Lancers lose TE Casey Hippert, DLs Bryan Narcisse (an honorable mention All-American) and Zack Skerry, LB Sean Hanley, and DB Mike Goulden. Returning are 1300-yard RB Kemani Jones and sophomore K Sebastian Paz. Despite all the losses on defense, the Lancers weren't very good at keeping points off the board anyway, so it's probably a wash. They'll finish in the upper half.

Fitchburg State has won six games two years running now after a 5-25 lull from 2010-12. The Falcons lose WR Phillip Saint-Juste, OL Brendan Coan, LB Talib Barksdale, and DB Elizear Torres. LB Luis Feliz and DB Taron Seaforth return, but more importantly Fitchburg will line up with Garrett Dellechiaie, the MASCAC second-team QB from last season. If Saint-Juste was largely responsible for Dellechiaie's selection, then Fitchburg is in trouble. If not, well, a skilled returning signal-caller usually works wonders.

Westfield State has averaged exactly five wins per year going back to 2007, and five of those seven years were five win seasons straight up. The Owls return FB Ryan Sweeney, KR Jordan Broan, DL Marcus Pettigrew, and DB Greg Sheridan, but they'll have to do without RB Michael Mercadante, OL Kyle Seidnitzer, DL Jonathan Lytle, LB Julon McCoy. Westfield looks like they might improve, slightly, but this is fundamentally a .500 squad.

Bridgewater State loses TE Nick Jablonski and MASCAC Offensive Player of the Year WR/KR Matthew Green. But another WR, Travis Bassett, is the returning Offensive Rookie of the Year. Bassett will be joined by juniors OL Joseph Hak and DL Elvis Romero. The Bears aren't primed to return to their former dominance, and should again finish around .500 this year.

Mass-Dartmouth hasn't had a winning season since 2008, a frustrating turn for a team which won 11 games in 2002. WR Abiola Aborishade has graduated, but OL Pat Sullivan, LB Pat Tarpey, and P Richard Bellizzi are back. The Corsairs will try to get to .500 this year; they might manage it.

Massachusetts Maritime is the unicorniest of all colleges: a school with a football team but no basketball at all. Since an 0-10 2008, the Buccaneers have been almost perfectly average. They lose their only two all-conference selections, WR E.J. Bennett and LB Victor Andrade.

Plymouth State has formed a perfect arc. In 2002-03, the Panthers went 0-20. Over the next four years, they climbed out of the pit; in 2008 Plymouth went 10-2. Since then, with the exception of repeating two-win seasons in 2012-13, they've gotten worse every single year. The only all-conference selection was second-team DL Kyle Wilson, and he graduated. The fall has been as slow as the rise, but the bottom's not going to hurt any less. The Panthers may not win a game this year.

Game of the year: Framingham State visits Western Connecticut on September 26, and the winner may as well start making playoff travel arrangements because they sure aren't hosting in the first round.

Tomorrow

Barring some other interesting topic interrupting us, we'll rank K-State's top five offensive linemen. We'll also preview the Liberty League and the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.