Popping into the mailbag for a very brief Lead today as Wednesdays are a hectic nightmare for your Benevolent Despot:
KSUEMAW! asked me what was the best game I ever attended. Well, just answering that question would be a little too brief, so I'll give you my top five. But we'll have to remember here that due to my schedule and distance, I didn't attend a K-State regular-season game between 1993 and 2014.
5. 2005 Stagg Bowl
No, it's not K-State. It's purple, though! For several years, me and some buddies from work would make the trip down I-81 to Salem, VA. It was always lots of fun, but it didn't get real until 2006, which was the first year Mount Union met Wisconsin-Whitewater. Mount Union won this one 35-28, and it was a barn-burner. The crowd was about as jazzed as a crowd of 5,000 can get. Fun times.
4. 1995 Holiday Bowl
Brian Kavanagh shouldn't even have started this game, and he went and threw four touchdown passes and set records and stuff. Also, the game was in San Diego, which is worth a billion points all by itself.
3. 2014, Texas
On the list mostly because it was my first return to Manhattan for a game in 20 years. Although shutting out Texas and completely embarrassing them didn't hurt.
2. 1993 Copper Bowl
K-State's first bowl win, a rout of Wyoming. This one isn't great because of the game itself; it's great because of what it represented, and how we felt in the stands. At the time, there was really no certainty that the Wildcats would continue getting better. After all, 1992 had been a relative disaster after the promising 1991 campaign.
1. (December) 1997 Fiesta Bowl
I mean, come on. It's the most important game on a national level K-State's ever won, and I was there. Not only did it solidify K-State as a national brand finally, it set up the expectations for the 1998 season and induced several publications to pick K-State to win the 1998 national championship.
Which they would have if not for one stupid play.
Presidents' Athletic Conference Preview
|2014 Standings and Info|
|15||Washington & Jefferson College Presidents||Washington PA||7-1||10-2|
|23||Thomas More College Saints||Crestview Hills KY||7-1||8-2|
|Waynesburg University Yellow Jackets||Waynesburg PA||6-2||8-3|
|Bethany College Bison||Bethany WV||5-3||6-5|
|Saint Vincent College Bearcats||Latrobe PA||4-4||4-6|
|Westminster College Titans||New Wilmington PA||4-4||4-6|
|Carnegie Mellon University Tartans||Pittsburgh PA||3-5||4-6|
|Thiel College Tomcats||Greenville PA||3-5||4-6|
|Case Western Reserve University Spartans||Cleveland OH||3-5||3-7|
|Geneva College Golden Tornadoes||Beaver Falls PA||2-6||3-7|
|Grove City College Wolverines||Grove City PA||0-8||0-10|
The PAC has a long and storied history, one which briefly included current FBS program Eastern Michigan. The conference is actually the progenitor of the idea that university presidents, rather than athletic directors, should control conference operations, and was one of the first conferences to firmly insist that athletes be treated the same as any other student in terms of admissions and financial aid. As a result, the PAC arguably formed the template for what would eventually become Division III.
It's mostly been a two-team league for some time, although Waynesburg has turned into an as-yet unpackaged threat.
Washington & Jefferson has not had a losing season since 1983, a streak only topped by Linfield, Mount Union, and Florida State. They have not failed to win 8 games in a year since 1998. They've both won the PAC and received an NCAA playoff bid 24 times. They are part of college football's extremely exclusive 700-win club. Hell, they've even played in a Rose Bowl (an epic 0-0 tie in 1922 against California). And yet one thing has eluded the Presidents: a national title.
Last year, only a three-point loss at Waynesburg marred the regular season, and the Presidents advanced to the second round of the playoffs before getting annihilated by Mount Union, which more than anything illustrates just how otherworldly the Purple Raiders and the Whitewater Warhawks really are. The PAC first team included six Presidents, with seven more on the second team; nine of those 13 players return in 2015, including the core of the offense: junior QB Pete Coughlin, RB Ryan Ruffing, TE Michael Giampole, and WR Daniel Lis. They may not win the title, because nothing's certain in a league with the next two teams on this list. But they'll be in the forefront.
Thomas More hasn't won fewer than eight games themselves since 2008, and have won or shared the conference title six times in the last seven year, including a stretch of four straight outright titles from 2008-2011. In one of the most interesting sequences you can possibly imagine, head coach Jim Hilvert resigned after last season, taking his 67-19 career record to LaSalle High School in Cincinnati. To replace him, the Saints hired Regis Scafe -- who, as head coach at Mount Union's chief rival John Carroll, merely won 88 games in 12 seasons.
The Saints lose first-team All-American and three-time PAC Offensive Player of the Year RB Domonique Hayden, who ran for 1,426 yards last year. But OL Jake Henderson, DL Erick Butler, and DB Kyle Fuller all return from last year's first team, as do all three Saints named to the second team. As always, Thomas More will be in contention.
Waynesburg had spent a decade as a reliably average squad, but in 2012 they suddenly exploded onto the scene. The Yellow Jackets have gone 25-8 over the last three seasons, and shared the 2012 title with W&J. But they're still awaiting that elusive first NCAA appearance. The question for Waynesburg will be whether they can reload, as all six first-team selections graduated -- including the entire corps of the offense. QB Carter Hill, TE Zac Capan, and WR Bernie Thompson are all gone, along with second-team RB Jake Forsythe and HM WR Andrew English. It's going to be rough for the Jackets, but if the program has found their footing they'll still manage to contend.
Bethany (WV) loses DB and all-name finalist Wyssmy Despagne, but first-team WR Eric Blinn and PAC Defensive Player of the Year DL Nadim Raddar return. The Bison had their first winning season since 2001 last year under Bill Garvey, entering his third season on the sideline.
Saint Vincent lost their only first-team honoree DB/KR Darius Brown, who took up two spots on the honor list. Second-team RB Shavonta Craft returns, however. Under new head coach Ron Dolciato, the Bearcats rebounded from two straight 0-10 seasons to land in the top half of the PAC. Dolciato was the offensive coordinator for years at John Carroll, working for his now-rival Scafe.
Westminster (PA) has been reliably average for years. Since 2000, they have lost more than six games twice; they have won more than five games twice. First-team DL Richard Ellebie has graduated; first-team K Justin Dahl returns along with DB Todd Jeter, a second-team honoree as a freshman last year.
Carnegie Mellon returned to the PAC last year, but not much changed. Except for an 11-1 outburst in 2006, the Tartans have been decidedly mediocre this century. LB Nico Cosma returns from the first team, but he was the only Carnegie Mellon player to receive better than honorable mention.
Thiel, except for a three-year period surrounding a surprising 11-1 finish and conference title in 2005, has been horrible for almost 20 years. The nadir was 2010-11, when the school went 0-20 in the midst of a 24-game losing streak. First-team OL Jason Crystol and second-team LB Wes Schmidt have graduated, but WR Marcus Johnson returns after a freshman season which saw him named PAC Newcomer of the Year.
Case Western Reserve is slowly sliding off a peak. From 2007-2009, the Spartans went 31-3, and from 2007-2011 they were 48-6. But since 2011, they've slid from six to five to three wins. Case returns LB Gavin Sandidge, their only all-conference honoree from last season.
Geneva moved from the NAIA in 2007 and won eight games twice in their first three years in the PAC. They've not had a winning season since. DB Nate Cannon took first-team honors last year as a freshman, but there's little to suggest the Tornadoes will contend.
Grove City has only won more than six games in a season once since 1967. That was in 1997, when the Wolverines finished 9-2 on the legs of then-freshman R.J. Bowers, who ended up rushing for over 7,000 yards in his career. At the time, that was an NCAA record, but he's been passed by some other guys now. But Grove City had never before done what they did last year, and that's lose 10 games. The Wolverines had exactly one player receive better than honorable mention last year; second-team LB Jason Skyrm has graduated. The collapse followed a .500 year in 2013, but there's no way any sane person would predict a return to mediocrity. Still, a few wins would help ease Chris Smith's pain. The 31-year veteran has announced that he'll retire at season's end. New offensive coordinator Andrew DiDonato, who started at quarterback for the Wolverines from 2006-2009, is the head coach in waiting.
Game of the year: We'll nod toward Thomas More's season-opening visit to Saint John Fisher, which will have vast import on the entire playoff picture come mid-November. But More's home clash with Washington & Jefferson on October 3 is the conference's biggest game of 2015.
Old Dominion Athletic Conference Preview
|2014 Standings and Info|
|15||Bridgewater College Eagles||Bridgewater VA||5-2||8-2|
|23||Emory & Henry College Wasps||Emory VA||5-2||8-2|
|Guilford College Quakers||Greensboro NC||5-2||8-2|
|Hampden-Sydney College Tigers||Farmville VA||5-2||7-4|
|Randolph-Macon College Yellow Jackets||Ashland VA||3-4||5-5|
|Shenandoah University Hornets||Winchester VA||2-5||4-6|
|Washington & Lee University||Lexington VA||2-5||2-8|
|Catholic University of America Cardinals||Washington DC||1-6||3-7|
One look at the standings tells you all you need to know about how things work in the ODAC. The conference, which is the long-time host of both the Division III football championship game and men's basketball final four, is almost always a chaotic mess at the top. Invariably, one or two traditional conference powers will have a bad season while the others contend with one or two upstarts for the title. As it happened last year, the ODAC had to dig deep into the tiebreakers before finally granting the automatic bid to Hampden-Sydney.
Bridgewater returned to the top of the standings after a long run of mediocrity ended with a full collapse in 2013. That slide commenced in 2006 following a run of 36 straight conference wins and six conference titles. Back-to-back one-touchdown losses against Emory & Henry and Guilford dragged the Eagles down into the four-way tie for first. As a result they, along with Emory & Henry, were eliminated on the first tiebreaker due to being 1-2 within the four-team cluster. Five Eagles made the ODAC first team, but all have graduated. Returning are second-team TE Keith Jennings, OL Sean Dougless, and a pair of defensive linemen, Nicholas Cawthon and Logan Whitaker. Michael Clark, a protege of Frank Beamer back when Beamer was still at Murray State, has led the Eagles for two decades, and knows his business. Bridgewater is back, but they may not remain on top.
Emory & Henry, meanwhile, was the interloper in last year's festivities under first-year head coach Curt Newsome, who's also a former Beamer assistant. The Wasps hadn't won eight games in a season since 2000. In 10 of the intervening 13 seasons, the Wasps had gone either 4-6, 5-5, or 6-4. Their losses to Guilford and Hampden-Sydney were blowouts, so they can't complain too much about the tiebreakers. Unfortunately, like Bridgewater, graduation kills. Both first-team selections and four of five second-teamers are gone; only LB Rennel Marshall remains among the ODAC elite from 2014. That said, the conference Rookie of the Year was Wasp QB Kevin Saxton, who was joined by fellow freshman RB Chris Thompson as part of a productive backfield. Emory & Henry will slide back this year, but it may only be a temporary regression.
Guilford also interfered with the order of things in 2014. After hitting bottom with an 0-10 finish in 2010 and hiring Chris Rusiewicz to take over the program, the Quakers have slowly improved year-by-year. And they have loads of talent returning. Guilford had a ridiculous eight players on the ODAC first team, and with the exception of first-team All-American and ODAC Defensive Player of the Year DB Satiir Stevenson, they're all coming back. Stevenson's partner in the backfield, JerMario Gooch, was a second-team All-American. Senior QB Matt Pawlowski was the ODAC Offensive Player of the Year last year. His favorite target, WR Adam Smith, returns as well. Also back in the saddle: second-team RB Josh Schow and APB De'Eric Bell. On paper, Guilford isn't just the favorite; they might do the unthinkable and go 7-0 in conference. Nobody's managed that since Shenandoah joined the league in 2012.
Hampden-Sydney has been the front-runner in the league since 2009, and had a chance to win the title outright last year before stumbling at home against rivals Randolph-Macon. They did so without a vast quantity of top-line talent; only three Tigers received first-team honors, including second-team All-American WR Holton Walker. They're all gone, as are three second-teamers including QB Nash Nance. But Hampden-Sydney is 111-46 in 15 years under Marty Favret, so they cannot be counted out in any year.
Randolph-Macon had their worst season since 2005 last year, and it's worth noting that their two non-conference wins were against really bad teams. Three first-team linemen, two on defense, have graduated, but TE Steven Quinn and OL Nick Powell return, along with second-team RB John Byrd. The Yellow Jackets are probably not going to contend, but improvement late last season might indicate a return to a winning record.
Shenandoah reinstated football in 2000. It took them one year to reach .500, and they won 15 games in seasons four and five. But they've only had one winning season in the decade since, and that was their final year in the USA South; the ODAC has not been kind so far. RB Cedrick Delaney and DL Jake Payne return from the 2014 ODAC first team along with a trio of second-teamers. That might be enough to provide the Hornets with their first winning season in the ODAC.
Washington & Lee was the other traditionally-strong ODAC power to nosedive last season. After a trio of eight-win seasons, two of which resulted in playoff bids, the Generals slipped to 5-5 in 2013 and completely collapsed last year, although both seasons were marred by massive injury issues. Their only first-team selection, OL Micah Fleet, is gone. Having been obliterated by every good team they played last year, it's hard to see things improving much in Lexington. Among the disappointed, presumably, is ESPN Big 12 blogger Jake Trotter, who graduated from W&L.
Catholic, as most people are unaware, is actually the church's flagship university in the US, not Notre Dame. Unfortunately, their football team is just bad now, and they've been bad for awhile. Outside of 2008, when they went 9-2 and earned a playoff bid, the Cardinals haven't had a winning season since 2000. Catholic had no first-team honorees last year, and their only second-team selection was DB Patrick Thomas. He's graduated. OL Mike Zolfo, the only Cardinal on the third team, has also gotten his degree. It's a shame, but this once-proud program is almost certainly destined for the cellar.
Game of the year: Circle November 7 in Greensboro, as Hampden-Sydney descends upon Guilford. In any other year, the race would probably be wide-open at that point; in 2015, it may represent the final opportunity for someone to beat Guilford in conference play.
The Ohio Athletic Conference -- home of Mount Union -- and the Northwest Conference are on the clock.