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Missouri Valley Preview: MVC is more than NDSU as league looks to continue dominance

(STATS) – Coming off a season for the ages, the Missouri Valley Conference will look to keep its dominant momentum going. And whether you’re an FCS opponent or come from an FBS league, you better be prepared for a battle.

The leading FCS conference acquitted itself quite nicely last season, putting both teams in the national championship game – four-time reigning champ North Dakota State and Illinois State.

“I think Ball State would have a tough time winning our conference,” Indiana State coach Mike Sanford said.

His comment this preseason was not off base. Indiana State beat Ball State from the FBS’ Mid-American Conference last season and went on to qualify for the FCS playoffs, yet the Sycamores only tied for fifth place in the brutally tough MVC.

The 30th season of Missouri Valley football was likely the best ever for the conference. No league had ever qualified both national finalists, and the title game began back in 1987. NDSU’s 29-27 win served as the de facto Valley championship game because the Bison and Illinois State didn’t meet in the regular season and shared the conference crown, each with a loss to Northern Iowa.

Add in UNI, Indiana State and South Dakota State and the Valley had five playoffs teams to tie the all-time high for an FCS conference. Its teams combined to go 30-2 against FCS non-conference opponents, and, like Indiana State, North Dakota State took down an FBS opponent (Iowa State).

It might be hard for the Valley to sustain such a high level this season, but don’t rule it out. It placed six teams – the national high – in the preseason STATS Top 25.

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PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH=

1. North Dakota State

2. Illinois State

3. Northern Iowa

4. Youngstown State

5. South Dakota State

6. Indiana State

7. Western Illinois

8. Southern Illinois

9. Missouri State

10. South Dakota

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TEAM CAPSULES=

1. NORTH DAKOTA STATE BISON

LOCATION: Fargo, North Dakota

STADIUM: Fargodome

COACH: Chris Klieman (15-1 in one season at North Dakota State; 18-8 overall)

LAST SEASON: 15-1 overall, 7-1 Missouri Valley (Tie/1st); FCS champion

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (8 offense/4 defense)

KEY LOSSES: RB John Crockett, DE Kyle Emanuel, LB Carlton Littlejohn, LB Travis Beck, SS Colten Heagle, FS Christian Dudzik, PK Adam Keller

OFFENSIVE STAR: Carson Wentz, QB, Sr., 6-6, 231 (228-for-358, 3,111 yards, 25 TDs, 10 INTs; 138 carries, 642 yards, 6 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: C.J. Smith, CB, Sr., 5-11, 188 (47 TT, 1 INT, 17 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: King Frazier, RB, Jr., 5-11, 213; Chase Morlock, RB, Jr., 6-0, 221; Lance Dunn, RB, R-Fr., 5-9, 206; Andrew Bonnet, FB/TE, Sr., 6-3, 250; Zach Vraa, WR, Sr., 6-2, 202; RJ Urzendowski, WR, So., 5-11, 195; Luke Albers, TE, Sr., 6-5, 249; Joe Haeg, LT, Sr., 6-6, 310; Zack Johnson, LG, R-Jr., 6-4, 326; Landon Lechler, RT, Jr., 6-7, 301; Brian Schaetz, DT, Sr., 6-1, 287; Nate Tanguay, DT, So., 6-4, 285; Brad Ambrosius, DE, Jr., 6-4, 246; Greg Menard, DE, So., 6-2, 239; Nick DeLuca, MLB, Jr., 6-3, 244; Jordan Champion, CB, Sr., 5-9, 189; Andrew Smith, FS, Jr., 6-0, 193; Tre Dempsey, FS, So., 5-10, 175; Erik Perkins, RS, Jr., 5-8, 180; Ben LeCompte, PK/P, Sr., 5-10, 196; James Fisher, LS, So., 6-2, 213

OUTLOOK: The “Drive for Five” is on at NDSU, which has won a record four straight FCS national titles. The Bison are still the favorite despite losing seven starters from their vaunted defense, which ranked third nationally in allowing 14.1 points per game last season after finishing first in their first three title campaigns. The Bison still had the most selections (five) on the STATS FCS Preseason All-America Team – LT Haeg and P LeCompte on the first team, FB Bonnet and LG Johnson on the second team, and LS Fisher on the third team. The list didn’t even include Wentz, the Most Outstanding Player of last season’s FCS championship game and considered one of the top QB candidates for the 2016 NFL Draft. Crockett nearly rushed for 2,000 yards last season, yet there shouldn’t be a drop-off with the nation’s best offensive line and a committee of running backs, including 2014 Nebraska transfer Frazier (616 yards, 4 TDs). The receivers (Vraa, Urzendowski and Albers) also will come up huge in one of the FCS’ best offenses. What’s different is that the defense won’t lead the way. The losses include the national defensive player of the year, Emanuel. But DT Tanguay and MLB DeLuca are ready for bigger roles, and having two starting cornerbacks returning in Champion and Smith is huge. There is no FBS opponent to beat this year, but the road schedule, starting at Montana in the FCS Kickoff, is difficult.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 29 – at Montana

Sept. 12 – vs. Weber State

Sept. 19 – vs. North Dakota

Oct. 3 – at South Dakota State*

Oct. 10 – vs. Northern Iowa*

Oct. 17 – vs. South Dakota*

Oct. 24 – at Indiana State*

Oct. 31 – at Southern Illinois*

Nov. 7 – vs. Western Illinois*

Nov. 14 – at Youngstown State*

Nov. 21 – vs. Missouri State*

* – Missouri Valley game

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2. ILLINOIS STATE REDBIRDS

LOCATION: Normal, Illinois

STADIUM: Hancock Stadium

COACH: Brock Spack (46-26 in six seasons at Illinois State)

LAST SEASON: 13-2 overall, 7-1 Missouri Valley (Tie/1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (5 offense/5 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR Cameron Meredith, WR Lechein Neblett, TE James O’Shaughnessy, OL Mike Liedtke, OL Jermaine Barton, S Dontae McCoy, DB Mike Banks

OFFENSIVE STAR: Marshaun Coprich, RB, Sr., 5-9, 205 (370 carries, 2,274 yards, 27 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Pat Meehan, LB, Sr., 6-1, 225 (115 TT, 6.5 TFL, 3 SK, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Tre Roberson, QB, Sr., 6-0, 205; Anthony Warrum, WR, Jr., 6-2, 195; Jon-Marc Anderson, WR, So., 5-10, 185; Tylor Petkovich, TE, Fr., 6-6, 220; Mark Spelman, C, Jr., 6-3, 290; Kyle Avaloy, RG, Jr., 6-5, 330; Ryan Gelber, LT, Jr., 6-5, 295; Dalton Keene, DT, So., 6-4, 285; Teddy Corwin, DE, Sr., 6-5, 260; David Perkins, DE, Sr., 6-4, 245; Alex Donnelly, OLB, Sr., 6-0, 225; Reggie Spearman, OLB, Jr., 6-3, 230 (Iowa transfer); Josh Burch, CB, Sr., 6-1 205; Davontae Harris, CB, So., 6-0, 190; DraShane Glass, FS, So., 5-10, 195; Sean Slattery, PK, So., 6-0, 205

OUTLOOK: There are concerns for the 2014 Valley co-champs following their first-ever run to the FCS championship game. The Redbirds are circled on everybody’s schedule and they lost a number of key players. Just two years ago, they finished 5-6. But nobody is feeling bad for Spack’s team as the 1-2 combination of QB Roberson and RB Coprich is as strong as any in the FCS. Roberson was the Missouri Valley’s first-team signal caller, surpassing 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards and totaling 41 touchdowns. Coprich led the FCS in rushing yards and touchdowns. He was suspended from the program following an offseason arrest on drug charges, but after receiving probation, he was granted reinstatement. The problem on offense is the Redbirds need some replacements on the line and at receiver. Their defense suffered key losses in the secondary, but the front seven should be electric with DEs Corwin and Perkins and LBs Meehan, Donnelly and Spearman, who has transferred in from Iowa. The Redbirds haven’t lost at home since 2012, but many of their toughest games are on the road.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 – at Iowa

Sept. 12 – vs. Morgan State

Sept. 19 – at Eastern Illinois

Oct. 3 – vs. Northern Iowa*

Oct. 10 – at Youngstown State*

Oct. 17 – at Missouri State*

Oct. 24 – vs. Western Illinois*

Oct. 31 – vs. Indiana State*

Nov. 7 – at South Dakota State*

Nov. 14 – at Southern Illinois*

Nov. 21 – vs. South Dakota*

* – Missouri Valley game

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3. NORTHERN IOWA PANTHERS

LOCATION: Cedar Falls, Iowa

STADIUM: UNI-Dome

COACH: Mark Farley (120-56 in 14 seasons at Northern Iowa)

LAST SEASON: 9-5 overall, 6-2 Missouri Valley (3rd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (5 offense/6 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Brion Carnes, RB/KR David Johnson, WR Kevin Vereen, WR Brett LeMaster, OL Jack Rummells, DT Xavier Williams, LB Jake Farley, LB Max Busher

OFFENSIVE STAR: Michael Schmadeke, PK, Sr., 5-10, 187 (27-for-29 FG, 49 long; 132 points)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Tim Kilfoy, SS, Sr., 6-1, 191 (73 TT, 5.5 TFL, 4 INTs, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Sawyer Kollmorgen, QB, Sr., 6-2, 214; Aaron Bailey, QB, Jr., 6-2, 225 (Illinois transfer); Dalton Demos, So., 6-6, 203 (Hutchinson CC transfer); Savon Huggins, RB, Sr., 5-11, 203 (Rutgers transfer); Darrian Miller, RB, Sr., 5-10, 195; Charles Brown, WR, Jr., 5-10, 175; Marcus Weymiller, WR, R-Fr., 5-11, 203; Braden Lehman, TE, Sr., 6-7, 272; Robert Rathje, C, Jr., 6-3, 295; Jacob Rathmacher, LG, Sr., 6-4, 297; Chris Schleuger, So., 6-3, 291; Isaac Ales, DE, Sr., 6-3, 268; Ronelle McNeil, DE, R-Sr., 6-3, 235; Karter Schult, DT, Jr., 6-2, 265; Brett McMakin, OLB, Jr., 6-4, 232 ; Deiondre’ Hall, CB, Sr., 6-2, 190; Makinton Dorleant, CB, Sr., 5-11, 185; Logan Bieghler, P, Sr., 6-0, 205

OUTLOOK: The early stretch of games is a doozy, with only one home game (against FCS power Eastern Washington) among the first five. The difficulty of that stretch might be something the Panthers regret. They beat both North Dakota State and Illinois State last season en route to the playoffs, but have lost a terrific senior class, including All-America RB Johnson. Transfers could help fill some of the losses. The newcomers include QBs Bailey and Demos, who are battling Kollmorgen (27 career starts) for the No. 1 job. Miller (332 yards, 3 TDs) is the returnee at running back, but he has competition from Huggins, a Rutgers transfer. The offense still figures to be strong as UNI converted on 48-of-49 trips to the red zone last season. The defense was sack-happy last season and ILB McMakin (103 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks) and DE Ales (55 tackles, 18.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks) are back to terrorize offenses again. The pass rush let CB Hall (five interceptions) and SS Kilfoy (four interceptions) go to work. Schmadeke set an FCS single-season record with 27 field goals, missing only two attempts.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 – at Iowa State

Sept. 12 – vs. Eastern Washington

Sept. 19 – at Cal Poly

Oct. 3 – at Illinois State*

Oct. 10 – at North Dakota State*

Oct. 17 – vs. Western Illinois*

Oct. 24 – at South Dakota State*

Oct. 31 – vs. South Dakota*

Nov. 7 – vs. Indiana State*

Nov. 14 – at Missouri State*

Nov. 21 – vs. Southern Illinois*

* – Missouri Valley game

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4. YOUNGSTOWN STATE PENGUINS

LOCATION: Youngstown, Ohio

STADIUM: Arnold D. Stambaugh Stadium

COACH: Bo Pelini (first season at Youngstown State; 67-27 overall)

LAST SEASON: 7-5 overall, 4-4 Missouri Valley (Tie/5th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR Jelani Berassa, TE Nate Adams, CB Julius Childs, FS Donald D’Alesio

OFFENSIVE STAR: Martin Ruiz, TB, Jr., 5-11, 195 (265 carries, 1,320 yards, 10 TDs; 16 receptions, 138 yards, 1 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Derek Rivers, DE, Jr., 6-5, 240 (50 TT, 17 TFL, 14 SK, 11 QBH, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Hunter Wells, QB, So., 6-5, 195; Jody Webb, TB, Jr., 5-9, 175; Andrew Williams, WR, Sr., 6-4, 190; Andre Stubbs, WR/KR, Sr., 5-7, 160; Trevor Strickland, LT, Sr., 6-7, 300; Justin Spencer, RT, So., 6-5, 295; Brock Eisenhuth, RG, Jr., 6-5, 335; Emmanuel Kromah, DT, Sr., 6-2, 280; Terrell Williams, DE, Sr., 6-3, 240; Avery Moss, DE, 6-3, 265 (Nebraska transfer); Dubem Nwadiogbu, LB, Sr., 6-2, 235; Jaylin Kelly, LB, Jr., 6-1, 235; Kenneth Durden, CB, Sr., 6-0, 180; Nate Dortch, CB, Jr., 6-0, 170; Jameel Smith, FS, Jr., 6-0, 190; Tre’ Moore, SS, Sr., 5-10, 200

OUTLOOK: The Penguins losing their final three games for the second consecutive season to miss the playoffs led to coach Eric Wolford being replaced after five seasons. There wasn’t a bigger coaching splash in the FCS than Pelini, the Youngstown native who surprisingly dropped levels after being fired at Nebraska (he was 67-27 in seven seasons). The Penguins, who won four FCS national championships between 1991 and ’97 under former coach Jim Tressel, now the school’s president, are seeking their first postseason berth since 2006. Their offense should be outstanding. Working behind an experienced O-line, QB Wells (121-for-202, 1,772 yards, 14 TDs, 7 INTs) and TB Ruiz will rack up the yards. But they are in good company as WR Andre Williams returns from a 54-catch season and TB Webb was more than a complement to Ruiz in rushing for 715 yards and nine touchdowns. Nwadiogbu racked up a team-high 104 tackles and DEs Rivers and Terrell Williams combined for 24 sacks. Plus, DE Moss followed Pelini to Youngstown from Nebraska. Stambaugh Stadium will be rocking as the Penguins will host both North Dakota State and Illinois State.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 – at Pittsburgh

Sept. 12 – vs. Robert Morris

Sept. 19 – vs. Saint Francis (Pa.)

Oct. 3 – at South Dakota*

Oct. 10 – vs. Illinois State*

Oct. 17 – vs. South Dakota State*

Oct. 24 – at Southern Illinois*

Oct. 31 – at Western Illinois*

Nov. 7 – vs. Missouri State*

Nov. 14 – vs. North Dakota State*

Nov. 21 – at Indiana State*

* – Missouri Valley game

—=

5. SOUTH DAKOTA STATE JACKRABBITS

LOCATION: Brookings, South Dakota

STADIUM: Coughlin-Alumni Stadium

COACH: John Stiegelmeier (120-86 in 18 seasons at South Dakota State)

LAST SEASON: 9-5 overall, 5-3 Missouri Valley (Tie/4th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (6 offense/9 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Austin Sumner, RB Zach Zenner, WR Jason Schneider, RT Trevor Greger, DE Jack Sherlock, PK Justin Syrovatka

OFFENSIVE STAR: Jake Wieneke, WR, So., 6-4, 210 (73 receptions, 1,404 yards, 16 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: T.J. Lally, LB, Sr., 6-0, 225 (117 TT, 9.5 TFL, 1 SK, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Zach Lujan, QB, Jr., 6-2, 190; Brady Mengarelli, RB, So., 5-10, 195; Isaac Wallace, RB, R-Fr., 6-1, 200; Kyle Parris, RB, Jr., 6-1, 200; Trevor Wesley, WR, Sr., 5-11, 175; Cam Jones, TE, Sr., 6-5, 250; Jacob Ohnesorge, C, So., 6-3, 280; Dylan Seiter, LG, Sr., 6-3, 290; Bryce Siverling, LT, Sr., 6-3, 290; J.R. Plote, DE, Sr., 6-3, 250; Cole Langer, DT, Jr., 6-2, 285; Shayne Gottlob, DT, Jr., 6-5, 255; J.T. Hassell, LB, So., 5-11, 205; Jesse Bobbit, LB, Jr., 6-2, 210; Dallas Brown, LB, Jr., 5-11, 195; Je Ryan Butler, CB/RS, Sr., 5-11, 185; Trey Carr, CB, So., 5-11, 180; Jimmie Forsythe, CB, Sr., 5-10, 190; Nick Mears, S, Jr., 5-11, 195

OUTLOOK: Heading into his 19th season at SDSU, Stiegelmeier is replacing his program’s career passing leader (Sumner), the only three-time 2,000-yard rusher in Division I history (Zenner) and an all-conference wide receiver (Schneider). In QB Lujan (147-for-241, 1,943 yards, 13 TDs, 10 INTs), the Jackrabbits appear to have a decent replacement because he went 5-2 as a starter when Sumner was injured last season. With a running back-by-committee (likely No. 1 Mengarelli, Wallace and Parris), the ‘Rabbits hope for production somewhat resembling Zenner’s. They definitely have a new No. 1 wide receiver in Wieneke, the runner-up for last year’s FCS freshman of the year award. There is not as much concern on the defensive side of the ball with the return of 10 of their 11 leading tacklers, led by All-Missouri Valley LB Lally, a fourth-year starter. Langer is one of the conference’s better defensive tackles. A tough home schedule in the Missouri Valley is tricky because if the Jackrabbits don’t beat some of the other powers, they will be in jeopardy of missing the playoffs after three straight appearances.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 – at Kansas

Sept. 12 – vs. Southern Utah

Sept. 26 – vs. Robert Morris

Oct. 3 – vs. North Dakota State*

Oct. 10 – vs. Indiana State*

Oct. 17 – at Youngstown State*

Oct. 24 – vs. Northern Iowa*

Oct. 31 – at Missouri State*

Nov. 7 – vs. Illinois State*

Nov. 14 – at South Dakota*

Nov. 21 – at Western Illinois*

* – Missouri Valley game

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6. INDIANA STATE SYCAMORES

LOCATION: Terre Haute, Indiana

STADIUM: Memorial Stadium

COACH: Mike Sanford (9-17 in two seasons at Indiana State; 25-60 overall)

LAST SEASON: 8-6 overall, 4-4 Missouri Valley (Tie/5th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 19 (9 offense/10 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Mike Perish, RB Buck Logan, WR A.J. Johnson, DB Donovan Layne, Garric Ratliff

OFFENSIVE STAR: Gary Owens, WR, Sr., 5-9, 185 (69 receptions, 815 yards, 5 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Connor Underwood, LB, Sr., 6-3, 240 (94 TT, 25 TFL, 13.5 SK, 4 PBU, 11 QBH, 1 FR, 3 FF)

KEY PLAYERS: Zach Kline, QB, Jr., 6-2, 215 (Butte College transfer); Matt Adam, QB, So., 6-1, 225; LeMonte Booker, RB, Jr., 5-11, 190; Dimitri Taylor, RB, So., 5-10, 190; Sampson Levington, WR, Jr., 6-1, 205; Robert Tonyan, WR/TE, Jr., 6-5, 220; Jamar Brown, TE, Jr., 6-5, 240; Dakota Vermillion, OL, Jr., 6-7, 310; Nick Dakota, OL, Jr., 6-8, 310; Conlan Cassidy, DL, Jr. 6-3, 280; Kendall Walker, LB, Sr., 6-0, 235; Jameer Thurman, LB, Jr., 6-0, 215; Mark Sewall, S, Sr., 6-0, 210; Travis Starks, DB, Sr., 5-10, 190; Dejuan Lang, DB, Jr., 5-9, 180; Alex Stowers, DB, Sr., 5-9, 175; Eric Heidorn, PK, Jr., 5-8, 185; Osborn Umeh, P, Sr., 6-2, 210; Josh Appel, LS, Jr., 6-2, 250

OUTLOOK: What a difference Sanford’s second season made as the Sycamores improved by seven wins last season and earned their first playoff bid in 30 years. Their impressive list of wins included against Ball State, Liberty, Northern Iowa and Youngstown State in the regular season and then Eastern Kentucky in the postseason. Their veteran defense is one of the better ones in the conference and could make waves nationally. Underwood combines with Walker (MVFC-high 123 tackles) and Thurman (82) to form an outstanding trio of linebackers, while Sewall is a big-play safety. The team’s big loss was QB Perish, who guided a pass-based offense. Touted QB transfer Kline appears to be his successor and he will turn to the strong receiving tandem of Owens and Tonyan (54 receptions, 747 yards, 4 TDs). The worst run attack in the conference even lost its leading rusher Logan, but better production is a point of emphasis. The Sycamores are coming on strong under Sanford.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 – vs. Butler

Sept. 12 – at Purdue

Sept. 19 – vs. Southeast Missouri State

Oct. 3 – at Missouri State*

Oct. 10 – at South Dakota State*

Oct. 17 – vs. Southern Illinois*

Oct. 24 – vs. North Dakota State*

Oct. 31 – at Illinois State*

Nov. 7 – at Northern Iowa*

Nov. 14 – vs. Western Illinois*

Nov. 21 – vs. Youngstown State*

* – Missouri Valley game

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7. WESTERN ILLINOIS FIGHTING LEATHERNECKS

LOCATION: Macomb, Illinois

STADIUM: Hanson Field

COACH: Bob Nielson (9-15 in two seasons at Western Illinois; 179-74-1 overall)

LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 3-5 Missouri Valley (Tie/7th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/6 defense)

KEY LOSSES: RB J.C. Baker, WR/PR Hi-C Scott, LB Kevin Kintzel, LB J.J. Raffelson, LB Luke Venegoni, DB Jonathon Rollins, DB Martinez Davis

OFFENSIVE STAR: Trenton Norvell, QB, Jr, 6-5, 220 (219-for-373, 2,891 yards, 24 TDs, 11 INTs; 80 carries, 144 yards, 2 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Kris Harley, DT, Sr., 6-1, 290 (35 TT, 6 TFL, 3.5 SK, 1 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Devon Moore, RB, Jr., 6-2, 220; Devin Sanders, RB, So., 5-9, 200; Nikko Watson, RB, Sr., 6-0, 265 (missed last season); Lance Lenoir, Jr., WR/KR, Jr., 6-0, 190; Joey Borsellino, WR, Jr., 5-11, 195; Taylor Hill, TE, Sr., 6-5, 240 (injured last season); Ryan Ricketts, LG, Sr., 6-3, 290; James Torgerson, LT, So., 6-5, 290; Matt Zobrist, RT, Jr., 6-3, 290; Eddy Holtschlag, DE, Sr., 6-4, 255; Gavin Ricketts, NT, Sr., 6-1, 290; Brett Taylor, MLB, So., 6-2, 230; Aaron Diggs, S, So., 6-1, 195; David Griffith, S, So., 5-11, 200; Myles Spearman, S, So., 5-11, 185; Dwayne Phillips, Sr., 5-7, 170; Nathan Knuffman, PK/P, Jr., 6-1, 205

OUTLOOK: After a competitive 2014 season (including wins over Youngstown State and Indiana State), it would appear the Leathernecks are on the verge of taking a bigger step this season. The problem is, they face one of the tougher schedules in the FCS, and despite having a veteran offense, their defense was hit hard by senior losses. First the good news: QB Norvell has become more consistent as he enters his third season as the starter, and WR Lenoir (75 receptions, 1,030 yards, 7 TDs) is an All-American, complemented by the veteran Borsellino (41 receptions, 549 yards, 4 TDs). The offense will miss Baker’s 1,265 rushing yards and hope to solve the loss with a committee of running backs, led by Moore. On defense, the bad news includes the Leathernecks losing their top seven in tackles. Finding a new group of linebackers won’t be easy, although Taylor emerged in the second half of last season. The strength is across the D-line with Holtschlag on the edge and Harley and Ricketts working the interior. The difficult non-conference schedule includes a visit to Coastal Carolina, where the Leathernecks last won an FCS playoff game in 2010.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3 – vs. Eastern Illinois

Sept. 12 – at Illinois

Sept. 19 – at Coastal Carolina

Oct. 3 – vs. Southern Illinois*

Oct. 10 – vs. South Dakota*

Oct. 17 – at Northern Iowa*

Oct. 24 – at Illinois State*

Oct. 31 – vs. Youngstown State*

Nov. 7 – at North Dakota State*

Nov. 14 – at Indiana State*

Nov. 21 – vs. South Dakota State*

* – Missouri Valley game

—=

8. SOUTHERN ILLINOIS SALUKIS

LOCATION: Carbondale, Illinois

STADIUM: Saluki Stadium

COACH: Dale Lennon (48-34 in seven seasons at Southern Illinois; 150-67 overall)

LAST SEASON: 6-6 overall, 3-5 Missouri Valley (Tie/7th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 9 (4 offense/5 defense)

KEY LOSSES: RB Malcolm Agnew, WR/KR Tay Willis, WR/PR LaSteven McKinney, TE MyCole Pruitt, OL Tanner Crum, OLB Tyler Williamson, ILB Jordan Poole, PK Thomas Kinney

OFFENSIVE STAR: Mark Iannotti, QB, Sr., 6-2, 227 (201-for-319, 2,241 yards, 22 TDs, 8 INTs; 68 carries, 134 yards, 3 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Chase Allen, ILB, Jr., 6-4, 240 (95 TT, 6 TFL, 1 SK, 3 PBU, 5 QBH, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Matt McIntosh, QB, R-Sr., 6-1, 209 (Northern Illinois transfer); Cameron Walter, RB, So., 5-9, 210; Aaron Stanton, RB, Jr., 5-8, 185 (Ventura College transfer); Hans Carmien, FB, So., 6-2, 230; Billy Reed, WR, Jr., 6-2, 208; Josh Sullivan, WR, Sr., 6-2, 205; Connor Iwema, WR, So., 6-0, 204; Adam Fuehne, TE, Sr., 6-7, 260; Jake Notario, OL, Jr., 6-4, 321; Ethan Wirth, OL, Sr., 6-6, 306; Garrett Clark, OL, Sr., 6-3, 295; Brandon Williams, DE, Sr.., 6-4, 245; Adam Brandt, DE, Sr., 6-4, 255; Leonard Garron, OLB, R-Jr., 6-2, 251; Raysean Golden, NT, Sr., 6-0, 295; T.J. Beelen, NT, Sr., 6-2, 285; Blake Mattson, OLB, R-Sr., 6-2, 225; D.J. Cameron, SS, Sr., 6-1, 194; Kenny James, FS, So., 5-11, 208; Anthony Thompson, S, Sr., 6-1, 205; Ryan Neal, CB, So., 6-2, 175; Austin Johnson, PK, Jr., 6-0, 185; Nick Neidig, P, So., 6-3, 203

OUTLOOK: There’s plenty of concern in Carbondale about how SIU’s former powerhouse can’t get up off the turf. They are 28-29 over the last five seasons after going 70-19 from 2003-09. The outlook isn’t considerably better this season because the Salukis have the fewest returning starters in the Missouri Valley (nine). They need a big season from QB Iannotti, who has been battling to keep his No. 1 job, and probably will come September. But he’s lost all his key receivers, including All-America TE Pruitt. Walter rushed for 210 yards against Missouri State and appears primed to be the featured back after the Salukis lost a standout in Agnew. The defense has been average, which isn’t good enough in the Valley. Leading tackler Allen returns to a unit that hopes to be opportunistic. The schedule is tough, but the Salukis hope to start strong and build momentum.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 – at Indiana

Sept. 12 – at Southeast Missouri State

Sept. 26 – vs. Liberty

Oct. 3 – at Western Illinois*

Oct. 10 – vs. Missouri State*

Oct. 17 – at Indiana State*

Oct. 24 – vs. Youngstown State*

Oct. 31 – vs. North Dakota State*

Nov. 7 – at South Dakota*

Nov. 14 – vs. Illinois State*

Nov. 21 – at Northern Iowa*

* – Missouri Valley game

—=

9. MISSOURI STATE BEARS

LOCATION: Springfield, Missouri

STADIUM: Plaster Sports Complex

COACH: Dave Steckel (first season at Missouri State)

LAST SEASON: 4-8 overall, 1-7 Missouri Valley (9th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (5 offense/7 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Kierra Harris, WR/KR Julian Burton, LB Andrew Beisel, LB Jeremy Springer, S Caleb Schaffitzel, S Mike Crutcher

OFFENSIVE STAR: Robert Booker, C, Sr., 6-3, 312

DEFENSIVE STAR: Dylan Cole, LB, Jr., 6-1, 233 (92 TT, 14.5 TFL, 2.5 SK, 2 INT, 6 PBU, 4 QBH, 1 FR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Brodie Lambert, QB, R-Jr., 6-1, 211; Breck Ruddick, QB, R-Fr., 6-4, 197; Calan Crowder, RB, So., 6-1, 200; Phoenix Johnson, RB, Jr., 5-9, 188; Ryan Heaston, RB, Sr., 5-10, 179; Eric Christophel, WR, Sr., 5-10, 173; Malik Earl, WR, So., 6-3, 210; Sam Ellifrits, RT, So., 6-6, 312; Brad Pryor, DL, So., 6-3, 288; Cecil Bratton, NT, So., 6-3, 289; Colby Isbell, DE, So., 6-3, 253; James Barnes, DE, Sr., 5-10, 238; Chris Hoffman, LB, Sr., 6-1, 229; Alexz Jones, LB, So., 6-2, 228; Vashon Landers, CB, Sr., 6-1, 182; Eric Phillips, CB, So., 5-10, 170; Eric Greely, S, So., 6-1, 205; Jared Beshore, S, R-Fr., 6-0, 198; Marcelo Bonani, PK, Sr., 5-11, 173

OUTLOOK: Steckel, a first-time head coach, spent 14 seasons at Missouri, including the last six as defensive coordinator. He was among the five finalists for the 2014 Frank Broyles Award as the FBS’ top assistant coach. At Missouri State, he says he seeks self-starters with great work ethic. His new team is replacing a four-year starting quarterback in Harris, but the offense will rely on a rushing attack that features RBs Crowder, Johnson (575 yards, 2 TDs) and Heaston (307 yards), and good size on the O-line with C Booker and RT Ellifrits. The defense no longer has veteran safeties Schaffitzel and Crutcher, so the pass rush is key to helping the defensive backs. Linebacker Cole is the team’s top returning tackler and is highly productive across the board, including 14.5 tackles for loss. The Bears were fairly competitive in many of their losses last season, although their lone conference win came against cellar-dweller South Dakota.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 – at Memphis

Sept. 12 – vs. Chadron State

Sept. 19 – at Arkansas State

Oct. 3 – vs. Indiana State*

Oct. 10 – at Southern Illinois*

Oct. 17 – vs. Illinois State*

Oct. 24 – at South Dakota*

Oct. 31 – vs. South Dakota State*

Nov. 7 – at Youngstown State*

Nov. 14 – vs. Northern Iowa*

Nov. 21 – at North Dakota State*

* – Missouri Valley game

—=

10. SOUTH DAKOTA COYOTES

LOCATION: Vermillion, South Dakota

STADIUM: DakotaDome

COACH: Joe Glenn (7-28 in three seasons at South Dakota; 195-128-1 overall)

LAST SEASON: 2-10 overall, 0-8 Missouri Valley (10th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 19 (9 offense/10 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Kevin Earl, RB Jasper Sanders, OT Matt Huffer, OG Andrew Schofield, CB Steve Tellefsen, LB Auston Johnson

OFFENSIVE STAR: Trevor Bouma, RB, Jr., 5-11, 210 (106 carries, 508 yards, 3 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: John Wessel, LB, Jr., 6-2, 230 (86 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 SK, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Ryan Saeger, Jr., 6-4, 220; Khorey Kilgore, RB, So., 5-10, 220; Riley Donovan, WR, Jr., 6-1, 185; Eric Shufford, WR/RS, Sr., 5-11, 195; Paul Anderson, WR, R-Fr., 5-11, 190; Aaron Ramsey, TE, So., 6-3, 220; Kayl Barkley, TE, Sr., 6-3, 250; Nick Jensen, R-Fr., LT, 6-6, 285; Nile Banks, LG, Jr., 6-5, 305; Derek Chancellor, RT, Sr., 6-5, 305; Sam McLeran, C, So., 6-3, 310; Drew Iddings, DT, Sr., 6-6, 285; Sean Bredl, DT, Jr., 6-4, 270; Colin Mertlik, DE, Jr., 6-2, 230; Andrew Van Ginkel, DE, R-Fr., 6-4, 230; Keyen Lage, LB, Sr., 6-3, 235; Colin Buscarini, LB, Sr., 6-1, 210; Tyson Graham, FS, Jr., 6-2, 210; Jacob Warner, SS, Jr., 5-11, 200; Chris Tyler, CB, Sr., 6-2, 200; Mike Lilly, CB, Sr., 5-9, 165; Miles Bergner, PK/P, Jr., 6-0, 225

OUTLOOK: Injuries plagued USD last season, and even though the Coyotes come back a deeper team, expected starting QB Earl will miss his senior season because of a back injury. So the top job goes to Saeger (50-for-92, 660 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs), who made four starts last season. The Coyotes’ offense seeks more explosive plays this season (it didn’t have any 50-plus-yard plays) and the candidates include RB Bouma, who was limited to seven games last season after he rushed for 781 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2013, and WRs Shufford (53 receptions, 699 yards, 5 TDs) and Donovan (38 receptions, 495 yards, 1 TD). The veteran defense is replacing only one starter, and its main concern is cutting into the 234.5 rushing yards it allowed each game on 5.6 yards per carry. The top six in tackles return, led by FS Graham (98) and LB Wessell (86). DE Iddings has had a strong career and Van Ginkel seeks to break out on the opposite side. It doesn’t seem too long ago that Glenn was taking over the program, but he’s on to his fourth year. With a 7-28 mark (3-21 Missouri Valley), he seeks better results.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 – at Kansas State

Sept. 12 – at UC Davis

Sept. 19 – vs. Drake

Oct. 3 – vs. Youngstown State*

Oct. 10 – at Western Illinois*

Oct. 17 – at North Dakota State*

Oct. 24 – vs. Missouri State*

Oct. 31 – at Northern Iowa*

Nov. 7 – vs. Southern Illinois*

Nov. 14 – vs. South Dakota State*

Nov. 21 – at Illinois State*

* – Missouri Valley game

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