For the longest time, it seemed like the Pioneer Football League couldn't and wouldn't be able to earn the respect of its big brother FCS super conferences.
That was until the NCAA announced last week it is expanding the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs from 20 to 24 teams beginning in 2013.
No league is more excited than the non-scholarship PFL, which will become the 11th conference to earn an automatic bid for its champion.
In fact, the decision is even more important for the league because some of its best teams have been overlooked and forgotten in year's past.
Since 2007, two teams have finished 11-1 (Dayton in '07 and Butler in'09) and two teams have finished 10-1 (Jacksonville and Dayton in '10) without going to the postseason. Not to mention, from 2005-06 San Diego went 22-2 but received no playoff reward. Like every team before them who finished with a respectable record, it was going to be hard to get an at-large bid to the playoffs because of their conference's low strength rating.
"We were so close in 2010," Jacksonville coach Kerwin Bell said. "We had a good team and a chance to get in and that was a disappointment."
There will still be a clear distinction or gap that the PFL has with the Sam Houstons, Montanas, Georgia Southerns or the James Madisons of the FCS world. In 2011 alone, PFL teams were a combined 3-14 versus FCS conferences which have automatic bids for the playoffs. The PFL only has to wait one more year to show it belongs.
Respect will have to be earned, not given. But there's no question, Pioneer teams have a lot to play for; whether the rest of the FCS nation recognizes is another question.
"Now if we can win our conference, which we've done two of the last four years, we've got a chance to represent Jacksonville and JU in a national playoff with 23 other teams for a chance to win a national championship," Bell said. "Anytime you talk about playoffs or championships, it takes your program to another level."
Last season, the league finished with five teams ranked in the top 25 nationally for rushing defense. They were No. 2 Drake, No. 8 Dayton, No. 15 San Diego, No. 20 Marist and No. 21 Davidson.
Bell thinks his team has a good shot at winning the Pioneer title after the Dolphins' only conference losses came against last year's co-PFL champs, Drake and San Diego.
"We've got a defense you can win championships with," Bell said. "The time is now to prove we are a championship program. We're a hungry team and after losing last year in San Diego ... it left a bad taste in our mouth."
The Dolphins must replace plenty of experience on offense, including their passing and receiving leaders from last year in quarterback Josh McGregor and wide receiver Josh Philpart. Bell said that shouldn't be an excuse for his team.
"If we only score 17 a game, then I need to fire myself," Bell said.
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2012 Pioneer Football League race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
2. San Diego
8. Morehead State
1. DRAKE BULLDOGS (9-2 overall, 7-1 Pioneer)
COACH: Chris Creighton (30-14 in four seasons at Drake; 125-38 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Mike Piatkowski, Sr. (231-of-354, 2,934 yards, 25 TD, 12 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Tyler Moorehead, Sr. (78 TT, 21 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 4 PD, 3 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Trey Morse, Sr. (107 carries, 292 yards, 4 TD)
RB Jacob Schmudlach, Jr.
WR Joey Orlando, Sr. (32 receptions, 382 yards, 6 TD)
WR Nick Rosa, Sr. (34 receptions, 402 yards, 2 TD)
TE Kevin Marshall, Sr. (33 receptions, 280 yards, 3 TD)
LT Matt Purdom, Sr. (started 10 games at left tackle in 2010)
RG Zach Bosch, Sr.
RT Avery Fuhs, Sr.
DE Anthony Gianaras, Sr. (41 TT, 9.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 PBU, 3 PD)
DE Brandon Coleman, Sr. (51 TT, 16.5 TFL, 12 sacks, 4 PBU, 4 PD, 2 FR)
MLB Travis Merrit, Jr. (66 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 PD, 1 FF)
OLB, Seth Hedman, Sr. (25 TT, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INT, 2 PD)
DB Matt Buckley, Sr.
SS Michael Ratelle, Sr. (63 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 8 PBU, 9 PD, 1 FF)
BIGGEST LOSSES: RB Patrick Cashmore (195 carries, 841 yards, 7 TD; 20 receptions, 282 yards, 1 TD) and WR Nathan Paddock (49 receptions, 737 yards, 6 TD)
OUTLOOK: Drake enters the season as one of the FCS' top rushing defenses. Last year, the Bulldogs finished second nationally in allowing a stingy 77 rushing yards per game, while giving up just five rushing touchdowns. The defense returns six starters, five of whom are seniors. It all starts with two-time All-PFL LB Moorehead and his counterpart Merrit. The two combined on 144 tackles and Moorehead had 21 tackles for loss. Coleman (16.5 TFL, 12 sacks, 2 FR) and Gianaras return on the defensive line and will help younger players adjust to larger roles. The biggest concern for the Bulldogs will be how they operate under new defensive coordinator Brad McCaslin, but there shouldn't be any difference in production. With so much experience coming back, the Bulldogs defense should be stout once again. Meanwhile, the PFL's 2011 offensive player of the year, Piatkowski, returns for his senior year. He enters the season needing just 942 passing yards to become the No. 1 passer in school history. Last year, he threw for 2,934 yards and 25 touchdowns with only 12 interceptions. He lost Blackmon and Paddock, who caught six touchdowns apiece, but Rosa and Orlando should pick up any lost slack. Drake struggled to run the ball last season and ranked No. 99 in the FCS with 98 rushing yards per game. The Bulldogs' second-leading rusher, Morse, should have an increase in carries and production, but if the offense has to rely on Piatkowski's arm too much, Drake may not repeat as champion.
Aug. 30 - vs. Grand View
Sept. 8 - vs. Montana State
Sept. 15 - at Indiana State
Sept. 22 - vs. Morehead State
Sept. 29 - at Campbell
Oct. 6 - vs. San Diego
Oct. 13 - at Valparaiso
Oct. 20 - vs. Marist
Nov. 3 - at Dayton
Nov. 10 - vs. Butler
Nov. 17 - at Jacksonville
2. SAN DIEGO TOREROS (9-2 overall, 7-1 Pioneer)
COACH: Ron Caragher (36-19 in five seasons at San Diego; 36-19 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (5 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Kenny James, Jr. (217 carries, 1,149 yards, 12 TD; 20 receptions, 334 yards, 2 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Blake Oliaro, Jr. (57 TT, 19.5 TFL, 15 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PD, 2 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Mason Mills, Jr. (184-of-298, 2,370 yards, 22 TD, 13 INT; 108 yards rushing, 2 TD)
FB Nick Scudellari, Sr. (7 receptions, 57 yards, 2 TD)
RB J.P. Bolwahnn, Sr.
WR/KR Sam Hoekstra, Jr. (53 receptions, 554 yards, 6 TD; 28 PR, 315 yards, 1 TD)
WR Brandon White, So. (45 receptions, 561 yards, 5 TD)
OL Mike Arnold, Sr.
OL Matt Peleti, Sr.
DT Dustin Geyer, Sr.
DE Steve Gargiulo, Jr.
LB Zach Devaney, Jr. (26 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 FR)
LB Zach Dunaj, Jr. (74 TT, 6 TFL, 2.5 sacks)
DB Jamil Wade, Sr. (19 TT, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 5 PD)
CB David Sperry, Jr. (Naval Academy transfer)
CB Ryan Costa, Jr.
CB Fred Obi, Sr.
FS Robbie Beathard, Jr. (40 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 3 PD, 2 FR)
FS Joey York, Sr. (40 TT, 1 TFL, 3 INT, 4 PBU, 7 PD, 1 FF)
BIGGEST LOSS: DE Mario Kurn (56 TT, 16 TFL, 11.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 3 PD, 1 FR, 3 FF)
OUTLOOK: Last year's co-PFL champion kicks off 2012 with its closest away contest, a visit to Big Sky Conference newcomer Cal Poly. The five remaining road games versus Harvard, Drake, Jacksonville, Marist and Davidson will prove the Toreros will be one of the FCS' most travel-weary teams. Caragher brings back three key players in James, Mills and Oliaro, who should make long flights and layovers easier to deal with. Mills threw for 2,370 yards and 22 touchdowns as a sophomore and will have both leading receivers back in Hoekstra and White. First and foremost, San Diego will look to establish the run with stud running back James, the PFL's only 1,000-yard rusher last season. He ran for 1,149 yards and 12 touchdowns, and caught 20 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns. The Toreros have three new starters on the offensive line, but Peleti and Arnold will be able to lead through experience. Oliaro is one of the league's best defenders and one of the FCS' most underrated pass rushers. All he did as a sophomore was register 19 1/2 tackles for loss and 15 sacks. Fellow classmate and first-team All-Pioneer linebacker Dunaj will help a defense which allowed 113 rushing yards per game in 2011, good for third in the league. San Diego only lost one league game last year, against Campbell, 48-24. If the Toreros want any chance of winning the PFL outright, they can't be distracted by their road travel.
Sept. 1 - at Cal Poly
Sept. 8 - vs. Western New Mexico
Sept. 15 - at Harvard
Sept. 22 - vs. Valparaiso
Oct. 6 - at Drake
Oct. 13 - vs. Campbell
Oct. 20 - at Jacksonville
Oct. 27 - vs. Dayton
Nov. 3 - at Marist
Nov. 10 - vs. Morehead State
Nov. 17 - at Davidson
3. DAYTON FLYERS (6-5 overall, 4-4 Pioneer)
COACH: Rick Chamberlin (34-11 in four seasons at Dayton; 34-11 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Taylor Harris, Sr. (132 carries, 899 yards, 8 TD, 6.8 YPC)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Colin Monnier, Sr. (64 TT, 9 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 4 PD, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Will Bardo, R-So. (106-of-229, 1,206 yards, 13 TD, 6 INT; 491 rushing yards, 4 TD)
RB Dan Jacob, Sr.
WR Nik Gillum, Sr.
WR Jordan Boykin, Sr. (21 receptions, 232 yards, 2 TD)
WR Branden Johnson, So. (25 receptions, 398 yards, 3 TD)
RG Owen Elger, Sr.
C Bill Petraiuolo, Sr.
LT Tom Corcoran, Sr.
LG Dave Allen, Sr.
RT Chris Cortopassi, So.
DE Pat Dowd, So.
DE Anthony Sadler, Sr.
DT Brannon Dunn, Sr. (38 TT, 8 TFL, 3 PBU, 3 PD, 1 FR, 3 FF)
DT Phil Deboer, Sr. (32 TT, 5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 FF)
LB Sean Sward, So.
CB Kyle Sebetic, Sr. (40 TT, 2 PBU, 2 PD, 1 FF)
CB Matt Pfleger, Sr. (43 TT, 1 TFL, 3 INT, 6 PBU, 9 PD, 1 FR, 1 FF)
S Nick Weston, So. (21 TT, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PD, 1 FR)
S Ben Welsh, Sr.
PK Pat Sankovic, Sr.
BIGGEST LOSS: DE Devon Langhorst (78 TT, 18 TFL, 13.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OUTLOOK: Chamberlin has done well in his first four seasons guiding the Flyers. Last year's team finished with an overall record of 6-5 and a league record of 4-4, but that was the fewest wins during his tenure. Dayton seems to have its quarterback for the future in redshirt sophomore Bardo. He was the PFL's top rushing QB (491 yards), and he passed for another 1,206 yards (106- of-229, 13 TD, 6 INT) in his first season. Bardo will be able to develop as a passer under the guidance of Chris Ochs, who spent his first 12 seasons at UD coaching the offensive line, and took over for Dave Whilding, who retired after 35 years with the Flyers. The backfield returns Harris, the PFL's second-leading rusher with 899 yards and eight touchdowns. The senior averaged 6.8 yards per carry, but missed the last game-and-a-half with an injury. The offensive line brings back a lot of experience for a team which rushed for 182 yards per game in 2011, second in the conference behind Campbell. In his first collegiate season, Monnier played in all 11 games at linebacker and was second on the team in tackles (64) and tackles for loss (9). The secondary will be led by Pfleger, who has started every game in the last two season's for the Flyers. Dayton lost a lot of close games last year. A two-point defeat against Butler, followed by an eight-point loss versus Jacksonville in the middle of the 2011 season put too much pressure on the Flyers to win out. Dayton challenged itself in 2012 by facing non-conference games against Illinois State, Duquesne and Robert Morris. Chamberlin will know early if his squad has a shot to win a Pioneer title.
Sept. 1 - at Illinois State
Sept. 8 - at Duquesne
Sept. 15 - vs. Robert Morris
Sept. 22 - vs. Jacksonville
Sept. 29 - at Butler
Oct. 6 - at Davidson
Oct. 13 - vs. Morehead State
Oct. 20 - vs. Valparaiso
Oct. 27 - at San Diego
Nov. 3 - vs. Drake
Nov. 10 - at Marist
4. JACKSONVILLE DOLPHINS (7-4 overall, 6-2 Pioneer)
COACH: Kerwin Bell (36-21 in five seasons at Jacksonville; 36-21 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (5 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: TE Quintin Davis, Sr. (19 receptions, 360 yards, 6 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DL Mike Mayoral, Sr. (39 TT, 8 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PD)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: WR Adrian Riley, Jr. (28 receptions, 433 yards, 4 TD)
WR Dorian Guy, Jr. (17 receptions, 230 yards, 1 TD)
QB Kade Bell, R-Fr.
QB Trevius Folston, So. (5-of-6, 155 yards, 2 TD)
RB Keith Dawson, Sr. (70 carries, 418 yards, 4 TD)
RB Johnnie Hicks, R-Fr.
LT Tramell Williams, So. (South Carolina transfer)
RT Dylan Bostick, So. (Appalachian State transfer)
C Carl Saunders, Jr.
RG Kevin Battle, R-Fr.
LG Matt Davis, So.
DL Luidji Michel, Jr. (58 TT, 9 TFL, 7 sacks, 1 FF)
DL Chance Smith, Sr. (27 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 FF)
DT Juan Pimienta, Jr.
LB Anthony Joiner, So.
LB Montaque Mack, So.
LB Taylor Marsh, Sr.
DB/KR Colby Walden, Sr. (27 KR, 711 yards, 26.3 YPR, 1 TD)
DB Schon Thomas, Jr. (29 TT, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 10 PBU, 11 PD)
DB Marquis Dixon, Jr. (Middle Tennessee transfer)
DB Andre Addison, Jr. (39 TT, 1.5 TFL, 2 INT, 7 PBU, 9 PD, 2 FR)
S Jordan Dewhirst, Sr.
BIGGEST LOSSES: QB Josh McGregor (229-of-364, 3,044 yards, 29 TD, 17 INT) and WR Josh Philpart (50 receptions, 675 yards, 6 TD)
OUTLOOK: Jacksonville began 2011 by dropping its first two games against out- of-conference opponents. The Dolphins then went on to win six games in a row, remaining unbeaten in league play with three weeks left in the season. That was until they lost road games versus Drake and San Diego to finish third in the PFL with a 6-2 record. This season, Jacksonville seeks revenge. Coach Bell must first replace McGregor, the all-time PFL and school passing leader. The young Bell, the coach's son, redshirted last season and looks to be the favorite as the starting QB, but don't count out 6-foot-7, 220-pound sophomore Folston, who has game experience. Riley and Davis are the best returning receivers, both accounted for 793 yards and 10 touchdowns receiving last year. In 2011, the Dolphins averaged 292 yards passing per game, which was No. 10 in the FCS. Don't expect the same results in 2012 because a handful of underclassmen will need to step up and contribute right away, including sophomore transfers Williams (South Carolina) and Bostick (Appalachian State). Jacksonville should be solid against the pass once again. They allowed 13 touchdowns (fewest in the PFL) in 2011 and 169 passing yards per game, second in the league behind Marist. Walden, Thomas and Addison are very athletic and have a knack for the ball. The Dolphins have a tough assignment in Week 1 on the road at Georgia Southern, but host PFL co-champs Drake and San Diego.
Sept. 1 - at Georgia Southern
Sept. 8 - at Charleston Southern
Sept. 15 - vs. Webber International
Sept. 22 - at Dayton
Sept. 29 - vs. Marist
Oct. 6 - at Morehead State
Oct. 13 - at Davidson
Oct. 20 - vs. San Diego
Nov. 3 - at Butler
Nov. 10 - vs. Campbell
Nov. 17 - vs. Drake
5. CAMPBELL FIGHTING CAMELS (6-5 overall, 5-3 Pioneer)
COACH: Dale Steele (13-31 in four seasons at Campbell; 13-31 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 9 (4 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Braden Smith, Sr. (179-of-313, 1,965 yards, 14 TD, 7 INT; 289 yards rushing, 8 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: S/KR Brandon Chandler, Sr. (50 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INT, 4 PBU, 6 PD, 3 FF; 28 KR, 577 yards, 20.6 YPR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Kurt Odom, Jr. (57 carries, 288 yards, 1 TD)
RB Josh Williams, So.
WR Chad McMichael, Jr. (16 receptions, 156 yards, 2 TD)
WR Jonathan Rogers, Jr.
OL Nick Beaver, So.
OL Dalton Brown, So.
OL Will Sawyer, So.
OL Adam Stern, So.
OL Daniel Ritter, Sr.
DE Taurean Lynch, Jr. (23 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR)
DE Isaac Scott, So.
DT Lucas Smith, So.
CB Steth Monroe, Sr. (49 TT, 4 INT, 11 PBU, 15 PD, 1 FR, 2 FF)
CB Aaron Nichols, R-Fr.
CB Jaylan Adlam, R-Fr.
LB Mike Rudisill, Jr. (48 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INT, 1 PBU, 3 PD, 1 FR)
LB Colten Burris, So.
S Paul Pizzuti, Sr. (47 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 3 PD)
PK Sam Eberwein, Sr.
BIGGEST LOSSES: DE Jeremiah Robinson (64 TT, 17.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF) and RB Carl Smith (154 carries, 677 yards, 6 TD;
OUTLOOK: After posting the program's first winning season since its restart four years ago, Campbell looks to progress even further in 2012. The Camels led the PFL in rushing for the third straight year, finishing 18th in the FCS with 210 rushing yards per game. This season, however, the run game will take a step back with the loss of the team's three leading rushers in Carl Smith, C.J. Oates and Jordan Cramer. The trio accounted for 26 of the Camels' 36 rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Braden Smith and Odom are the next leading rushers who return this season. Although Smith scored eight touchdowns and rushed for 289 yards, Odom is the only running back with experience. He rushed for 288 yards and one touchdown a year ago. The offensive line lost four starters who combined for over 120 career starts, so the run game might take some time to develop. Chandler and Monroe are the playmakers on defense, but the unit will rely on a handful of underclassmen to step up and contribute. Campbell's defense ranked last in the league, allowing 288 passing yards per game in 2011. Expect the Camels to become more balanced in 2012 with key losses on the offensive line and in the backfield. Steele's squad has a favorable home schedule, but faces major road tests at Old Dominion, San Diego and Jacksonville. The key to success will be the run game. If it's not there, the Camels will find themselves in the middle of the league.
Aug. 30 - vs. Shorter
Sept. 8 - vs. Virginia-Wise
Sept. 15 - at Old Dominion
Sept. 22 - at Butler
Sept. 29 - vs. Drake
Oct. 13 - at San Diego
Oct. 20 - vs. Davidson
Oct. 27 - at Morehead State
Nov. 3 - vs. Valparaiso
Nov. 10 - at Jacksonville
Nov. 17 - vs. Marist
6. MARIST RED FOXES (4-7 overall, 3-5 Pioneer)
COACH: Jim Parady (103-103-1 in 20 seasons at Marist; 103-103-1 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: TE Anthony Calcagni, Sr. (40 receptions, 494 yards, 5 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Terrence Fede, Sr. (72 TT, 16 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 PD, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Tommy Reilly, Sr. (120-of-216, 1,470 yards, 9 TD, 16 INT)
QB Chuckie Looney, Jr. (64-of-114, 852 yards, 5 TD, 5 INT)
RB Calvin McCoy, Sr. (98 carries, 421 yards, 4 TD)
RB Atiq Lucas, Jr. (62 carries, 177 yards, 3 TD)
WR Mike Rios, Sr.
WR Armani Martin, Jr. (21 receptions, 331 yards, 1 TD)
WR Bart Leneghan, Sr. (24 receptions, 450 yards, 18.8 yards per catch)
RT Phede Celestin, Sr.
C Mike Brereton, Jr.
OL Rocco Manfre, Sr.
OL Brandon Castelbuono, Jr.
OL Peter Evans, Sr.
DE Kevin Stark, Jr.
DE Steven Diomede, Jr.
NT Chris Katerianakis, Sr.
OLB Mike Hagemann, Sr. (33 TT, 1.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 PD)
MLB Paul Sakowski, Jr. (61 TT, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 3 PD, 1 FR)
OLB Darius Hill, Sr.
S Nick Mainiero, Sr. (53 TT, 4 TFL, 1 sack, 4 PBU, 4 PD, 1 FR, 1 FF)
S Tyler Ramsey, Sr. (53 TT, 6.5 TFL, 1 FF)
CB Jack Marston, Jr.
CB Vinny Fuschetto, So.
PK Jason Myers, Sr.
BIGGEST LOSS: CB Jaquan Bryant (47 TT, 4 TFL, 4 INT, 5 PBU, 9 PD)
OUTLOOK: Marist improved last season with a record of 4-7, compared to a 2010 record of 3-8. The Red Foxes' biggest concern will be establishing a better run game. Last year, Marist ranked 111th in the FCS with 80 rushing yards per game. Amazingly, that was only eighth in the league in front of Valparaiso and Davidson. On the other side of the ball, Marist's defense was one of few bright spots. The Red Foxes were ranked No. 6 in the FCS and first in the PFL, allowing only 285 yards per game. Fede, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive end, returns after collecting 16 tackles for loss and 8 1/2 sacks. Three of the Red Foxes' captains - seniors Mainiero, Ramsey and Hagemann - bring back a wealth of experience and leadership to lead one of the league's best defenses. Marist will be led on offense by either Reilly or Looney. Inconsistency plagued both singal-callers, who collectively threw 14 touchdowns versus 22 interceptions. Calcagni is one of the PFL's best pass-catching tight ends. Last year, he caught 40 passes for 494 yards and five touchdowns and will be the best target for both quarterbacks. Two out of Marist's first three games are on the road against Bryant and Columbia, with a home contest versus Bucknell in between. Last year the defense held its own, while the offense struggled, and that might be the case again in 2012.
Sept. 1 - at Bryant
Sept. 8 - vs. Bucknell
Sept. 15 - at Columbia
Sept. 22 - vs. Davidson
Sept. 29 - at Jacksonville
Oct. 13 - vs. Butler
Oct. 20 - at Drake
Oct. 27 - at Valparaiso
Nov. 3 - vs. San Diego
Nov. 10 - vs. Dayton
Nov. 17 - at Campbell
7. BUTLER BULLDOGS (5-6 overall, 3-5 Pioneer)
COACH: Jeff Voris (33-34 in six seasons at Butler; 48-68 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 8 (3 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Trae Heeter, Jr. (138 carries, 713 yards, 4 TD; 26 receptions, 270 yards, 1 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Jordan Ridley, Sr. (140 TT, 8 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 PD, 1 FR, 3 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Wade Markley, So. (25-of-36, 301 yards, 3 TD)
QB Matt Lancaster, Jr.
RB Don Stewart, So. (63 carries, 283 yards, 4.5 YPC)
WR Brendan Shannon, Jr. (25 receptions, 295 yards, 2 TD)
WR J.T. Mesch, So.
TE Matt Jenson, Jr. (9 receptions, 149 yards, 4 TD)
RT Matt Storey, Sr.
LT Bo Pollard, R-Fr.
C Charles Perrecone, Jr.
RG David Tiwari, R-Fr.
LG Greg Ambrose, So.
DL Jeremy Stephens, Jr. (53 TT, 7 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF)
DL Kyle Annis, R-Fr.
DL Jace Tennant, Sr. (18 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 PD, 1 FR)
LB Phillip Powell, Jr. (34 TT, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PD)
LB Zach Sedivy, So. (39 TT, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FR, 1 FF)
DB Kevin Cook, Jr.
DB Jayme Szfranski, Jr. (66 TT, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 5 PD, 1 FR, 1 FF)
DB Sean Grady, Jr. (62 TT, 4.5 TFL, 3 INT, 2 PBU, 5 PD, 1 FF)
DB David Burke, So.
BIGGEST LOSSES: QB Andrew Huck (205-of-313, 2,262 yards, 20 TD, 7 INT; 220 rushing yards, 1 TD) and WR Zach Watkins (80 receptions, 1,044 yards, 8 TD)
OUTLOOK: Butler has taken steps back after winning the PFL title in 2009 with 11 wins overall and only one league loss. Voris will have to replace three-year starter Huck at quarterback and the program's all-time leading pass receiver in Watkins. Last year, Butler averaged 395 yards and 25 points per game. With each of their five wins, the Bulldogs followed up with a loss. Markley, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound redshirt sophomore, will most likely take over an offense that averaged 395 yards per game in 2011. He doesn't have a lot of experience, but played in three games last year, including one as a starter, and completed 25-of-36 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns. The Bulldogs lost a good amount of talent at receiver and will need Jenson and Shannon to lead a young group of incoming freshmen. RB Heeter led the Bulldogs' ground attack and ranked fourth in the PFL in rushing (79 rushing yards per game) last season. He earned second-team All-PFL recognition and was effective as a pass-catcher with 270 yards and one touchdown. Ridley led the league and ranked among national leaders in tackles for two consecutive seasons. The two- time, first-team All-PFL performer had 10 or more tackles in eight of Butler's 11 games in 2011. The Bulldogs have a very manageable schedule and won't play San Diego; however, the last two games of the season are against Jacksonville at home and Drake on the road. Both teams beat the Bulldogs by 10 points last season.
Aug. 30 - at Western Illinois
Sept. 8 - vs. Franklin
Sept. 15 - at Dartmouth
Sept. 22 - vs. Campbell
Sept. 29 - vs. Dayton
Oct. 6 - at Valparaiso
Oct. 13 - at Marist
Oct. 20 - vs. Morehead State
Oct. 27 - at Davidson
Nov. 3 - vs. Jacksonville
Nov. 10 - at Drake
8. MOREHEAD STATE EAGLES (3-8 overall, 2-6 Pioneer)
COACH: Matt Ballard (98-55 in 18 seasons at Morehead State; 133-123-1 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (6 offense/4 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Zach Lewis, Sr. (324-of-513, 3,585 yards, 28 TD, 7 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DB Dexter Geohagan, Sr. (44 TT, 4 INT, 10 PBU, 14 PD)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: WR/KR Donte Sawyer, Sr. (60 receptions, 904 yards, 12 TD; 33 KR, 715 yards)
WR Kevin Thomas, Sr. (41 receptions, 407 yards, 4 TD; 9 carries, 15 yards, 4 TD)
WR Blake Stanley, Sr. (34 receptions, 426 yards, 1 TD)
WR Brandon Bornhauser, So. (5 receptions, 69 yards, 1 TD; 20 carries, 110 yards, 2 TD)
RB Rees Macshara, So. (33 carries, 173 yards, 5.2 YPC)
OL Kalvin Harrington, Jr.
OL Eric Matteson, Sr.
OL Joey Clegg, Sr.
OL Joshua Brunner, So.
DL Aaron Meadows, Jr. (15 TT, 1 PBU, 1 PD, 1 FF)
LB Nick McCune, So.
LB Deion Holloman, So.
DB John Coleman, Jr. (27 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 3 PD, 1 FF)
DB Zachary Senvisky, So. (21 TT, 1 TFL, 3 INT, 4 PBU, 7 PD)
DB Kameron Scott, Sr. (49 TT, 2 INT, 9 PBU, 11 PD)
DB Andrew Lee, So. (38 TT, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 4 PD)
PK/P Rainer Duzan, Sr. (12-of-17 FG, 49-of-51 PAT)
BIGGEST LOSSES: OLB Jerome Raymond (68 TT, 15.5 TFL, 11.5 sacks, 4 PBU, 4 PD, 1 FR, 2 FF) and DE Kyle Manley (63 TT, 10 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 PD, 1 FR)
OUTLOOK: Morehead State struggled last year, winning only three games overall, two of them coming in league play. Interestingly enough, offense wasn't the problem for the Eagles. Lewis had an outstanding year during the team's down season. He threw for 3,585 yards, 28 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Out of nowhere, Sawyer turned into one of the best receivers in the league, catching 60 passes for 904 yards and 12 touchdowns. As if that wasn't enough, Thomas and Stanley return to make the receiving corps even more talented. Both eclipsed at least 30 receptions and 400 yards last year. The loss of Desmond Cox at running back won't help an already pass-heavy offense that was first in the PFL in averaging 358 yards per game through the air. There's no question, Ballard needs to fix a vulnerable and young defense. Morehead State finished tied for 107th in the FCS in allowing 433 yards per game last year. To make matters worse, the team lost its top-five leading tacklers from 2011. The Eagles brought in a handful of defensive players in the 2012 recruiting class and will be rebuilding to fix a lot of holes. Scoring touchdowns won't be an issue this year; stopping teams from scoring will.
Aug. 30 - vs. Southern Virginia
Sept. 8 - at Eastern Kentucky
Sept. 15 - vs. St Francis (Pa.)
Sept. 22 - at Drake
Oct. 6 - vs. Jacksonville
Oct. 13 - at Dayton
Oct. 20 - at Butler
Oct. 27 - vs. Campbell
Nov. 3 - vs. Davidson
Nov. 10 - at San Diego
Nov. 17 - vs. Valparaiso
9. DAVIDSON WILDCATS (4-7 overall, 2-6 Pioneer)
COACH: Tripp Merritt (30-43 in seven seasons at Davidson; 30-43 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (6 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Lanny Funsten, Sr. (100 receptions, 1,107 yards, 8 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: ILB Patrick Moynahan, Sr. (72 TT, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Jonathan Carkhuff, Jr. (348-of-556, 3,326 yards, 18 TD, 17 INT)
QB Jake Bates, So.
RB Chris Gorman, Jr. (123 carries, 589 yards, 1 TD; 35 receptions, 229 yards, 1 TD)
WR Danny Martinez, Sr.
WR Tim Hines, So. (21 receptions, 347 yards, 5 TD)
TE Reese Williams, Jr.
LT Alec Bartz, Jr.
LG Joey Esposito, Sr.
C Mark Brannan, Jr.
RG Adam Kurtz, Jr.
RT Bobby Freeman, Jr.
DT Torry Treu, Sr.
DT Brad Johnson, Sr.
NG Lewis McAlister, Sr.
OLB Jelani Doeman, Sr.
OLB Mike D'Andrea, So.
ILB Ben Prater, Jr. (22 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR)
CB Adam Dulberger, Sr. (53 TT, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 5 PD, 1 FR)
CB Michael Corbett, Jr. (33 TT, 1 TFL, 3 INT, 10 PBU, 13 PD)
DB/KR Thomas Bernhards-Callahan, Sr. (23 KR, 451 yards; 19 PR, 220 yards, 1 TD)
FS Bryant Bednarek, So.
SS Pete Anderson, Sr. (30 TT, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 5 PD, 1 FR)
PK Chazzo Habliston, Sr. (7-of-13 FG, 19-of-21 PAT)
BIGGEST LOSS: OLB Ellis Martin (49 TT, 8.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OUTLOOK: Since 2008, Davidson has remained in the lower half of the league. Two of the Wildcats' four wins last season came against non-FCS opponents, but they did end the season on a two-game win-streak. Funsten had a breakout year in 2011, hauling in 100 catches for 1,107 yards (he was the first Davidson receiver with over 1,000 yards since 1972) and eight touchdowns. The senior ranked No. 8 in the FCS with 100 receiving yards per game. Carkhuff returns under center after throwing for 3,326 yards and 18 touchdowns, but he was picked off 17 times. Davidson was the league's second-best passing team, averaging 303 yards per game. If the Wildcats want to improve, Carkhuff will have to make better decisions with the ball. It didn't help that the team finished last in the PFL in rushing, scoring five touchdowns with only 53 yards per contest, which was third-to-last in the FCS. The Wildcats defense, which allowed 355 yards per game, should improve slightly. The offense needs to get the ball in its playmakers' hands more often. In six league losses, Davidson was outscored, 182-49. Merritt could be in for another long season if Funsten and Carkhuff are his only consistent weapons on offense.
Sept. 1 - vs. Georgetown
Sept. 8 - at Lenoir-Rhyne
Sept. 22 - at Marist
Sept. 29 - vs. Presbyterian
Oct. 6 - vs. Dayton
Oct. 13 - vs. Jacksonville
Oct. 20 - at Campbell
Oct. 27 - vs. Butler
Nov. 3 - at Morehead State
Nov. 10 - at Valparaiso
Nov. 17 - vs. San Diego
10. VALPARAISO CRUSADERS (1-10 overall, 1-7 Pioneer)
COACH: Dale Carlson (1-21 in two seasons at Valparaiso; 111-124-3 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Eric Hoffman, So. (224-of-375, 2,302 yards, 13 TD, 14 INT; 70 yards rushing, 2 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Patrick Derbak, Jr. (87 TT, 6.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 3 PD)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Gabe Ali-El, So. (69 carries, 231 yards, 1 TD; 35 receptions, 365 yards, 3 TD)
RB Sterling Summerville, Jr. (58 carries, 115 yards, 1 TD)
WR Eric Slenk, Sr.
WR Tim Bennett, Sr. (26 receptions, 242 yards, 2 TD)
WR Cole Anderson, So. (16 receptions, 116 yards, 3 TD)
WR Tanner Kuramata, So. (30 receptions, 354 yards, 1 TD)
RT Sean Cook, Sr.
OL Stuart Barkley, So.
C Tom Ehrlich, So.
RG Bill Bodzianowski, Sr.
DL Bruce Collins, Sr. (26 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 PD)
DL Bryce Dempsey, So.
LB Christopher Howard, Sr.
LB Cody Gokan, Sr. (73 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FR)
DB Devan Gadson, So.
LB Cole Gridley, Jr. (48 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FR)
DB Alan Porter Jr., Sr.
DB Dylan Storm, So. (44 TT, 2 TFL, 3 PBU, 3 PD)
BIGGEST LOSS: DL Nikko Carson (42 TT, 13.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 PD, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OUTLOOK: Valparaiso has won only two games in the last three years. Carlson enters his third season having led only one of those games. The Crusaders defense finished last in the FCS last season in allowing 514 yards per game. 261 yards through the air and 253 yards on the ground. On the bright side, it can't get much worse. Hoffman started all 11 games for the Crusaders under center and should be the go-to-guy for the future. The redshirt sophomore completed 224 passes (second-most in school history for a single season) for 13 touchdowns while completing 59 percent of his passes. Ali-El started six games as a true freshman, leading Valpo in rushing and receiving (35 catches for 365 yards). Two seniors, Derbak and Gokan, lead a defense that still has to answer a lot of questions. Valparaiso beat Campell, 34-31, for its first league and FCS win in three seasons. It might not seem like a lot, but for a program that has been rebuilding for quite some time, any momentum helps. Carlson will have his hands full once again with non-conference games against Youngstown State and Duquesne, but the Crusaders miss Jacksonville on the PFL portion of the schedule and have a couple of winnable home contests. Valpo needs to be more competitive on both sides of the ball to build for the future.
Aug. 30 - vs. St. Joseph's (Ind.)
Sept. 8 - at Youngstown State
Sept. 15 - vs. Duquesne
Sept. 22 - at San Diego
Oct. 6 - vs. Butler
Oct. 13 - vs. Drake
Oct. 20 - at Dayton
Oct. 27 - vs. Marist
Nov. 3 - at Campbell
Nov. 10 - vs. Davidson
Nov. 17 - at Morehead State