Those 80-degree summer days in Fargo, N.D., just aren't cutting it with the North Dakota State football players.
The Bison's team nickname seems to mirror their style.
Bring on the snow.
"We have bison that roam the open prairies and they love that cold weather," NDSU coach Craig Bohl said. "Our guys, they'd rather have it zero degrees than 80."
Despite the higher temperatures, the Bison are working hard in preseason camp, preparing for their upcoming schedule.
This year, they have another moniker that they are enjoying:
Defending FCS national champions.
Last season, NDSU was the Missouri Valley Football Conference's first national finalist since 2005 and became its first champion since Western Kentucky in 2002. The Bison shut down Sam Houston State's outstanding offense in a 17-6 victory in Frisco, Texas.
This season, the Bison have to overcome some key graduation losses. Their program has a strong foundation, but it is not at the point in which Bohl and his assistants just reload each season.
But NDSU's approach to football is a constant. It's rugged like, well, Bison.
"We believe in just hard-nosed work ethics," Bohl said. "We're going to play defense and run the football and work on turnover margin. I think that's the hallmark of our program. I know in today's age of scoring tons of points and spread offenses and all these other things that we're a little bit of throw- back, blue-collar team, and it worked this year."
In the run-oriented Missouri Valley, Northern Iowa has the blueprint for success. The Panthers shared last year's title with NDSU, although the Panthers lost the head-to-head meeting. But it was the Panthers' 16th MVFC title. No other school has more than five.
Northern Iowa has a particularly tough September schedule, but figures to be in the title race come November. Youngstown State, Illinois State and Indiana State also have talented rosters and Southern Illinois hopes to get back its former winning ways.
All of the MVFC teams are chasing North Dakota State, but there's no reason the title race can't open up this season.
"They're a great football team," Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley said. "They won it all. Anybody that wins it all deserves that position they have. This is a very good league and they're a very good team within this league. I think that speaks for itself."
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2012 Missouri Valley Football Conference race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. North Dakota State
2. Northern Iowa
3. Youngstown State
4. Illinois State
5. Indiana State
6. South Dakota State
7. Southern Illinois
8. Western Illinois
9. Missouri State
10. South Dakota
1. NORTH DAKOTA STATE BISON (14-1 overall, 7-1 Missouri Valley)
COACH: Craig Bohl (75-31 in nine seasons at North Dakota State)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Sam Ojuri, Jr. (187 carries, 1,105 yards, 11 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB/RS Marcus Williams, Jr. (53 TT, 7 INT, 15 PBU; 34.2-yard KO return average, 1 TD)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Brock Jensen, Jr. (219-of-326, 2,524 yards, 14 TD, 4 INT)
RB Derrick Lang, Jr. (40 carries, 142 yards, 2 TD)
RB John Crockett, So. (sat out last season)
FB Andrew Grothmann, Jr.
WR/RS Ryan Smith, Jr. (44 receptions, 531 yards; 10.5-yard punt return average)
WR Trevor Gebhart, So. (10 receptions, 93 yards)
WR Cooper Wahlo Jr., Jr.
TE Kevin Vaadeland, Jr.
TE Garrett Bruhn, Sr. (11 receptions, 145 yards)
LT Billy Turner, Jr.
LG Anthony LaVoy, Jr.
C Joe Lund, Sr.
RG Tyler Gimmestad, Jr.
RT Jeff Jerve, Jr.
DE Kyle Emanuel, So. (41 TT, 3.5 sacks, 3 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
DT Leevon Perry, Jr. (38 TT, 8 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 3 QBH)
NG Ryan Drevlow, Jr. (26 TT, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FR)
NG Justin Juckem, Jr. (41 TT, 4 TFL, 3 QBH)
DE Cole Jirik, Jr. (50 TT, 10.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 7 QBH)
WLB Travis Beck, So. (76 TT, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
MLB Grant Olson, Jr. (44 TT, 2 TFL, 5 QBH)
SLB Carlton Littlejohn, So. (53 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 3 QBH)
CB Brendin Pierre, Jr. (sat out last season)
SS Colten Heagle, Jr. (82 TT, 1.5 sacks, 2 INT, 2 PBU)
SS Bobby Ollman, Sr. (26 TT, 1 INT)
FS Christian Dudzik, So. (72 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 10 PBU)
FS Bryan Shepherd, Jr. (34 TT, 7 PBU, 1 FF)
PK Adam Keller, So.
P Ben LeCompte, R-Fr.
BIGGEST LOSS: WR Warren Holloway (77 receptions, 1,003 yards, 8 TD)
OUTLOOK: Back-to-back FCS national championships? Well, it's not out of the question for the Bison, but Bohl first has to replace a number of influential players, including Holloway, RB D.J. McNorton, TE Matt Veldman, OL Paul Cornick and Austin Richard, DE Coulter Boyer and LBs Chad Willson and Preston Evans, the team's leading tacklers. Bohl has expressed great confidence in this year's team, so the younger players in support roles last year apparently are ready for larger roles. The Bison were defensive rocks last season. They led the FCS in scoring defense (12.7 ppg, which was 2.2 points better than No. 2 Sam Houston State, the national runner-up). The secondary will be dominant with Williams, who had 22 passes defended and was electrifying as a sophomore, Heagle and Dudzik. However, the front seven took their share of graduation hits. Jirik is going to have to lead the pass rush and Beck has to soar to an even higher level after earning Most Outstanding Player honors in the national championship game. The offense will still grind out points with the Ojuri-led rushing game. In fact, the Bison have had a 1,000-yard rusher in nine straight seasons. Plus Jensen has matured into an efficient leader at quarterback. The big question is the wide receivers can fill the loss of Holloway, who started 38 games in his career. The home portion of the schedule is manageable, but the road portion has plenty of pitfalls. But the defending champs are the team to beat in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Sept. 1 - vs. Robert Morris
Sept. 8 - at Colorado State
Sept. 22 - vs. Prairie View A&M
Sept. 29 - at Northern Iowa
Oct. 6 - vs. Youngstown State
Oct. 13 - vs. Indiana State
Oct. 20 - at South Dakota
Oct. 27 - vs. Southern Illinois
Nov. 3 - at Missouri State
Nov. 10 - vs. South Dakota State
Nov. 17 - at Illinois State
2. NORTHERN IOWA PANTHERS (10-3 overall, 7-1 Missouri Valley)
COACH: Mark Farley (99-42 in 11 seasons at Northern Iowa)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (7 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB David Johnson, So. (179 carries, 822 yards, 9 TD; 33 receptions, 422 yards, 3 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB/PR Varmah Sonie, CB (70 TT, 3.5 TFL, 3 INT, 7 PBU, 1 FF; 8.6-yard punt return average)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Jared Lanpher, So. (27-of-47, 365 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT)
QB Sawyer Kollmorgen, R-Fr.
QB Stephen Kaiser, So. (SMU transfer)
RB/KR Carlos Anderson, Sr. (77 carries, 410 yards; 23.1-yard KO return average)
WR Terrell Sinkfield, Sr. (28 receptions, 464 yards, 6 TD)
WR Brian LeMaster, So. (12 receptions, 141 yards)
WR Kevin Vereen Jr., So. (11 receptions, 109 yards, 1 TD)
WR Chad Owens, So.
WR Wes Smith (Iowa Western CC transfer)
C Brian Palangi, Sr.
OG Dan Kruger, Jr.
OG Tim Sauer, Sr.
OG Jake Rummells, So.
OT Misha Danilov, Sr.
DE Chris Jepsen, Jr. (27 TT, 6 TFL, 3 sacks)
LB Jordan Gacke, Jr. (18 TT)
LB Jake Farley, So. (Kansas transfer)
CB J.J. Swain, Sr. (69 TT, 3 TFL, 3 INT, 3 PBU)
SS Garrett Scott, Sr. (105 TT)
FS Wilmot Wellington, Sr. (59 TT, 3 PBU, 1 FR)
S Blake White, Jr.
DB Andre Martin, Sr. (17 TT)
DB Blake White, Jr. (19 TT)
PK Tyler Sievertsen, Jr. (18-of-20 FG, 39-of-39 PAT)
P Kyle Bernard, Sr. (64 punts, 40.6 ypp)
BIGGEST LOSSES: QB Tirrell Rennie (143-of-244, 1,802 yards, 14 TD, 4 INT; 179 carries, 885 yards, 9 TD) and LB L.J. Fort (184 TT, 10 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 6 FF)
OUTLOOK: UNI's tradition-rich program has to navigate a difficult September schedule. If the Panthers can at least split their first two MVFC games (at Youngstown State and versus North Dakota State), they will be in the thick of the title race again. As usual, the Panthers will have a potent running game. They return four starting offensive linemen and the backfield duo of Johnson and Anderson (1,925 rushing yards in career) may be lethal. They no longer have the elusive Rennie running the offense, and Farley is looking for leadership at the position from Lanpher or Kollmorgen. The defense sustained more key losses than the offense. SS Scott had 105 tackles last season, but, incredibly, ranked only fourth on the team. Fort, who collected a school- record 184 stops, and was second in the Buck Buchanan Award voting will be difficult to replace this season, along with pass rusher Ben Boothby. The strength is in the secondary, where safeties Scott and Wellington and cornerbacks Swain and Sonie will form an outstanding unit. And don't overlook the UNI special teams, which are hard to rival. Farley's next win will be the 100th of his career.
Sept. 1 - at Wisconsin
Sept. 8 - vs. Central State
Sept. 15 - at Iowa
Sept. 22 - at Youngstown State
Sept. 29 - vs. North Dakota State
Oct. 13 - at Southern Illinois
Oct. 20 - vs. South Dakota State
Oct. 27 - vs. Illinois State
Nov. 3 - at Western Illinois
Nov. 10 - at South Dakota
Nov. 17 - vs. Missouri State
3. YOUNGSTOWN STATE PENGUINS (6-5 overall, 4-4 Missouri Valley)
COACH: Eric Wolford (9-13 in two seasons at Youngstown State)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (11 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Kurt Hess, Jr. (186-of-287, 2,460 yards, 26 TD, 8 INT; 40 carries, 165 yards, 3 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: MLB Teven Williams, So. (67 TT, 3 TFL, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: TB Jamaine Cook, Sr. (271 carries, 1,386 yards, 13 TD; 20 receptions, 183 yards, 1 TD)
TB Adaris Bellamy, Jr. (60 carries, 345 yards, 4 TD)
WR/KR Kevin Watts, Sr. (28 receptions, 291 yards, 3 TD; 20.9-yard KO return average)
WR Christian Bryan, So. (46 receptions, 722 yards, 6 TD)
WR Jelani Berassa, Jr. (37 receptions, 552 yards, 8 TD)
TE Will Shaw, Sr. (8 receptions, 200 yards, 3 TD)
RT D.J. Main, Sr.
RG Chris Elkins, Jr.
C Mark Pratt, Sr.
LG Lamar Mady, Sr.
LT Andrew Radakovich, Sr.
DE Trevor Strickland, R-Fr.
DE Josh Fenderson, Sr.
DT Aronde Stanton, Sr. (32 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
NT Nick DeKraker. Sr. (17 TT, 3 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FF)
SLB Dom Rich, Jr.
WLB Travis Williams, So. (58 TT, 5 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
CB Donald D'Alesio, So.
CB Julius Childs, So. (Compton College transfer)
CB Jimmy May Jr., So. (25 TT, 4 PBU)
CB Devont'a Davis, So. (16 TT, 2 PBU)
SS Jeremey Edwards, Sr. (54 TT, 3 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FF)
FS Josh Garner, So. (47 TT)
PK David Brown, Sr. (3-of-4 FG, 53-of-56 PAT)
P Nick Liste, Jr. (53 punts, 39.8 ypp)
BIGGEST LOSS: DT Andrew Johnson (39 TT, 11 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 3 QBH, 1 FF)
OUTLOOK: The Penguins played 21 freshmen last season, but, really, it's the entire program that appears ready to come of age again. Youngstown State's program may not resemble the one that won four Division I-AA (now FCS) national championships in the 1990s, but Wolford thinks it is ready for a big jump this season. His squad was the only one to defeat national champion North Dakota State a year ago. A season-ending meltdown against Missouri State kept the Penguins from earning a likely playoff berth, but Wolford hopes it was a learning experience to build off this year. Their four FCS losses were by a combined 17 points. And they return all 11 starters from the most prolific in school history, one that averaged 36.2 points and 458.6 yards per game. Hess has matured into one of the top quarterbacks in the FCS and an experienced offensive line will set the table for speedy TB Cook and the deep receiving corps. Cook, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, is a Walter Payton Award candidate, like Hess. There are plenty of sophomores at linebacker and defensive back, so the Penguins need to mature quickly. Teven Williams led the team with 67 tackles as a freshmen. DT Stanton seems to have his hand in everything. As a senior, he must come up big. If the Penguins survive their Northern Iowa-North Dakota State-Illinois State run, they will build toward a build November.
Sept. 1 - at Pittsburgh
Sept. 8 - vs. Valparaiso
Sept. 15 - vs. Albany
Sept. 22 - vs. Northern Iowa
Oct. 6 - at North Dakota State
Oct. 13 - at Illinois State
Oct. 20 - vs. Southern Illinois
Oct. 27 - at South Dakota State
Nov. 3 - vs. South Dakota
Nov. 10 - at Western Illinois
Nov. 17 - vs. Indiana State
4. ILLINOIS STATE REDBIRDS (7-4 overall, 5-3 Missouri Valley)
COACH: Brock Spack (19-14 in three seasons at Illinois State)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Matt Brown, Sr. (208-of-320, 2,187 yards, 18 TD; 34 carries, 160 yards, 2 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: SLB Evan Frierson, Sr. (66 TT, 15 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 4 QBH, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: TB Darrelynn Dunn, Sr. (46 carries, 247 yards, 2 TD)
TB Jonathan Miller, Jr. (Oklahoma transfer)
WR Tyrone Walker, Sr. (64 receptions, 787 yards, 8 TD)
WR/RS Donovan Harden, So. (9.2-yard punt return average; 23.5-yard KO return average)
WR Lechein Neblett, So. (39 receptions, 358 yards)
WR Brandon Newbern, Sr. (injured last season)
WR Phil Dudley, Jr. (Ball State transfer)
TE James O'Shaughnessy, So.
LT Josh Aladenoye, Jr. (Oklahoma transfer)
LG Charles Crowley, So.
C Pete Cary, Sr.
RG Rocco Ammons, So.
RT Isaac Rinehart, So.
OL Jermaine Barton, So. (University of Miami transfer)
DE Nate Palmer, Sr. (46 TT, 9.5 sacks, 4 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF)
DE Colton Underwood, Jr. (38 TT, 9.5 TFL, 6 sacks, 2 PBU, 6 QBH, 1 FR, 3 FF)
DT Shelby Harris, Jr. (49 TT, 12.5 TFL, 6 sacks, 5 QBH, 1 FR, 2 BK in nine games)
DT Albert Sparks, Jr.
MLB Mike Zimmer, Sr. (29 TT, 1 PBU)
WLB Austin Davis, Sr. (53 TT, 7 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 4 FF)
CB Steve Nelson, So. (15 TT, 2 PBU in six games)
CB Mike Banks, So. (54 TT, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR)
SS Matt Goldsmith, Jr. (35 TT, 3 PBU)
FS/KR Ben Ericksen, Sr. (27 TT, 2 TFL, 3 FR, 1 FF; 17.1-yard KO return average)
PK Nick Aussieker, So. (9-of-17 FG, 38-of-40 PAT)
P Patrick Wright, Jr. (48 punts, 37.7 ypp)
BIGGEST LOSS: RB Ashton Leggett (222 carries, 1,031 yards, 11 TD)
OUTLOOK: Many felt the Redbirds deserved the final FCS at-large playoff spot that went to Eastern Kentucky last season. That has given this year's veteran team a purpose: achieve a fourth straight winning season, win the MVFC title and reach the playoffs. To do all of that, the Redbirds must start winning some of the key road games as they are only 5-11 under Spack. They may win with defense. A year ago, the head coach/defensive coordinator solved the team's defensive shortcomings of 2010. The Redbirds led the MVFC in total defense (294.8 ypg) and finished first in the MVFC and fifth nationally against the run (85.7 ypg) despite playing in a run-oriented conference. Palmer, Underwood, Harris and Frierson will keep the Redbirds an aggressive, sack-happy bunch. Offensively, Brown is one of the best quarterbacks in the FCS, having thrown for 7,221 yards and 51 touchdowns in his career. But the Redbirds must mount a running game and keep the pressure off Brown. Not only do they have to replace Leggett's 1,000-plus rushing yards, but also last year's top six offensive linemen. Yeah, yikes. Miller, a Oklahoma transfer, hopes to factor into the answer at running back over Dunn. There are plenty of capable receivers, but WR Walker (160 career receptions), like Brown, is entering his fourth season, and the chemistry will continue between them.
Sept. 1 - vs. Dayton
Sept. 8 - at Eastern Michigan
Sept. 15 - vs. Eastern Illinois
Sept. 22 - at Western Illinois
Sept. 29 - at South Dakota
Oct. 6 - vs. Southern Illinois
Oct. 13 - vs. Youngstown State
Oct 20 - vs. Missouri State
Oct. 27 - at Northern Iowa
Nov. 3 - at Indiana State
Nov. 17 - vs. North Dakota State
5. INDIANA STATE SYCAMORES (6-5 overall, 4-4 Missouri Valley)
COACH: Trent Miles (13-32 in four seasons at Indiana State)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Shakir Bell, Jr. (230 carries, 1,670 yards, 14 TD; 13 receptions, 110 yards)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Ben Obaseki, Jr. (69 TT, 14.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 9 QBH)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Mike Perish, So. (Western Michigan transfer)
QB Blake Loncar, Jr.
RB Luke Harris, So.
FB Austen Wozniak, So.
WR Donald Spencer, So. (31 receptions, 459 yards, 3 TD)
WR Tanner Riley, Sr.
TE Michael Mardis, Sr. (10 receptions, 174 yards, 2 TD)
LT Paul Patrick, So.
LG Nick Rice, Fr.
C FN Lutz, Jr.
RG Adam Masters, So.
RT Casey Paswater, Sr.
DE Zakee Bashir, Jr. (15 TT, 1.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FF)
DT Jordan Bright, Sr.
DT Garrison McElroy, So. (25 TT, 1 FF)
SLB Dillon Painter, Sr.
MLB Aaron Archie, Jr. (122 TT, 4.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FF)
WLB Jacolby Washington, Sr. (120 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FR)
LB Josh Scott, Sr. (22 TT, 1 PBU, 1 QBH)
CB Johnny Towalid, Sr. (23 TT, 2 INT, 2 PBU)
CB Calvin Burnett, Jr. (66 TT, 2 INT, 7 PBU, 1 FF)
S Donovan Layne, So. (18 TT, 3 PBU)
S Larry King, Jr. (69 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU)
PK Tanner Fritschle, So.
P Lucas Hileman, Sr. (33 punts, 42.7 ypp)
BIGGEST LOSS: QB Ronnie Fouch (136-of-255, 2,064 yards, 18 TD, 10 INT)
OUTLOOK: It's been 44 years since Indiana State last had three straight winning seasons. That just shows what Miles faced before he started to turn the Sycamores program around. While Miles has been improving the recruiting classes, this season will tell a lot about the depth because the Sycamores are filling some big holes. No doubt they are set at running back. Bell finished No. 1 in the FCS in rushing yards per game (151.8) and tied for second place in the Walter Payton Award voting. The Sycamores will go as he goes this season. The offense worked well the last two seasons behind Fouch, a University of Washington transfer. This year, the Sycamores hope Perish can give them a similar lift, especially with the loss of last year's top two pass catchers. A knee injury to Lutz in the spring may have cost the offensive lineman its anchor at center. Despite the presence of Bell, the defense may have to carry the team early with its playmakers, DE Obaseki, a Buck Buchanan Award finalist, and LBs Archie and Washington. There's a big loss in the secondary, FS Alex Sewall. It just feels like another six-win-type of season.
Sept. 1 - at Indiana
Sept. 8 - vs. Quincy
Sept. 15 - vs. Drake
Sept. 22 - vs. South Dakota State
Sept. 29 - at Southern Illinois
Oct. 6 - vs. Missouri State
Oct. 13 - at North Dakota State
Oct. 20 - at Western Illinois
Oct. 27 - vs. South Dakota
Nov. 3 - vs. Illinois State
Nov. 17 - at Youngstown State
6. SOUTH DAKOTA STATE JACKRABBITS (5-6 overall, 4-4 Missouri Valley)
COACH: John Stiegelmeier (93-72 in 15 seasons at South Dakota State)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (9 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Austin Sumner, So. (182-of-305, 2,382 yards, 16 TD, 9 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: NT Andy Mink, Sr. (75 TT, 8.5 TFL, 6 sacks, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Tyrel Kool, Sr. (151 carries, 534 yards, 4 TD; 26 receptions, 224 yards, 1 TD)
RB/KR Zach Zenner, So. (107 carries, 470 yards, 3 TD; 18 receptions, 130 yards, 2 TD; 24.3-yard KO return average)
WR Brandon Hubert, Jr. (34 receptions, 485 yards, 2 TD)
WR Aaron Rollin, Sr. (61 receptions, 906 yards, 7 TD)
WR Jason Schneider, So. (18 receptions, 187 yards, 2 TD)
WR Trevor Tiefenthaler, Jr.
TE Seth Daughters, Sr.
TE Vince Benedetto, Jr. (13 receptions, 106 yards, 1 TD)
LT Bryan Witzmann, Jr.
LG Alex Parker, Jr.
C Will Castle, Sr.
RG Josh Kage, Jr.
RT Jon Fick, Sr.
DE Doug Peete, Jr. (30 TT, 5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 FF)
DE Marshall Peugh, Jr.
DT Chase Douglas, Jr. (5 TT in seven games; injured last season)
NT David Hettiger, Sr. (46 TT, 4 TFL)
SLB Chris Tracy, Sr. (28 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR)
MLB Robbie Jelsma, So.
WLB Ross Shafrath, Sr. (66 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 INT)
CB Winston Wright, Jr. (57 TT, 3 TFL, 3 INT, 7 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
CB David Godley, Sr. (16 TT, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FF)
SS Skyler Luxa, Sr. (47 TT, 2 TFL, 3 PBU)
FS Bo Helm, Sr. (55 TT, 4 PBU)
PK Justin Syrovatka, So. (6-of-10 FG, 23-of-23 PAT)
P Ethan Sawyer, So.
RS/WR Dom Wright, So.
BIGGEST LOSSES: WR Dale Moss (61 receptions, 949 yards, 6 TD) and LB Mike Lien (100 TT, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR)
OUTLOOK: Ironically, the Jackrabbits are doing the chasing in the Missouri Valley, and they could be catching up this season. They are particularly strong in the trenches and have a dynamite young quarterback in Sumner, the conference's freshman of the year last season. The next step for this group is to beat some of the stronger Missouri Valley teams and position itself in the conference title race. Easier said than done, of course, but quite possible. The Jackrabbits have to mount a running game (83.6 ypg) to take pressure off Sumner. Kool and Zenner, another super soph, are capable of doing that this time around. It will be hard to replace Moss - one of the more underrated wide receivers in the FCS last season - but Rollin figures to get, well, rolling again after he tied for the team lead in receptions. Tackles Fick and Witzmann will anchor the veteran offensive line. Conversely, Mink leads the defensive line as a nose tackle who piles up tackles. The secondary has aces in CB Wright and FS Helm, so the Jackrabbits will cut down on the 33 points they allowed per game. Stiegelmeier needs seven wins to reach 100 in his SDSU career. Could he get there a year ahead of schedule?
Sept. 1 - at Kansas
Sept. 8 - at Southeastern Louisiana
Sept. 15 - vs. UC Davis
Sept. 22 - at Indiana State
Sept. 29 - vs. Missouri State
Oct. 13 - vs. Western Illinois
Oct 20 - at Northern Iowa
Oct. 27 - vs. Youngstown State
Nov. 3 - at Southern Illinois
Nov. 10 - at North Dakota State
Nov. 17 - vs. South Dakota
7. SOUTHERN ILLINOIS SALUKIS (4-7 overall, 2-6 Missouri Valley)
COACH: Dale Lennon (29-18 in four seasons at Southern Illinois; 131-50 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (7 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB/RS Steve Strother, Sr. (46 carries, 277 yards, 1 TD; 15 receptions, 81 yards; 27.6-yard KO return average)
DEFENSIVE STAR: NT Kayon Swanson, Sr. (52 TT, 9.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 5 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Kory Faulkner, Jr. (133-of-224, 1,477 yards, 5 TD, 8 INT; 98 carries, 235 yards, 7 TD)
QB Paul McIntosh, Sr. (43 carries, 218 yards, 2 TD; 41-of-76, 649 yards, 3 TD, 4 INT)
RB Mika'il McCall, So. (Iowa transfer)
RB Mulku Kalokoh, Sr.
FB Ray Agnew, Sr.
WR David Lewis, Sr. (13 receptions, 182 yards, 1 TD)
WR/PR LaSteven McKinney, So. (16 receptions, 181 yards; 7.6-yard punt return average)
WR John Lantz, Jr. (26 receptions, 278 yards)
TE Mycole Pruitt, So. (43 receptions, 562 yards, 3 TD)
LT Richard Wilson, Sr.
LG Nate Haremza, Jr. (Butler CC transfer)
C Tanner Crum, So.
RG Jessy McMullin, Sr.
RT Victor Craven, Jr.
DE Ken Boatwright, Sr. (51 TT, 13.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 5 QBH, 2 FR)
DE Eze Obiora, Sr. (16 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 FF)
OLB Cory Lee, So. (12 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 2 FF)
OLB Jayson DiManche, Sr. (42 TT, 10.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF)
ILB Bryan Presume, Jr. (23 TT, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF)
ILB Joe Okon, Sr. (48 TT, 6.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 FF)
ILB Connor James, Jr. (45 TT, 6 TFL, 3 QBH, 1 FR)
CB Terrell Wilson, Jr. (50 TT, 2 TFL, 3 INT, 2 PBU)
CB Courtney Richmond, So. (16 TT, 2 TFL, 1 FR, 1 FF)
CB Emmanuel Souarin, Sr. (Florida International transfer)
S Luke Thuston, Jr. (13 TT)
S D.J. Cameron, Fr.
S Boo Rodgers, Jr. (42 TT, 1 INT, 5 PBU)
PK Jackson MacLachlan, So. (9-of-14 FG, 34-of-36 PAT)
P Austin Pucylowski, Jr. (53 punts, 38.3 ypp)
BIGGEST LOSS: RB Jewel Hampton (230 carries, 1,121 yards, 17 TD)
OUTLOOK: After a streak of seven straight FCS playoff appearances was snapped in 2010, the Salukis are still trying to recapture past glory. At the least, they are talented enough to post a winning season. But they must not let winnable games slip away, as they have for two straight seasons. QB Faulkner replaced an injured McIntosh midway through last season and settled into the top job, throwing for as many as 334 yards against Illinois State. Still, the Salukis passed for a conference-low eight touchdowns against 12 interceptions. Faulkner can get the ball to the MVFC's top tight end, Pruitt, when the Salukis offense isn't doing what it does best - running the ball (183.1 ypg last season). And running is the first option, starting with Faulkner on keepers or RBs Strother, Kalookoh and Iowa transfer McCall. Defensively, the Salukis are strong. NT Swanson and DE Boatright are two of the better D-linemen in the conference and the linebackers (including DiManche, Presume and Okon) are an underrated group. Opponents passed the ball too easily last season, so improvement is imperative. The Salukis will have strong special teams, which they expect to be a difference-maker. They need a fast start to their season because the schedule toughens by midseason.
Aug. 30 - at Eastern Illinois
Sept. 8 - at Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 15 - vs. Southeast Missouri State
Sept. 22 - at Missouri State
Sept. 29 - vs. Indiana State
Oct. 6 - at Illinois State
Oct. 13 - vs. Northern Iowa
Oct. 20 - at Youngstown State
Oct. 27 - at North Dakota State
Nov. 3 - vs. South Dakota State
Nov. 17 - vs. Western Illinois
8. WESTERN ILLINOIS LEATHERNECKS (2-9 overall, 1-7 Missouri Valley)
COACH: Mark Hendrickson (15-24 in 3 1/2 seasons at Western Illinois)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (7 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Caulton Ray, Sr. (144 carries, 620 yards, 4 TD in eight games)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB Kieron James, Sr. (45 TT, 3 INT, 7 PBU, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Josh Hudson, Sr. (119-of-207, 1,528 yards, 12 TD, 11 INT)
QB Wil Lunt, Sr. (19-of-38, 191 yards, 1 INT)
RB/KR Bryce Flowers, Jr. (70 carries, 158 yards in seven games)
RB Nikko Watson, So. (90 carries, 485 yards, 3 TD in four games)
FB Nate Bowman, Jr.
WR Charles Chestnut, Sr. (23 receptions, 296 yards)
WR Justin Morgan, Sr. (14 receptions, 202 yards, 1 TD)
TE Alie Walker, Sr.
LT Jeff Lindsey, Jr.
LG Jimmy Holtschlag, Jr.
C Andrew Robiskie, Sr.
RG Max Dancer, Sr. (sat out last season)
RT Jamal Keaton, So.
DE Ethan Bachinski, Jr. (15 TT, 2.5 TFL)
DT Delector Durley, So. (21 TT, 1 FR, 1 FF)
NT Ryan Demming, Jr. (27 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks)
NT Sean Sullivan, R-Fr.
DE Dwight Harris, Sr. (37 TT, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
SLB Theon Dixon, Sr. (79 TT, 13 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT)
MLB Jamel Wilmore, Sr.
WLB Luke Venegoni, So.
CB Chris Boone, Sr.
CB Martinez Davis, So. (12 TT, 2 PBU in six games)
SS Tyler West, Sr. (45 TT)
FS Keith Enderlein, Sr.
FS David McDaniel, So. (15 TT)
PK/P Pat Smith, Jr. (3-of-6 FG, 21-of-23 PAT)
BIGGEST LOSS: WR Terrien Crump (61 receptions, 944 yards, 6 TD)
OUTLOOK: The Leathernecks plummeted last season after qualifying for the 2010 FCS playoffs. Eight of their 11 games were against teams that finished with a winning record and they ended the campaign with six straight conference losses. This season, the Leathernecks have new coordinators in KiJuan Ware (offense) and Brian Ward (defense) to help them try to have a turnaround. Their overall health can only improve after the quarterbacks and running backs were especially hit hard by injuries. Of course, injuries to RBs Ray and Flowers allowed true frosh Watson (121.3 rushing yards per game over the last four games) to emerge into a trio of options in the backfield. The three plus the starting QB - likely incumbent Hudson - will all work behind a solid offensive line. The defense was among the worst in the FCS last season, including scoring defense at 36.1 points per game, so Hendrickson has put an emphasis on a physical style of play. The Leathernecks have switched to a 4-3 base alignment and to try to stop opposing run games and take advantage of DE Harris and DT Durley returning up front. The linebackers unit and secondary are senior-laden. Some improvement in the win column appears likely.
Aug. 30 - vs. Butler
Sept. 8 - vs. Indianapolis
Sept. 15 - at Iowa State
Sept. 22 - vs. Illinois State
Oct. 6 - at South Dakota
Oct. 13 - at South Dakota State
Oct. 20 - vs. Indiana State
Oct. 27 - at Missouri State
Nov. 3 - vs. Northern Iowa
Nov. 10 - vs. Youngstown State
Nov. 17 - at Southern Illinois
9. MISSOURI STATE BEARS (2-9 overall, 2-6 Missouri Valley)
COACH: Terry Allen (25-41 in six seasons at Missouri State; 120-100 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (5 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: TE Matt Thayer, Sr. (20 receptions, 247 yards, 3 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: ILB Andrew Beisel, So. (84 TT, 6 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 FR, 3 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Kierra Harris, So. (10-of-16, 83 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT)
QB Brodie Lambert, Fr.
RB/PR Vernon Scott, Jr. (42 carries, 167 yards)
RB Ryan Heaston, R-Fr.
WR Cadarrius Dotson, Sr. (22 receptions, 214 yards, 2 TD)
WR/RS Julian Burton, So. (11 receptions, 94 yards in eight games; 18.8-yard KO return average; 7.3-yard punt return average)
WR Dorian Buford, Jr.
LT Zack Cooley, So.
LG Kurt Kutter, Jr.
C Harrison Menke, Sr.
RG Richard Galbierz, So.
RG Kyle Hahn, Jr.
RT Randy Richards, Sr.
DE Martin Montgomery, Jr.
DT Tevan Ferguson, Sr. (24 TT, 4 QBH)
DT Eric Pearce, Jr. (26 TT, 3 TFL, 1.5 sacks)
DE Anthony Grady, Jr. (injured last season)
DE Corey Feagin, R-Fr. (injured last season)
DE Martin Montgomery, Jr. (47 TT, 6 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
ILB Ryan Callender, Jr. (47 TT, 1 QBH, 1 FF)
ILB Seginald Chaney, So. (Independence CC transfer)
OLB Nate Davis, Sr. (44 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 QBH, 2 FR)
OLB Rodney Kelly, Jr. (46 TT, 4 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 FF)
OLB Nick Canavan, Jr. (53 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 FR)
CB Sybhrian Berry, Jr. (44 TT, 7 PBU, 1 FR)
CB Howard Scarborough, Jr. (21 TT)
S Caleb Schaffitzel, So. (70 TT, 3 PBU)
S Mike Crutcher, So. (83 TT, 1 INT, 3 PBU)
PK Austin Witmer, Jr. (5-of-10 FG, 25-of-26 PAT)
P Chris Sullens, R-Fr.
RS Julian Burton, So.
BIGGEST LOSS: QB Trevor Wooden (138-of-223, 1,853 yards, 17 TD, 8 INT; 150 carries, 567 yards, 7 TD)
OUTLOOK: Wooden, who led the conference in total offense last season, was booted from the team in the offseason and is a significant loss. An experienced offensive line, plus the return of TE Thayer, will help the athletic Harris become comfortable at quarterback. The skills position players are unheralded, but should be a plus. Dotson will be the go-to receiver after the Bears lost an All-MVFC standout in Jermaine Safford. The defense has given up way too many points in recent seasons (37.1 ppg last season), but the young talent is seasoned this time around. The linebackers are especially deep with the likes of Beisel (team-high 84 tackles) and Davis, who emerged in their first seasons last year, and Callender. Speaking of newcomers, safeties Schaffitzel and Crutcher combined for 153 tackles in their freshman year. Allen, who was a five-time MVFC coach of the year at Northern Iowa coach, is too good not to get Missouri State's program back on its feet.
Sept. 1 - at Kansas State
Sept. 8 - at Louisville
Sept. 15 - vs. Murray State
Sept. 22 - vs. Southern Illinois
Sept. 29 - at South Dakota State
Oct. 6 - at Indiana State
Oct. 13 - vs. South Dakota
Oct. 20 - at Illinois State
Oct. 27 - vs. Western Illinois
Nov. 3 - vs. North Dakota State
Nov. 17 - at Northern Iowa
10. SOUTH DAKOTA COYOTES (6-5 overall, 2-2 Great West Conference)
COACH: Joe Glenn (first season at South Dakota; 188-100-1)
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (4 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Will Powell, Sr. (42 receptions, 763 yards, 5 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE/LB Tyler Starr, Jr. (51 TT, 19 TFL, 14 sacks, 2 QBH, 2 FR, 7 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Josh Vander Maten, So. (22-of-38, 221 yards, 3 TD)
QB Kevin Earl, R-Fr.
HB Marcus Sims, Sr. (127 carries, 660 yards, 4 TD)
HB Jasper Sanders, So. (Butler CC transfer)
FB Quinton McMartin, Sr.
WR Austin Koch, Jr.
TE Jay Burns, Sr.
LT Matt Huffer, So.
LG Cody O'Neill, Jr.
C Tim Ross, Sr.
RG Andrew Schofield, So.
RT Marc Murtha, Jr.
DT Jordan Eaton, Sr. (26 TT, 7 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FF)
DT Nick Jacobs, R-Fr.
DE David Giese, Sr. (32 TT, 2 TFL, 3 FR)
MLB Tim Marlette, Sr. (23 TT)
WLB Darius Hogans, Sr. (59 TT, 1 FR)
OLB Ryan Hillier, R-Fr.
CB Chris Lundy, So.
CB Chris Frierson, Jr. (36 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FF)
SS D.J. Wakes, Jr. (Butler CC transfer)
SS Charlie Goro, Jr. (15 TT, 2 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FF)
FS Aaron Swift, Jr. (54 TT, 5 PBU, 2 FR)
FS Devin Taverna, Jr. (Palomar College transfer)
PK Kevin Robb, Jr. (17-of-20 FG, 34-of-36 PAT)
P Cole Zwiefelhofer, Sr. (48 punts, 43.1-yard punt average)
BIGGEST LOSSES: LT Tom Compton and ILB Adam Broders (102 TT, 10 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 3 INT, 1 FF)
OUTLOOK: The 63-year-old Glenn, "Cowboy" Joe to many, has returned to his alma mater (1971 graduate) for his 25th season as a head coach. The Coyotes are relying on the experience of the former Montana and Wyoming mentor to help them make the transition from the Great West Conference to the MVFC. Ironically, the Glenn era opens at Montana. The Coyotes won't be welcomed there and they won't find too many welcoming opponents along the way in what could be a rough ride. The Coyotes need some JUCO transfers to make an immediate impact. They return a dominant player on the edge, Starr, who racked up 14 sacks as a sophomore. But the defense was blistered by graduation losses and will be vulnerable. Hogans must lift his play after the linebackers unit lost Shea Williams on the outside and Adam Broders inside. It's up to the offense to make sure Zwiefelhofer, an All-America punter, doesn't get too much work. Vander Maten impressed as the backup quarterback last season. The Coyotes will rely heavily on the Sims/Sanders running back combination and WR Powell, who was All-Great West last season. The Coyotes must shorten games and try to win them with field position and an excellent kicking game.
Sept. 1 - at Montana
Sept. 8 - vs. Colgate
Sept. 22 - at Northwestern
Sept. 29 - vs. Illinois State
Oct. 6 - vs. Western Illinois
Oct. 13 - at Missouri State
Oct. 20 - vs. North Dakota State
Oct. 27 - at Indiana State
Nov. 3 - at Youngstown State
Nov. 10 - vs. Northern Iowa
Nov. 17 - at South Dakota State