2016 Pioneer Football League Preview

BY foxsports • August 24, 2016

(STATS) - What Morehead State coach Rob Tenyer liked about his team's fourth-place prediction in the Pioneer Football League preseason poll is his players were probably disappointed by it.

Never mind that it's the highest prediction experienced by the players.

Last season changed a lot for the Eagles as they posted their first winning season since 2007, going 7-4 and finishing third in the 11-team PFL.

Morehead has to overcome the loss of 19 seniors in showing it can sustain success, but Tenyer has been impressed by the team's approach this offseason as it sets its sights on PFL title contention. Dayton, which represented the league in the 2015 FCS playoffs, and San Diego, the slight favorite in this year's preseason poll, shared the title a year ago.

"We're in year four," Tenyer said. "Our goal ultimately is to take the next step and I think we made some tremendous progress in our first three years.

"I think it all starts with your leadership. I was a little concerned heading into spring practice with just graduating 19 players. I thought our returning players, our veteran players, responded really well. I think we're to the point now where we have some internal culture and our players police some things. I think we've gotten really good leadership."

Even Morehead State legend Phil Simms has to be impressed by Eagles senior quarterback Austin Gahafer. The fourth-year starter, and the 2015 PFL offensive player of the year, is on pace to become the school's all-time leading passer.

Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2016 Pioneer Football League race and STATS' predicted order of finish:

1. Dayton

2. San Diego

3. Morehead State

4. Drake

5. Butler

6. Jacksonville

7. Marist

8. Campbell

9. Stetson

10. Valparaiso

11. Davidson




LOCATION: Dayton, Ohio

STADIUM: Welcome Stadium

COACH: Rick Chamberlin (65-25 in eight seasons at Dayton)

LAST SEASON: 10-2 overall, 7-1 PFL (Tie/1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Connor Kacsor, RB; Zac Morgan, OT; Danny Leach, FS

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Jimmy Vogel, OT, R-Sr. (All-PFL first team)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Chris Beaschler, LB, Sr. (112 TT, 8.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Alex Jeske, QB, R-So.; Tucker Yinger, RB, R-So.; Jack Adams, RB, R-Jr.; Tyler Tumpane, Slot, JR; Jack Euritt, WR, R-Jr.; Ian Palin, TE, R-Sr.; Shane Toub, C, R-Sr.; Ben Gauthier, OL, So.; Michael Gray, DE, R-Sr.; Nick Surges, DE, R-So.; Andy Carfagna, DT, R-Sr.; Miles Ashelman, DT, Sr.; Jack Crain, LB, R-Jr.; Cameron Stubbs, CB/KR, Sr.; Christian Searles, CB/RS, 5-9, 178, Jr.; William Will, PK, R-Sr.; Sean Smith, P, So.

OUTLOOK: After starting last season with a 10-0 record, winning a share of the PFL title with San Diego and playing in the FCS playoffs for the first time (a 24-7 loss to Western Illinois), the Flyers appear primed for another banner season. Their PFL schedule is front-loaded with upper-tier opponents, including a visit to San Diego, and the road games will be challenging. The defense should shine as LBs Beaschler and Crain (105) both surpassed 100 tackles last season, while CBs Stubbs (seven) and Searles (five) combined on a dozen interceptions. The young offense has grown up fast after QB Jeske (194-for-327, 2,052 yards, 10 TDs, 10 INTs) and RB Yinger (731 yards, 3 TDs) played extensively as freshmen and WR Tumpane (48 receptions, 372 yards, 3 TDs) a sophomore last season. The kicking game is the best in the league as two-time All-PFL first-teamer Will was 17 of 23 on field goals and Smith averaged 41.7 yards on punts.


Sept. 3, Central State

Sept. 10, Robert Morris

Sept. 17, at Duquesne

Sept. 24, at San Diego*

Oct. 1, Drake*

Oct. 8, Morehead State*

Oct. 15, at Jacksonville*

Oct. 22, at Butler*

Oct. 29, Stetson*

Nov. 5, Valparaiso*

Nov. 12, at Marist*

* - PFL game




STADIUM: Torero Stadium

COACH: Dale Lindsey (26-8 in three seasons at San Diego)

LAST SEASON: 9-2 overall, 7-1 PFL (Tie/1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (5 offense/8 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Chris Campano, FB; Pono Keni, OL; Jeff Starr, OL

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Anthony Lawrence, QB, R-So. (188-for-295, 2,392 yards, 23 TDs, 6 INTs)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Jamal Agnew, CB, Sr. (30 TT, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 4 INTs, 11 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Jereke Armstrong, RB, R-Sr.; Jonah Hodges, RB, R-Sr.; Blake Martin, RB, R-Jr.; Brian Riley, WR, Sr.; Justin Priest, WR, Jr.; Jacob Arnell, WR/RS, Sr.; Ross Dwelley, TE, Jr.; Miles McArdle, OL, Jr.; Jonathan Peterson, DE, Jr.; Nic Henson, LB, R-Sr.; Alec Moreno, LB, R-Jr.; Devyn Bryant, CB, Sr.; Colton Giorgi, S, Jr.; Ray Clark, S, Jr.; Max Michaels, CB, Jr.

OUTLOOK: A strong nucleus returns for a USD program that has won at least a share of four of the last five PFL titles. The Toreros were a slight favorite over Dayton in the league's preseason poll. One of the keys is having a healthy Lawrence, the PFL's 2015 offensive freshman of the year who suffered a broken leg in the season's final game. All of his skills position standouts return: RB Hodges only played in four games because of injury and will rejoin the rotation with Armstrong (662 yards, 7 TDs), while the productive trio of TE Dwelley and WRs Riley and Priest are coming off a combined 135 receptions and 14 touchdowns. The top eight tacklers return to the defense, including pass-rushing DE Peterson (16 TFL, 8 sacks) and shutdown CB Agnew. However, the key losses include four starters on the offensive line and three on the defensive line.


Sept. 3, Western New Mexico

Sept. 10, at Cal Poly

Sept. 24, Dayton*

Oct. 1, at Butler*

Oct. 8, Davidson*

Oct. 15, at Drake*

Oct. 22, Valparaiso*

Oct. 29, at Marist*

Nov. 5, Universidad De Las Americas Puebla

Nov. 12, Stetson*

Nov. 19, at Campbell*

* - PFL game



LOCATION: Morehead, Kentucky

STADIUM: Jayne Stadium

COACH: Rob Tenyer (14-21 in three seasons at Morehead State)

LAST SEASON: 7-4 overall, 6-2 PFL (3rd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (5 offense, 5 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Justin Cornwall, WR/RS; Luke Keller, LB; Justin Grier, DB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Austin Gahafer, QB, Sr. (291-for-510, 3,244 yards, 24 TDs, 10 INTs)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Ryan Bennett, LB, Sr. (96 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack, 3 PBU, 1 QBH)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Lawrence Jones, RB, R-Jr.; Brent Holman, RB, So.; Jake Raymond, Slot, R-Sr.; Christian Robinson, WR, Jr.; Joby Embrey, TE, Jr.; C.J. Phillips, OL, R-Sr.; Liam Maloney, OL, R-Jr.; Colt Briggs, DT, R-Jr.; Dustin Casey, DE, R-Sr.; Matthew Brewer, LB, Sr.; Kameron Able, LB, R-Sr.; Dominic Iori, S, Sr.; Brandon Louder, S, R-Sr.; Sayyid Kanu, S, R-So.; Braylyn Cook, DB, Jr.; Pat DiSalvio, P, Sr.

OUTLOOK: Following last year's win total that was the Eagles' highest since 2007, the Eagles have high hopes as record-breaking QB Gahafer moves into his fourth season as the starter. He's passed for 8,514 career yards - the most among active FCS players. He will be tested, though, because Cornwall and Tanner Napier don't return after combining for 133 receptions and 16 TDs. That makes WR Raymond (72 receptions, 722 yards, 6 TDs) the go-to target. The running game gets a big boost with the return of RB Jones, who was injured in 2015 spring practices and missed the season. In Jones' absence, Holman rushed for 407 yards as a freshman. The defense, now being coordinated by linebackers coach Zack Moore, made great progress last season by forcing 28 turnovers, but it still has to give up fewer big plays. LB Bennett and DT Briggs both made the PFL preseason team. The PFL schedule doesn't include San Diego, but Dayton and Drake are on the road.


Sept. 3, at James Madison

Sept. 10, VMI

Sept. 17, Lincoln (Pa.)

Sept. 24, at Drake*

Oct. 1, Valparaiso*

Oct. 8, at Dayton*

Oct. 15, Marist*

Oct. 22, Jacksonville*

Nov. 5, at Butler*

Nov. 12, Campbell*

Nov. 19, at Davidson*

* - PFL game



LOCATION: Des Moines, Iowa

STADIUM: Drake Stadium

COACH: Rick Fox (12-10 in two seasons at Drake)

LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 4-4 PFL (Tie/5th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (6 offense/4 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Andy Rice, QB; John Hugunin, LB; Brad Duwe, CB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Eric Saubert, TE, R-Sr. (55 receptions, 580 yards, 7 TDs)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Mack Marrin, DL, Sr. (49 TT, 12.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 4 QBH, 1 FR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Cody Thibault, QB, R-Sr; Conley Wilkins, RB/KR, Sr.; Drew Lauer, RB, So.; Zach Zlabis, WR, R-Sr.; Keegan Gallery, WR, Sr.; Aaron Melton, OL, R-Sr.; Grant Snow, OL, Jr.; Nathan Clayberg, DT, Jr.; Tanner Evans, DL, Sr.; Taylor Coleman, LB, R-Sr.; Zac Rujawitz, LB, So.; Austin Dismond, DB, Jr.; Terry Wallen, DB, Jr.; Caz Zyks, DB, R-Sr.; Sean Lynch, DB, Jr.

OUTLOOK: A win over rival Dayton to end last season was a highlight, but it didn't prevent the Bulldogs from having their first losing record in 12 years. More than half the starters departed, including three-year starting QB Rice. Thibault hopes to emerge from preseason competition as the new signal-caller, who will try to jump-start an offense that was seventh in the PFL in scoring (23.1 ppg) and total yards (364.5 ypg). Drake can't afford to surrender 40 sacks again. Wilkins (887 yards, 9 TDs) is among the best running backs in the league and All-America TE Saubert and Gallery (44 receptions, 536 yards, 1 TD) are a strong receiving duo. The defense lost do-everything standout Hugunin, but DE Marrin will chase another PFL sacks title. With DT Clayberg taking on a bigger role, the defensive line will be solid. There are two sub-Division I opponents in the first three games, so the Bulldogs should work their way back to a winning season.


Sept. 3, Quincy

Sept. 10, at South Dakota State

Sept. 17, McKendree

Sept. 24, Morehead State*

Oct. 1, at Dayton*

Oct. 8, at Valparaiso*

Oct. 15, San Diego*

Oct. 29, Campbell*

Nov. 5, at Jacksonville*

Nov. 12, Butler*

Nov. 19, at Stetson*

* - PFL game



LOCATION: Indianapolis

STADIUM: Butler Bowl

COACH: Jeff Voris (60-53 in 10 seasons at Butler; 75-87 overall)

LAST SEASON: 6-5 overall, 4-4 PFL (Tie/5th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (5 offense/9 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Matt Shiltz, QB; Marquese Martin-Hayes, WR; Max Brodbeck, OL

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Michael Demos, OL, Sr. (2014 All-PFL first team)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Sean Horan, LB, Sr. (72 TT, 7 TFL, 1.5 PBU, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 4 QBH)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Malcolm Weaver, QB, Sr.; Anthony Scaccia, RB/PR, So.; Sam Schrader, RB, R-Jr.; Danny Cotter, WR, Sr.; Pace Temple, WR, So.; Jordan Ransone, DL, Sr.; Josh Willis, DL, Sr.; Ethan Brunhofer, LB, Jr.; David Starkey, LB, Sr.; Joe Hackett, OL, Sr.; Nestor Porres, OL, Sr.; Connor Andras, DL/LS, Jr.; Zach LaRoche, DB, Sr.; Isaak Newhouse, DB, Jr.; Taylor Wilson, DB, R-Jr.; Mike Cerone, DB, R-So.; Adam Chappelle, DB, R-Jr.

OUTLOOK: Voris has made Butler a consistent program, guiding three PFL titles in his first 10 seasons. The Bulldogs have lost QB Shiltz, but Weaver saw a lot of action in 2014 and should fit in well as the new starter. He is excellent in running the read option. A healthier Schrader (knee) teamed with Scaccia at running back will give the offense a boost. Schrader was the team's offensive MVP two years ago, but only played in three games last season. Top OL Demos also is back to the lineup after missing last season with a back injury. The defense returns its eight leading tacklers from a year ago, led by LB Horan and also featuring DE Willis (seven sacks) on the pass rush. While the Bulldogs ranked fifth overall in the PFL in total defense (351.5 ypg), they were last against the pass.


Sept. 3, at Indiana State

Sept. 10, Franklin College

Sept. 17, at Taylor University

Sept. 24, at Campbell*

Oct. 1, San Diego*

Oct. 8, Marist*

Oct. 15, at Davidson*

Oct. 22, Dayton*

Oct. 29, at Valparaiso*

Nov. 5, Morehead State*

Nov. 12, at Drake*

* - PFL game



LOCATION: Jacksonville, Florida

STADIUM: D.B. Milne Field

COACH: Ian Shields (first season at Jacksonville; 16-6 overall)

LAST SEASON: 9-2 overall, 6-2 (Tie/3rd, ineligible for PFL title)

STARTERS RETURNING: 8 (5 offense/3 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Kade Bell, QB; Andy Jones, WR; Terrance Bryant, DB/PR

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Ulysses Bryant, RB, Sr. (156 carries, 763 yards, 4 TDs; 37 receptions, 378 yards, 3 TDs)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Grady Redding, LB, Sr. (100 TT, 8 TFL, 1 sack, 5 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Rylan Wells, QB, R-Jr.; Jamal Adjamah, RB, So.; Frantz Caudio, RB, R-Sr.; Prince Gray, WR, So.; Brian Burnett, WR, Jr.; Ander Bodkin, OL, R-Jr.; Jake Dempsey, OL, So.; Tyler Havenner, DL, Jr.; Jareeq Crenshaw, DE/LB, R-Sr.; Justin Horton, LB, R-Sr.; Armani Sampson, DB, R-Sr.; K.J. Jenkins, DB, Sr.; Ryan Giaratano, P, Sr.

OUTLOOK: Shields, the head coach at Lenoir-Rhyne the last two seasons, has replaced Kerwin Bell, whose last two seasons were marred by Jacksonville's ineligibility for the PFL title because of mistakes in awarding financial aid. Eligible again, the PFL power is not expected to challenge for the title because its roster has changed a lot, including the addition of 46 freshmen. The Dolphins were picked eighth in the PFL's preseason poll, which stands out after they went 9-2 each of the last two seasons. The offensive star is RB Bryant, who will get a lot of touches in the up-tempo option offense. QB Wells (55-for-90, 967 yards, 8 TDs, 1 INT) will be at the controls with Adjamah (409 yards, 2 TDs) another key running back. Former Army coach Rich Ellerson is the defensive coordinator, but his unit has only three returning starters, led by leading tackler Redding. His running mate at linebacker, Malik Slater, who was second in tackles, is not back on the roster. The Dolphins have to cut down on last year's league-high 101 penalties.


Sept. 10, at Liberty

Sept. 17, Edward Waters

Sept. 24, at Stetson*

Oct. 1, Duquesne

Oct. 8, Campbell*

Oct. 15, Dayton*

Oct. 22, at Morehead State*

Oct. 29, at Davidson*

Nov. 5, Drake*

Nov. 12, at Valparaiso*

Nov. 19, Marist*

* - PFL game



LOCATION: Poughkeepsie, New York

STADIUM: Leonidoff Field

COACH: Jim Parady (124-126-1 in 24 seasons at Marist)

LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 4-4 PFL (Tie/5th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Matt Tralli, WR; Demetrius Williams, DE; Zach Adler, FS

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Juston Christian, WR, So. (35 receptions, 826 yards, 6 TDs)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Cameron Gibson, CB, Sr. (48 TT, 3 TFL, 2 INTs, 8 PBU, 1 BK)

KEY PLAYERS: Mike White, QB, Jr.; Marcellus Calhoun, RB, Sr.; Lawrence Dickens, WR/KR, Jr.; Seamus Ryan, OT, Sr.; Ryan Schneider, OG/C, R-Sr.; Dan Njoku, NT, Sr.; Jimmy Braun, LB, Sr.; Ruben Avalos, LB, Sr.; Blaise Spinelli, LB, So.; Willie Barrett, LB, Jr.; Brandon Miller, CB, Sr.; Mike Marston, S, R-Sr.; Kwame Darko, S, Sr.; Jordyn Jean-Felix, S, Jr.; Mike Maccarone, PK, Sr.

OUTLOOK: Parady is entering his 25th season at Marist and is one win shy of 125. The Red Foxes, in their eighth year in the PFL, have never been picked higher than sixth in the league's preseason poll (it was sixth this year), but they often exceed expectations, bested by a share of the league title in 2013. They face a challenge this season following the loss of numerous fifth-year seniors. The offense will carry the team for a while with QB White (174-for-336, 2,564 yards, 14 TDs, 14 INTs) looking deep to Christian, whose 23.6 yards per reception as a freshman was No. 1 in the FCS. RB Calhoun (597 yards, 10 TDs) also knows how to find the end zone. The defensive line was decimated by graduation, so NT Njoku is asked to step into a leading role as a senior. LB Barrett returns after sitting out with an injury last year, while Gibson and Marston bring leadership to the secondary.


Sept. 3, Bucknell

Sept. 10, Georgetown

Sept. 17, at Sacred Heart

Oct. 1, Campbell*

Oct. 8, at Butler*

Oct. 15, at Morehead State*

Oct. 22, Davidson*

Oct. 29, San Diego*

Nov. 5, at Stetson*

Nov. 12, Dayton*

Nov. 19, at Jacksonville*

* - PFL game



LOCATION: Buies Creek, North Carolina

STADIUM: Barker-Lane Stadium

COACH: Mike Minter (13-22 in three seasons at Campbell)

LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 3-5 PFL (8th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (7 offense/5 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Kameron Bryant, QB; Greg Milhouse, Jr., DT; Ugonna Awuruonye, DE

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: De'Shawn Jones, RB, Sr. (178 carries, 1,079 yards, 8 TDs)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Jack Ryan, LB, R-So. (66 TT, 11.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 5 QBH)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Elijah Burress, QB, R-Fr.; Ryan Turnage, QB, R-Sr.; Jared Joyner, RB, R-Sr.; Aaron Blockmon, WR, So.; Austin Fleming, TE, Sr.; Josh Hutto, OT, R-Jr.; Laurin O'Briant, OT, R-Sr.; Brian Styffeler, OG, R-Jr.; Syd Holt, DE, R-Sr.; Rogers Clark, DE, R-Sr.; Isaiah King, DT, So.; Daniel Bostick, LB, Sr.; D.J. Jones, S, R-Sr.; Mitchell Brown, PK, Jr.; Carlos Merritt, S, R-Jr.; Dante Simmons, CB, R-Jr.; Jarrett Ozimek, P, R-Sr.

OUTLOOK: Although Campbell has been growing as a program, the Camels lost too much talent after last season to be more than a mid-level PFL team this year. The losses are especially big on defense, with All-PFL talents Awuruonye and Milhouse and four-year starter Dwan Hanshaw gone from the defensive line and leading tackler Jake Barr gone from the secondary. At least the Camels defense has a young standout to build around in LB Ryan. On offense, the Camels will start a quarterback who has yet to take a snap in college, presumably Burress. Their attack will be centered around All-PFL first-team running back De'Shawn Jones, who needs nine rushing yards to reach 2,000 in his career. Minter is seeking his first winning season with the Camels, who have six home games at popular Barker-Lane Stadium.


Sept. 1, Bluefield College

Sept. 10, at Chowan

Sept. 17, Presbyterian

Sept. 24, Butler*

Oct. 1, at Marist*

Oct. 8, at Jacksonville*

Oct. 22, Stetson*

Oct. 29, at Drake*

Nov. 5, Davidson*

Nov. 12, at Morehead State*

Nov. 19, San Diego*

* - PFL game



LOCATION: DeLand, Florida

STADIUM: Spec Martin Memorial Stadium

COACH: Roger Hughes (10-24 in three seasons at Stetson; 57-76 overall)

LAST SEASON: 3-8 overall, 1-7 PFL (Tie/8th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (9 offense/8 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Ryan Tentler, QB; Ryan Powers, FS; Marlin Hall, SS

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Cole Mazza, RB, Sr. (78 carries, 277 yards, 9 TDs)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Donald Payne, SS, Sr. (126 TT, 15 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INTs, 12 PBU, 5 QBH, 1 FR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Colin McGovern, QB, Jr.; Arkee Brown, RB, So.; Mike Yonker, FB, Sr.; Ja'Vonta Swinton, WR/KR, Jr.; Darian Wright, WR, Jr.; Kegan Moore, WR, Sr.; Chris Crawford, WR, Sr.; Patrick Fogarty, OL, Sr.; Davion Belk, DE, Sr.; Shayne White, DE, Sr.; Jeff Fallabel, DE, Jr.; David Lazear, LB, Sr.; Dylan Wydronkowski, LB, Sr.; Glenn Adesoji, SS, Sr.; Chris Atkins, FS, Sr.; Eric Martin, DB, Jr.

OUTLOOK: With his fifth-year seniors and other upperclassmen set to lead the way, Hughes believes the Hatters' fourth-year program is ready for a move up in the PFL standings. Of course, everybody is following Payne's lead. The All-America safety is a two-time PFL defensive player of the year and fills a box score unlike any defensive player in the FCS. DE Belk, who totaled 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks, joined Payne on the PFL preseason team. With Tentler leaving the program, QB McGovern (24-for-49, 269 yards, 4 INTs) is the new starter. He struggled last season, but will benefit from an improved offensive line. RB Mazza, who rushed for 922 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014, missed about five games with turf toe. The Hatters have to cut down on turnovers and penalties, but they figure to be improved.


Sept. 3, Sacred Heart

Sept. 10, Warner

Sept. 24, Jacksonville*

Oct. 1, at Davidson*

Oct. 8, at Brown

Oct. 15, Valparaiso*

Oct. 22, at Campbell*

Oct. 29, at Dayton*

Nov. 5, Marist*

Nov. 12, at San Diego*

Nov. 19, Drake*

* - PFL game



LOCATION: Valparaiso, Indiana

STADIUM: Brown Field

COACH: Dave Cecchini (5-17 in two seasons at Valparaiso)

LAST SEASON: 1-9 overall, 1-7 PFL (Tie/9th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (7 offense/5 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Jake Hutson, RB; John Guilford, DL; Alex Green, LB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Griff Norberg, FB, So. (PFL preseason first team)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: J.J. Nunes, DB, Sr. (76 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Ryan Clarke, QB, Jr.; Dalton Stokes, QB, R-So.; Grayson Bastin, RB, Sr.; Jean Rene, WR, So.; Frank Catrine, WR/PR, Jr.; Jarrett Morgan, WR/KR, Jr.; Bailey Gessinger, WR, Fr.; Brian Lang, OL, R-Jr.; Connor Rettig, OL, R-Jr.; Jack Jarnigan, OL, R-Fr.; Tristan De La Rosa, DL, Jr.; James Reed, DL, Fr.; Kye Hall, LB, Jr.; Mike Wheeler, LB, So.; Kellan Hughes, DB, Jr.; Joey Diaz-Martinez, DB, So.; Idode Kerbo, DB, Sr.

OUTLOOK: Valpo's encouraging first season (4-8) under Cecchini was followed by the usual struggles, but Cecchini's recruiting classes are building. The offensive line was young last season and improvement will allow QB Clarke (95-for-182, 980 yards, 10 TDs, 9 INTs) to connect with WRs Catrine and Rene, who combined on 75 catches and eight touchdowns last season. Clarke, though, is coming off a dislocated kneecap. Morgan, terrific on kickoffs, has been considered for a move from wide receiver to running back to aid a struggling part of the Crusaders' offense (73.7 rushing yards per game). Norberg, the PFL preseason fullback, is not a rusher, but more a blocker and pass catcher out of the backfield. The big loss on defense was Green, the Crusaders' first All-PFL first-team selection since 2006. DB Nunes has put together two straight excellent campaigns and seeks a big senior finish. The road schedule is daunting, but the home portion of it offers a chance for some wins.


Sept. 3, at Illinois State

Sept. 10, at Sacred Heart

Sept. 17, Trinity International (Ill.)

Sept. 24, Davidson*

Oct. 1, at Morehead State*

Oct. 8, Drake*

Oct. 15, at Stetson*

Oct. 22, at San Diego*

Oct. 29, Butler*

Nov. 5, at Dayton*

Nov. 12, Jacksonville*

* - PFL game



LOCATION: Davidson, North Carolina

STADIUM: Richardson Stadium

COACH: Paul Nichols (3-31 in three seasons at Davidson)

LAST SEASON: 2-9 overall, 1-7 PFL (9th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (4 offense/9 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: William Morris, WR; Jeffrey Keil, RB; Chris Woods, DE

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Taylor Mitchell, QB, Jr. (145-for-287, 1,506 yards, 11 TDs, 11 INTs)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Ben Hart, LB, Jr. (64 TT, 2 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: John Cook, QB/P, Sr.; Cam Cheuvront, WR, Jr.; Nick Wheeler, WR, Jr.; Derek Jones, TE, Jr.; Chase Davis, OT, Sr.; Alex Behrend, DT, Sr.; Grant Polofsky, DT, Sr.; Thomas Sykes, DE, Jr.; James Gessner, LB, Sr.; Nate Casey, LB, Sr.; Jaylen Mize, DB, Sr.; Ryan Felice, DB, Sr.; Ben Rowell, DB/PR, Jr.; Trevor Smith, PK, Jr.; Conrad Mueller, LS, Jr.

OUTLOOK: There was a better feel to the offseason after Nichols' third year at Davidson ended with a win at Stetson - his first both in the PFL and over an FCS program. The struggles will continue this year, but the Wildcats hope to add some more wins. Their offense averaged only 12.5 points and that was with a standout wide receiver in Morris, who has graduated. New offensive coordinator Vinny Marino will rely on a quarterback, Mitchell, who started to come into his own last season. But the Wildcats must do a better job at the line of scrimmage and develop some type of a running game. LB Hart, the team's leading tackler, is one of nine returning starters on defense. The Wildcats allowed over five yards a carry, so the improvement has to start up front.


Sept. 3, at Georgetown

Sept. 10, at Kentucky Wesleyan

Sept. 17, Livingstone

Sept. 24, at Valparaiso*

Oct. 1, Stetson*

Oct. 8, at San Diego*

Oct. 15, Butler*

Oct. 22, at Marist*

Oct. 29, Jacksonville*

Nov. 5, at Campbell*

Nov. 19, Morehead State*

* - PFL game