Midwestern State at New Mexico Highlands (Mismatch of the Week)
The Mustangs are coming off of the first ever LSC football title, but graduated 13 players that received All-Conference mention last year. The cupboard is far from empty though. Harlon Hill finalist Zack Eskridge leads the returnees, and barring injury will own virtually every passing record for Midwestern State. All he did last year was throw for 3,295 yards and 29 TDs, leading the nation in pass efficiency rating. He will be throwing to an almost new receiving corps, though David Little (33-556 and 3 TDs) does return. Marcus Mathis is the leading rusher, gaining 480 yards in 2009. Hank Gilley is the only starter returning on the offensive line. The defense, which led the LSC in scoring (13.6 points per game) and second in yards allowed (312.5) per game, returns just 4 starters.
The Cowboys finished 2009 with a 1-10 record, defeating Fort Lewis 39-35 for their lone victory. Six teams scored 50 or more points against NMHU, including 82 in week two to Washburn and 69 in the season finale to Colorado Mines. NMHU was outscored bye a 514-167 margin, and gave up more than 450 yards per game, while gaining just 252 while on offense.
The Mustangs are too good for this type of game, even though NMHU's coach says "we will be able to stand toe-to-toe with MSU". This game should give MSU a chance to work a bunch of newcomers into the rotation. MSU 52-0.
Northeastern State at Tarleton State
Northeastern State is kind of an unknown quantity this year. The Riverhawks have not had a winning season since 2001, compiling a 19-64 record over that time. Last year, NSU was 2-9, with wins over East Central and Southwestern Oklahoma. While the final record did not show it, the Riverhawks showed signs of improvement and 2010 might be the year they take that next big step forward. The key for the offense is improved play from the QB position whether it be Kenny Davis or Woody Wilson. NSU was second to last in the LSC in passing yards and quarterback efficiency rating. Trey McVay and Ben Randle are two good targets, while Prince McKinney and possibly freshman Steven Hopper lead the ground game. The defense will need to improve on last year's performance as well - NSU gave up 405 yards and 34 points per game.
Tarleton State, on the other hand have 10 consecutive winning seasons, going 80-33. Last year, the Texans went 10-3, winning a share of the LSC title, and advancing to the second round of the NCAA playoffs. That squad had a lot of seniors and leaders, so they are somewhat of an unknown quantity this year as well. Tennessee transfer Nick Stevens will make his debut under center, with an almost brand new set of receivers. Leading rusher Evan Robertson and three starting linemen do return, so early in the season, the running game might take on a bigger role. Defensively, the line looks to be an area of strength, with returners Jamaal Steamer and Jacob Rowe joined by three Blinn College transfers and one from Trinity Valley CC as well. New linebacker Damian Perkins was a preseason All-American at Stephen F. Austin a few years back. And the secondary, while not especially deep, does have Lonnie Buchanan and Brandon Johnson back.
Last year's contest was a surprisingly close 6-0 victory for Tarleton State. This year's game should be much more comfortable for the Texans. Tarleton wins their opener 35-14.
#14 Texas A&M-Kingsville at #1 Northwest Missouri (co-Game of the Week)
All eyes will be on the Javelinas' quarterback. Nate Poppell will be making his first collegiate start, and it couldn't come at more demanding venue. In limited duty last season, Poppell completed 6 of 7 passes for 38 yards with no TDs or Ints. He does have plenty of playmakers around him, with Fred Winborn and Connell Davis in the backfield, and three of the top four receivers from last year, plus the addition of Arizona transfer Delashaun Dean. Six starters return on defense, three on the line and three in the secondary. There should be improved depth at virtually every position. That's a good thing - they will be challenged in Maryville.
The defending national champions are loaded on offense, with All-Americans QB Blake Bolles and WR Jake Soy leading the way. Bolles threw for 4,145 yards and 42 TDs last year, and his favorite target, Soy, had 92 receptions for 1,559 yards and 27 TDs. Tyler Shaw had 53 receptions for 804 yards and 6 TDs to boot. They have to replace All-American RB LaRon Council , but with four returning starters on the line, the running game should be okay as well. For the season, NW averaged 475 yards and 42 points per game, both tops in the MIAA. Don't overlook the defense - NW also topped the MIAA, allowing just 320 yards and 18.7 points per game, and returns 6 starters. Simply put, the Bearcats have experienced talent all over the field.
This game would be tough for the Javelinas with starters returning at every position. Breaking a new quarterback makes the task that much tougher. Look for the Javelinas to hang tight early, but the Bearcats should pull away at home. NWMUS 42-27
#8 West Texas A&M at #2 Grand Valley State (co-Game of the Week)
The Buffaloes hope to fare better with their early schedule this year. Last year, the Buffs dropped five of their first six games in what had to be the toughest schedule in the nation. Most of the offense is back including QB Taylor Harris, his top three receivers (Williams, Burton and Golden), the team's leading rusher and three starters on the line. What is missing is huge though - Keithon Flemming's return from a preseason injury last year directly coincided with the resurgence of the Buffalo offense. Kelving Thompson and Tommy Hampton have some big shoes to fill. The defense lost some pretty good players as well - Eugene Sims and Broderick Marshall specifically, but this year's group should be improved. Bryan Braman and Simi Kuli give WT possibly the best pair of DE's in the league. Twelve different players started at linebacker in 2009 and that experience should be very helpful in 2010. The secondary could be the best in the LSC, with all four starters back, including two first team All-LSC South selections.
Over the past decade, Grand Valley State has been the top D2 football program in the nation. The Lakers have won 4 national championships and twice finished as the runner-up, including last year. They have won at least 10 games for 9 straight seasons, and are 115-9 since 2001. They will need to replace starters at QB, RB and WR on an offense that racked up 450 yards and 36 points per game. With four starting linemen the task should be a bit easier. Kyle McMahon has experience at QB from his playing days at Eastern Michigan. The always stout defense returns just four starters and will miss All-American Danny Richards out with a knee injury. Last year they gave up just 305 yards and 18 points per game.
WT does enjoy an edge in experience, but Grand Valley does not rebuild, they recruit extremely well and their newcomers typically meet or exceed their predecessor's performance. If this game was at Kimbrough, it would be tempting to pick the Buffs, but at home it's GV 31-28.
Saturday Night Games
Upper Iowa at Texas A&M-Commerce
Upper Iowa at Texas A&M-Commerce
Okay, this one isn't a marquee matchup. Upper Iowa? The Peacocks (yeah that's right, the Peacocks) were 3-8 last year with wins over Minn-Crookston (1-10), Northern State (2-9) and Lincoln, MO (0-11). Take out the Lincoln game (possibly the worst D2 team in the nation) and UI gave up 44 points and 513 yards per game. The offense was respectable, scoring 27 points and picking up 399 yards per contest.
The Lions will look to become more consistent in 2010. Last year saw TAMC almost upset two nationally ranked squads (lost to ACU in OT, and TAMK by one), but also barley squeak by the bottom of the LSC North (SWO and ECU by 3 points each), and get blown out by ENMU 76-56. A year of experience in Coach Morriss's system and stability at the skill positions on offense will go a long toward that end. Throw in a usually salty defense, led by Cory Whitfield and A. J. Billings, and the Lions look to be more balanced than in recent years.
Last year, TAMC struggled early against a tough schedule. This year, they will open up newly remodeled Memorial Stadium in grand style. TAMC 42-17.
East Central at Fort Hays State
The Tigers come into with a lot of unknowns, but potentially an much improved team. New QB Tyler Vanderzee, Tulsa transfer Charles Opeseyitan, a few transfer WRs, and some big OL transfers will join returning All-LSC North performers Zack Patteson, Jon Ramos and Chad Roark to improve an offense that scored just 13 points per game, and was last in yards gained with only 208. The defense was a tad better, giving up 33.5 points per game (10th in LSC) and 387 yards (9th). Junior College transfers Lonnell Rice, Austin Daniels, and All-American Dontea Smith highlight the influx of new talent on that side of the ball.
Fort Hays finished a surprising 6-5 in 2010, with a 31-20 upset over Nebraska-Omaha being their season highlight. The offense was good (33 points and 387 yards per game) and returns almost all of their top skill players and a veteran line with 3 seniors. The defense was not good (36.5 points and 458.5 yards per game, both last in the MIAA), but they do return 8 of their top 11 tacklers. That could be good or bad, though. The Tigers do have a game under their belt, beating RMAC doormat Western State 45-20 last week.
The Tigers will win. That was easy since both teams are .... never mind. The advantage of playing last week and all of the new faces at ECU, should allow Fort Hays to take this one. FHSU 35-21
Eastern New Mexico at Angelo State (Best Conference Game of the Week)
The Greyhound offense did not skip a beat with Wes Wood at the helm. Wood completed 72% of his passes for 391 yards and 7 TDs with 0 interceptions. He spread the ball around to 10 different receivers, and half of them had at least one TD. Jesse Poku was the favorite target with 10 receptions for 126 yards and 3 TDs. Darian Dale (9-71 1 TD), Troy Harris (6-43 1 TD) and Stfan Mills (5-29) were also busy. Heck, ENMU even rushed for 117 yards, with Harris averaging 5.3 yards per carry (11-58). Sure it was Southern Nazarene, but the Crimson Storm beat ENMU in the opener two years ago. The defense played well picking off 5 passes and allowing just three sustained drives of 40 or more yards (two resulted in TDs). The kick coverage had one snafu, allowing an 84 yard kick return, setting up SNU's first TD.
They will be facing an ASU squad playing their first game of the season. With Josh Neiswander back at QB, and V'Keon Lacey and Dakarai Pecikonis at WT, the Rams should once again have a strong passing game. Last year, Neiswander torched ENMU for 403 yards passing (outgaining ENMU) and three TDs, with Pecikonis and Lacey grabbing 11 passes for 199 yards and all 3 TDs. An effective running game will be important to help control the clock. Defensively, the Rams will want to consistently pressure Wood (they had 7 sacks in last year's matchup) to keep him from getting too comfortable.
Angelo State might come out of the gate a little rusty, but if they can keep from falling too far behind early, they should be able to regain their footing, and take the game. ASU 38-31
#6 Abilene Christian at #9 Washburn (co-Game of the Week)
ACU has lost a couple of offensive options since fall camp openend. QB Zach Stewart decided he didn't want to play football anymore, and RB Reggie Brown injured a knee and is out for the season. That leaves Mitchell Gale as the clear cut starter at QB. Gale took over the starting role over the final 8 games of the season, throwing for 1,700 yards and 10 TD's, but was inconsistent at times. The Wildcats will count on Darryl Richards (961 yards and 16 TD's rushing in 2009) and newcomer Josh Morgan more than expected. Edmund Gates leads back most of the receiving corps, and three starting linemen are back as well. The strength of the team is once again expected to be the defense. The line of Aston Whiteside, Fred Thompson, and Marvin Jones is one of the best in the LSC, as is the linebacking group of Courtney Lane, Kevin Washington, Eric Edwards and Bryson Lewis. The question mark on defense is the secondary, where Drew Cuffee is the lone returning starter.
In recent years, Washburn has become one of the top MIAA teams. Since 2004, the Ichabods have a 46-23 record with two playoff trips. They have an experienced offense with 9 players that have started more than 10 career games. That offense amassed 611 yards last week against Colorado Mines, but 5 turnovers limited them to just 4 TDs. Vershon Moore rushed for 218 yards, Dane Simoneau threw for 300, and Joe Hastings caught 13 passes for 201 yards. The defense allowed 323 yards, but only 9 on the ground.
Washburn may have a chip on their shoulder, missing out on the playoffs with an 8-3 record, while 4 LSC teams (including ACU with an 8-3 record) got in. Those thoughts should disappear after a few big hits, with the focus shifting back to the game at hand. Kudos to the LSC teams that scheduled so many big games early in the season. Sadly, all of them are on the road this year, and once again, we will take the home team.Washburn 31-21.