Pioneer FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

Pioneer FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

Pioneer FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

Pioneer FCS Football 2015 Preseason All-Conference Teams


For the third year in a row, the entire history of the Pioneer Football League in the playoffs, the best team in the conference may not make the playoffs. San Diego and Jacksonville banned themselves from postseason play and won the conference in 2013 and 2014, respectively. But the PFL concluded that Jacksonville will be banned from postseason play for the 2015 campaign. Being involved in the playoffs has improved the competiveness in the league, but they will continue to struggle to compete against the best the FCS has to offer if the best team is not eligible.


1. Jacksonville

Eligible for the postseason or not, Jacksonville is still the favorite to win the conference. Quarterback Kade Bell is back for his senior season after leading the PFL with 3,181 passing yards and 31 passing touchdowns. Bell will continue to throw to Andy Jones, who caught 46 passes for 684 yards and seven touchdowns in 2014, but some new faces will need to step up at wide receiver. Running back Ulysses Bryant, who rushed for 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore, will help pick up the slack. On the other side of the ball, linebackers Grady Redding and D.J. Howard and defensive backs Terrance Bryant and Dallas Jackson lead a talented defense.


2. San Diego

San Diego benefited from Jacksonville’s postseason ban in 2014 and took the PFL’s bid to the playoffs. They went to Montana and lost handily 52-14. Once again the Toreros may benefit from Jacksonville’s ineligibility. USD does have some holes to fill though. Quarterback Keith Williams and top receivers Brandon White and Reggie Bell are gone. Trey Wheeler was Williams’ backup last season and did go 19-of-32 for 151 yards and two touchdowns in a start against Stetson. Tight end Ross Dwelley and wide receiver Justin Priest are the most likely candidates to replace some of the production lost with White and Bell.


3. Dayton

Dayton finished PFL action with a 6-2 record last year, one game behind Jacksonville and San Diego. With the return of Offensive Player of the Year Connor Kascor, the Flyers will compete for a title. The senior running back rushed for 1,547 yards and 17 touchdowns. The rest of the offense has some retooling to do as Blake Bir and Luke Johnson look to replace departed quarterback Will Bardo. The defense is strong and experienced, led by linebacker Chris Beaschler and both Jacksonville and San Diego have to come to Dayton.


4. Drake

Allowing just 318.0 yards per game, Drake ranked 18th in the FCS in total defense. With linebacker John Hugunin and his 89 tackles returning, this defense could be even better. Hugunin will team up with Taylor Coleman, who totaled 95 tackles. In the secondary, the Bulldogs are talented too with Brad Duwe and Bob Quilico leading the way. The offense needs to improve, but at least running back Conley Wilkins and quarterback Andy Rice.


5. Morehead State

Morehead State has a lot of potential after going 3-5 in conference play in 2014. The offense was very effective though under quarterback Austin Gahafer. He threw for 2,840 yards and 23 touchdowns and 697 yards and six touchdowns went to returning wide receiver Jake Raymond. The defense was disappointing, but there is a lot of experience now and a lot of potential for improvement with lineman Ronald Cooper, linebacker Luke Keller and defensive back Justin Grier.


6. Stetson

Stetson does not lack for playmakers. Chris Atkins, Donald Payne and Ryan Powers combined for 13 interceptions last season and will lead a dangerous defensive unit. The offense will work around running back Cole Mazza and quarterback Ryan Tentler. Mazza rushed for 906 yards and ten touchdowns, while Tentler threw for 1,834 yards and 17 touchdowns. With a little more consistency, Stetson could make a push up the standings. However, a their first three conference games are against Drake, Dayton and Jacksonville. And three weeks later the Hatters host San Diego. Winning more than four conference games would be a stretch.


7. Campbell

Campbell finished 4-4 last year, but they were not that far off from a breakthrough season. Three of their four conference losses were by a touchdown or less. On offense, the running back trio of DeShawn Jones, Keith Goss and Jared Joyner should be effective, but those three only combined to rush for four touchdowns. The defensive front seven is led by linemen Ugonna Awuruonye, who tallied 8.0 sacks and 68 tackles, and Greg Milhouse and linebacker Andrew Yost, who led the team with 82 tackles.


8. Valparaiso

In their first nine games last year, Valparaiso only beat William Jewell and Missouri Baptist. But the Crusaders finished very strong and have a lot of momentum heading into the 2015 season. They beat Butler 17-3, lost at San Diego 27-32 on a last second play and finished the year with a 27-13 win over Davidson. Valpo does need to find a new quarterback yet again, but Brandon Hall is talented running back and the defense


9. Butler

When Butler was involved in a shootout, they managed to win a couple conference games. They knocked off Stetson 49-41 and Morehead State 62-52. Coach Jeff Voris still has a long way to go. Running back Sam Schrader has a good offensive line to work behind, but quarterbacks Malcolm Weaver and Matt Shiltz need to be more efficient.


10. Marist

The Marist offense scored just 22 touchdowns in 11 games. The stagnant offense could be in even more trouble without running back Atiq Lucas, who rushed for 740 yards and seven touchdowns. While the ground game retools, Marist will look to the combination of quarterback Anthony Francis and receiver Matt Tralli to spark the offense.


11. Davidson

Davidson has gone two years without winning a conference game. The good news is three of their four conference home games against Valparaiso, Marist and Campbell are winnable. Jeffrey Keil rushed for 725 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman, but the Wildcats need Taylor Mitchell to be more efficient under center. He played in six games last season and threw 11 interceptions and just two touchdowns.


Conference Game To Watch:

San Diego at Dayton, October 10 – This is an early season contest that should have huge playoff implications. A year ago in San Diego, the Toreros beat the Flyers 40-29 and cruised to the playoffs from there. Dayton took a 26-20 into the fourth quarter before being outscored 20-3 in final stanza.


Another Conference Game To Watch:

Dayton at Drake, November 21 – If San Diego struggles, Dayton and Drake could be playing for a playoff appearance during the final week of the regular season. Last year, the Flyers blew a ten point lead late in the fourth quarter and they will be looking for revenge this year. But Drake’s normally stout defense allowed running back Connor Kacsor to rush for 167 yards and two touchdowns and they will need to find a way to contain the talented back.


Non-Conference Game To Watch:

Jacksonville at Delaware, September 5 – With no playoff possibility for Jacksonville, they will look to knock off a big conference opponent in the first week of the season. Delaware was terribly inconsistent last season and they may not have answers to all of their questions in week one. That is prime time for an experienced team like Jacksonville to pull off an upset.


FBS Upset Watch:

San Diego at San Diego State, September 5 – San Diego heading across town to face San Diego State is the only game the conference has against an FBS team. Certainly any Pioneer team will struggle against any FBS team. San Diego will have to play a perfect game and that will not be easy to do while breaking in a new quarterback and a few new wide receivers during week one.


Freshman To Watch: (Complete FCS Recruit Rankings)

It is asking a lot of Matt Millea to spark an offense that struggled as much as Marist’s, but the 6-1 wide receiver does have the potential to at least make things better in Poughkeepsie, New York. With fellow receiver Matt Tralli garnering attention from the opposing defense, Millea should get some space to operate.


Most Underrated:

Morehead State’s Austin Gahafer may be overshadowed by Jacksonville’s Kade Bell when it comes to quarterbacks in the PFL, but he had a superb sophomore season, completing 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,840 yards and 23 touchdowns. Heading into his third season as a starter, Gahafer is ready to decrease his interceptions and keep Morehead State’s offense as one of the best in the conference.  


FCS All-Conference Teams

FCS Conference Previews