#8 South Dakota State FCS Football 2016 Preview

South Dakota State Jackrabbits
Overall Rank: #8
#3 Missouri Valley
Under Coach John Stiegelmeier, South Dakota State has emerged as a consistent force in the MVFC and the FCS. The Jackrabbits reached their fourth straight playoffs in 2015. It was a short trip that resulted in a 24-17 opening game loss at Montana. The season began with a victory over Kansas and SDSU just kept rolling from there, only losing to North Dakota State and Northern Iowa until the season finale and the playoffs. With one of the more potent passing offenses in the country and a defense that refuses to break, the program should be eyeing their fifth straight playoff trip.
2015 Record: 8-4, 5-3
2015 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: John Stiegelmeier (128-90 at South Dakota State, 128-90 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Eric Eidsness
Defensive Coordinator: Clint Brown
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Brady Mengarelli, RB, 742 yards
Passing: Zach Lujan, QB, 1,861 yards
Receiving: Jake Wieneke, WR, 1,472 yards
Tackles: Jesse Bobbit, LB, 97
Sacks: Cole Langer, DL, 4.5
Interceptions: Nick Farina, DB, 2
Other Key Returnees: RB Kyle Paris, QB Taryn Christion, TE Dallas Goedert, OL Jacob Ohnesorge, DB Chris Balster, DB Nick Mears, DB Dallas Brown, DL Jared Blum
Key Losses: LB T.J. Lally, DB Jimmy Forsythe, DB Je Ryan Butler, DL J.R. Plote
The Jackrabbits played both Zach Lujan and Taryn Christion at quarterback last season and both played quite well. The team ranked second in the conference in passing offense and Lujan and Christion will look for similar success this year. Lujan, a senior, is the more experienced option and threw for 1,861 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Christion is a more mobile quarterback who threw for 1,286 yards and seven scores and rushed for 347 yards and five more touchdowns. It really does not matter who is playing quarterback with wide receiver Jake Wieneke back for his junior year. Last season he caught 72 passes for 1,472 yards and 11 scores. Dallas Goedert is also one of the best tight ends in the conference. The ground game is not nearly as prolific, but Brady Mengarelli is back after rushing for 742 yards and six touchdowns and so is Kyle Paris, who added 428 yards and six more trips to the end zone.
The defense allowed just 17.3 points per game last season, which ranked eighth in the FCS. That is especially impressive because the total yard defense was not that great, ranking 50th in the FCS. This was a South Dakota State defense that would bend, but rarely broke. But there are some big holes to fill, most notably at linebacker where T.J. Lally is gone after leading the team with 102 tackles. Jesse Bobbit will have to turn into the new leader in the middle of the defense. The Jackrabbits also have to find two new cornerbacks. The line is solid and players like Cole Langer will get pressure on the quarterback, but it will not be as easy to keep teams out of the end zone without Lally and Jimmy Forsythe and Je Ryan Butler.
The Bottom Line:
With games against North Dakota State, Illinois State and Northern Iowa on the road, South Dakota State will have a tough time competing for an MVFC title. Those are not easy places to get wins for any team, even one as good as South Dakota State. However, the home slate is manageable enough that even if SDSU loses those three games, and at TCU to open the season, they should get to seven wins on the year and make the playoffs.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 140.7 (75th in nation, 9th in conference)
Passing Offense: 270.8 (22, 2)
Total Offense: 411.5 (40, 4)
Scoring Offense: 28.4 (48, 6)
Rushing Defense: 173.5 (67, 6)
Pass Defense: 197.8 (37, 4)
Total Defense: 371.3 (50, 5)
Scoring Defense: 17.3 (8, 2)
Turnover Margin: 0.42 (30, 4)
Sacks: 1.75 (83, 6)
Sacks Allowed: 2.50 (88, 8)
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#29 Alec Cromer
#135 Josh Manchigiah