Over the last handful of years, the big guys in college football locally have had a tough time keeping up with their small college brethren.
Indianapolis, Franklin, Wabash, Marian, and St. Francis have all extended their season towards Thanksgiving if not behind on several occasions as of late. Butler joined that group a year ago by making it to the FCS playoffs for the first time.
Most of that group will also have another commonality this fall: the need to replace great senior talent and leadership at the quarterback position.
Indianapolis was forced to be a step ahead of that curve last season, when the school's all-time leading passer in Chris Mills suffered a broken collarbone in the league opener in early October. Enter Connor Barthel, who proceeded to throw for 15 touchdowns and just three picks while starting the last seven games of the season.
The Greyhounds went undefeated in GLVC play for a second straight year, and lost in the opening round of the D2 playoffs. Barthel returns, but he'll do so without the school's all-time leading rusher, Klay Fiechter, who graduated in the spring. The Hounds are favored to win the league again, but will have to go on the round for key league games at Truman State and Missouri S&T late in the season.
Franklin saw another record setting quarterback depart, as Speedway's Jonny West graduated after piling up over 10,000 career passing yards in four seasons. His high school and college favorite target in Kyle Linville is also a former Grizzly after catching 309 passes in four years.
The Griz will load up on tough competition before HCAC play gets underway, travelling to Illinois Wesleyan before hosting the defending D3 champs in UW-Whitewater on Sept. 13th. Franklin lost at Whitewater 33-3 in the second round of the D3 playoffs. Franklin has played either Whitewater or Mt. Union during the regular season in each of the last five campaigns, and those two schools have combined to win the last nine D3 titles.
Wabash is coming off a 9-1 season that for most schools would signal an outstanding season. But the one loss was at home to Wittenberg, which kept the Little Giants out of the postseason. Wabash will finish with their typically dangerous two-step, travelling to Witt and then hosting DePauw in the Monon Bell Classic. Wabash has won the last five meetings in that rivalry.
Butler will have to replace Matt Lancaster's leadership and over 2,700 yards passing from last year's team that won the Pioneer Football League's newly given automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. Also departed is leading rusher Trae Heeter, who collected just under 1,400 yards on the ground a season ago.
Marian went through a transitional season last year, finishing 6-5 and missing the postseason for the first time in four years after winning the 2012 NAIA national championship. Mark Henninger now enters his second season at the helm at MU, and knows this is the last go round for the school's all-time leading rusher in Tevin Lake. The South Bend native has already piled up over 4,000 yards on the ground in three years, including over 1,200 last season.
For all of these schools, the schedules begin next weekend. The opening weekend will be just the domain of the FBS schools plus Indiana State. But for the state's traditional small college powers, they'll gladly give up this weekend to their larger brethren.
They've been much more focused on the postseason anyway.