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A full preview of the Missouri Valley Football Conference

 

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Everybody else is asking, "Can they do it again?"

First-year North Dakota State football coach Chris Klieman is just content to make it through the next day of practice.

In one way, all the pressure is on Klieman and his Bison program, which has won three straight FCS national titles, joining the 2005-07 Appalachian State teams as the only pair to do so.

In another way, all the pressure if off Klieman and the Bison. They're part of a 2014 team that has lost 24 seniors as well as the architect of the glorious run, Craig Bohl, who departed to become Wyoming's new head coach. That's something few teams could ever overcome.

"I'm just going to take it day by day and try to learn as much as I can," Klieman said. "I know that I've been given a fortunate opportunity to step in here for Craig and I've got a lot of great coaches here and a lot of good leaders in our senior class. This will be a collaborative effort by a lot of people. It's a unique place, it's a unique opportunity, and I'm just excited to see what we can do in the future and try to keep this thing going."

Klieman, who turns 47 on Sept. 27 - conveniently, the Saturday during a weekend bye - has only been a head coach for a 3-7 season at Loras College in 2005. But he was the defensive coordinator of the Bison's standout unit last season and doesn't need to make a lot of changes schematically.

He gains the top post for a season in which the Missouri Valley Football Conference is the only FCS conference with three Top 10 teams in the preseason - the No. 2 Bison, No. 9 Northern Iowa and No. 10 South Dakota State. Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Youngstown State also can realistically look at runs toward FCS playoff berths.

A year ago, the Missouri Valley was utterly disappointed that it had only two teams in the playoffs.

The big one, of course - North Dakota State - didn't lose in the playoffs. That hasn't happened with the Bison since 2010.

PRESEASON ALL-MVC TEAM
Offense
QB - Austin Sumner, South Dakota State, Sr.; RB - David Johnson, Northern Iowa, Sr.; RB - Zach Zenner, South Dakota State, Sr.; FB - Andrew Bonnet, North Dakota State, Jr.; WR - Jason Schneider, South Dakota State, Sr.; WR - Zach Vraa, North Dakota State, Sr.; TE - MyCole Pruitt, Southern Illinois, Sr.; OL - Robert Booker, Missouri State, Jr.; OL - Zack Cooley, Missouri State, Sr.; OL - Richard Galbierz, Missouri State, Sr.; OL - Trevor Greger, South Dakota State, Sr.; OL - Zack Johnson, North Dakota State, Jr.; OL - Jack Rummells, Northern Iowa, Sr.

Defense
DL - Kyle Emanuel, North Dakota State, Sr.; DL - Drew Iddings, South Dakota, Jr.; DL - Cole Langer, South Dakota State, So.; DL - Xavier Williams, Northern Iowa, Sr.; LB - Andrew Beisel, Missouri State, Sr.; LB - Auston Johnson, South Dakota, Sr.; LB - Carlton Littlejohn, North Dakota State, Sr.; LB - Pat Meehan, Illinois State, Jr.; LB - Connor Underwood, Indiana State, Jr.; DB - Martinez Davis, Western Illinos, Sr.; DB - Makinton Dorleant, Northern Iowa, Jr.; DB - Colten Heagle, North Dakota State, Sr.; DB - Caleb Schaffitzel, Missouri State, Sr.

Special Teams
LS - Chris Highland, Illinois State, Sr.; PK - Thomas Kinney, Southern Illinois, Sr.; P - Ben LeCompte, North Dakota State, Jr.; RS - Andre Stubbs, Youngstown State, Jr.

Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2014 Missouri Valley Conference race.

The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:

1. North Dakota State

2. Northern Iowa

3. South Dakota State

4. Southern Illinois

5. Illinois State

6. Youngstown State

7. Missouri State

8. South Dakota

9. Western Illinois

10. Indiana State

Team-by-team capsules:

1. NORTH DAKOTA STATE BISON

LOCATION: Fargo, North Dakota

STADIUM: Fargodome

COACH: Chris Klieman (first season at North Dakota State; 3-7 overall)

LAST SEASON: 15-0 overall, 8-0 Missouri Valley (1st); FCS champions; No. 1 TSN final ranking

STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (4 offense/6 defense)

BIG LOSSES: QB Brock Jensen (218-for-329, 2,793 yards, 34 TD, 7 INT); RB Sam Ojuri (214 carries, 1,398 yards, 10 TD); WR/RS Ryan Smith (54 receptions, 703 yards, 5 TD); LT Billy Turner; LG Zack Johnson, Jr. (injured); LB Grant Olson (82 TT, 7 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 INT, QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF); CB Marcus Williams (31 TT, 3 INT, 8 PBU)

OFFENSIVE STAR: RB/KR John Crockett, Sr. (190 carries, 1,277 yards, 11 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: SS Colten Heagle, Sr. (85 TT, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 BLK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Carson Wentz, Jr. (22-for-30, 209 yards, 1 TD)

RB King Frazier, So. (Nebraska transfer)

RB Chase Morlock, So.

FB Andrew Bonnet, Jr.

WR Zach Vraa, Sr. (67 receptions, 1,191 yards, 15 TD)

WR Trevor Gebhart, Sr.

TE Kevin Vaadeland, Sr.

LT Joe Haeg, Jr.

DE Kyle Emanuel, Sr. (47 TT, 10 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 8 QBH, 1 FF, 2 BLK)

DE Mike Hardie, Sr.

DT Nate Tanguay, R-Fr.

NG Brian Schaetz, Jr.

LB Carlton Littlejohn, Sr. (89 TT, 7 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 7 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FF)

LB Travis Beck, Sr. (72 TT, 3 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 QBH)

LB Esley Thorton, Sr.

LB Nick DeLuca, So.

FS/RS Christian Dudzik, Sr. (56 TT, 3 TFL, 6 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF; 10.8-yard punt return average, 2 TD)

SS Chris Board, R-Fr.

CB CJ Smith, Jr.

P Ben LeCompte, Jr.

OUTLOOK: After becoming the second program to win three straight FCS national titles, the Bison believe they are not done. Ranked second in the preseason, the three-time defending Missouri Valley champions still have enough talent, experience, and, well, dominating defense to make a run at yet another national title. They have lost former head coach Craig Bohl to Wyoming and 24 seniors, however. QB Wentz hopes to break out while he replaces the winningest quarterback (Jensen, 48 wins) in FCS history. Wentz has a taller frame, quickness and good decision making, but just doesn't have the experience yet. He gets back a two-time 1,000-yard rusher (Crockett) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Vraa), but the offensive line has been retooled. The staple in a season of change is the defense, which returns experienced players for new head coach Klieman, the defensive coordinator last season. SS Heagle is a Buck Buchanan Award candidate, and the same could eventually be said for DE Emanuel. Littlejohn and Beck are highly experienced linebackers. The special teams should be exceptional, too. The Bison will face a target all season and the trips to Iowa State and Northern Iowa will be particularly tough. A deep run through the playoffs remains likely.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - at Iowa State

Sept. 6 - at Weber State

Sept. 13 - Incarnate Word

Sept. 20 - Montana

Oct. 4 - at Western Illinois

Oct. 11 - Southern Illinois

Oct. 18 - Indiana State

Oct. 25 - at South Dakota

Nov. 1 - South Dakota State

Nov. 8 - at Northern Iowa

Nov. 15 - at Missouri State

Nov. 22 - Youngstown State

2. NORTHERN IOWA PANTHERS

LOCATION: Cedar Falls, Iowa

STADIUM: UNI-Dome

COACH: Mark Farley (111-51 in 13 seasons at Northern Iowa)

LAST SEASON: 7-5 overall, 3-5 Missouri Valley (Tie/7th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 18 (10 offense/8 defense)

BIG LOSSES: DE Collin Albrecht (32 TT, 13.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FF); LB Jordan Gacke (90 TT, 6.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 QBH, 1 FR); PK Tyler Sievertsen (21- of-27 FG, 97 points)

OFFENSIVE STAR: RB David Johnson, Sr. (222 carries, 1,291 yards, 10 TD; 38 receptions, 393 yards, 4 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Xavier Williams, Sr. (74 TT, 12 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Sawyer Kollmorgen, Jr. (156-for-248, 1,824 yards, 14 TD, 5 INT)

WR Chad Owens WR, Sr. (60 receptions, 595 yards, 5 TD)

WR Kevin Vereen Jr., Jr. (52 receptions, 750 yards, 4 TD)

WR Logan Cunningham, So.

WR Brett LeMaster, Sr.

TE Brandon Lehman, Jr.

OL Jack Rummells, Sr.

OL Ryan Bingaman, Sr.

OL Kirk Harris, Jr.

OL Robert Rathje, So.

LB Max Busher, Sr. (75 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 QBH)

LB Jake Farley, Sr. (56 TT, 2 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)

LB Brett McMakin, So.

CB Deiondre' Hall, Jr. (57 TT, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 INT, 5 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 BLK)

CB Makinton Dorleant, Jr.

SS Ray Mitchell, Sr. (55 TT, 4 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR)

FS Tate Omli, Sr. (59 TT, 2 INT, 1 PBU)

P Logan Bieghler, Jr.

OUTLOOK: The No. 9-ranked Panthers are a trendy pick to bounce back in a huge way. They were 4-0 to start last season before injuries and tough losses caught up to them. But many of their key players are back, including a healthier Kollmorgen (QB) and Johnson (RB). LB Jake Farley, the coach's son, isn't 100 percent following his season-ending broken leg in the fifth game. Still, the offense will be big and strong, with Johnson a pro prospect and Kollmorgen getting back his go-to receivers. Rummells is an All-American up front. On a defense which surrendered only 18.8 points per game last season, the return of an experienced secondary is pivotal. It will allow DT Williams to build on his huge junior season. The Panthers will open the season against two FBS opponents and play four of their first six games on the road, but the matchup circled on the calendar is in Cedar Falls - Nov. 8 versus North Dakota State. The coaches are looking for the Panthers to finish games better than a year ago.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - at Iowa

Sept. 13 - at Hawaii

Sept. 20 - Northern Colorado

Sept. 27 - Tennessee Tech

Oct. 4 - at Indiana State

Oct. 11 - at South Dakota

Oct. 18 - South Dakota State

Oct. 25 - at Western Illinois

Nov. 1 - Illinois State

Nov. 8 - North Dakota State

Nov. 15 - at Southern Illinois

Nov. 22 - Missouri State

3. SOUTH DAKOTA STATE JACKRABBITS

LOCATION: Brookings, South Dakota

STADIUM: Coughlin-Alumni Stadium

COACH: John Stiegelmeier (111-81 in 17 seasons at South Dakota State)

LAST SEASON: 9-5 overall, 5-3 Missouri Valley (Tie/2nd); No. 13 TSN final ranking

STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (6 offense/5 defense)

BIG LOSSES: FB Vince Benedetto; LT Bryan Witzmann; DT Chase Douglas (42 TT, 12.5 TFL, 9 sacks, 2 QBH, 2 FF, 1 BLK); LB R.C. Kilgore (134 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 INT, 1 QBH, 5 FR); CB Winston Wright (52 TT, 4 INT, 2 PBU, 4 FF, 1 BLK)

OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Zach Zenner, Sr. (351 carries, 2,015 yards, 23 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: LB T.J. Lally, Jr. (89 TT, 6.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Austin Sumner, Sr. (240-for-408, 2,999 yards, 19 TD, 8 INT)

RB Reggie Gandy, Jr.

FB Chad Strehlow, Jr.

WR Jason Schneider, Sr. (78 receptions, 1,088 yards, 10 TD)

WR Dom Wright, Sr.

WR Trevor Wesley, Jr.

TE Cam Jones, Jr.

LT Bryce Siverling, Jr.

RT Trevor Greger, Sr.

DE Jack Sherlock, Sr.

DE J.R. Plote, Jr.

DT Cole Langer, So.

LB Charles Elmore, Jr. (67 TT, 8 TFL, 3 INT, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF, 1 BLK)

CB Jimmie Forsythe, Jr.

CB/PR Je Ryan Butler, Jr. (11.8-yard punt return average, 1 TD)

FS Jake Gentile, Sr.

PK Justin Syrovatka, Sr. (12-of-20 FG, 85 points)

P Ethan Sawyer, Sr.

OUTLOOK: The Jackrabbits won their final four games in the regular season last year to achieve back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time. With plenty of standout returnees, Stiegelmeier wants his team to win more than one playoff game. It's still a team that will grind out wins behind Zenner, who needs less than 300 yards to set the conference's all-time rushing mark and is one of only two FCS players in history to rush for over 2,000 yards in two seasons (former Sacramento State RB Charles Roberts was the first). Zenner won't have as strong an offensive line, but opponents will have to respect the Sumner-to-Schneider passing combination. Sumner finished one yard shy of 3,000 passing yards last season despite being under pressure too often (the Jackrabbits allowed 47 sacks). The defensive line is retooled, but the Lally- Elmore linebackers duo is strong. The defense's aggressive style forced 33 turnovers and led to an impressive plus-15 turnover margin. With a difficult road schedule which includes trips to Northern Iowa and North Dakota State within conference play, the Jackrabbits won't take the easy way back to the playoffs.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - at Missouri

Sept. 6 - Cal Poly

Sept. 13 - at Southern Utah

Sept. 20 - Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Oct. 4 - at Illinois State

Oct. 11 - Missouri State

Oct. 18 - at Northern Iowa

Oct. 25 - Youngstown State

Nov. 1 - at North Dakota State

Nov. 8 - at Indiana State

Nov. 15 - Western Illinois

Nov. 22 - South Dakota

4. SOUTHERN ILLINOIS SALUKIS

LOCATION: Carbondale, Illinois

STADIUM: Saluki Stadium

COACH: Dale Lennon (42-28 in six seasons at Southern Illinois; 144-60 overall)

LAST SEASON: 7-5 overall, 5-3 Missouri Valley (Tie/2nd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (8 offense/9 defense)

BIG LOSSES: QB Kory Faulkner (165-for-272, 1,997 yards, 18 TD, 4 INT); WR John Lantz (51 receptions, 885 yards, 5 TD); LB Bryan Presume (104 TT, 12.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 7 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF, 3 BLK); P Austin Pucylowski

OFFENSIVE STAR: TE MyCole Pruitt, Sr. (48 receptions, 601 yards, 5 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: OLB Tyler Williamson, Sr. (66 TT, 13 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 4 QBH, 3 FF, 2 BLK),

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Mark Iannotti, Jr. (Eastern Michigan transfer)

QB Ryan West, So. (63-for-127, 675 yards, 6 TD, 5 INT)

QB Matt Vincent, Jr.

RB Malcolm Agnew, Sr. (180 carries, 888 yards, 6 TD; 15 receptions, 137 yards, 1 TD)

RB Tay Willis, Sr. (60 carries, 321 yards)

WR/RS LaSteven McKinney, Sr. (51 receptions, 486 yards, 5 TD)

OT Ethan Wirth, Jr.

OG Corey Boemer, Sr.

C Tanner Crum, Sr.

DE Blake Miller, Sr.

DE Brandon Williams, Jr.

NT Raysean Golden, Jr.

NT T.J. Beelen, Jr.

OLB Cory Lee, Sr.

ILB Carl Bivens, So. (50 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 FR)

ILB Jordan Poole, Sr. (53 TT, 5.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF)

CB Courtney Richmond, Sr.

S D.J. Cameron, Jr. (58 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 INT, 5 PBU, 2 FR)

S Boo Rodgers, Sr.

PK Thomas Kinney, PK (18-of-24 FG, 94 points)

OUTLOOK: During the offseason, SIU lost as many assistant coaches (five) as 2013 starters, so the entire team must jell together. Lennon has taken over the defensive coordinator duties and offensive line coach Bill O'Boyle was promoted to offensive coordinator. The Salukis have fallen on hard times considering their lofty standards - missing the playoffs in four straight seasons - but they have the talent to be a dark horse in the title race. Iannotti, the transfer from Eastern Michigan, won the No. 1 QB position in preseason camp and is welcomed by plenty of offensive weapons: All-America TE Pruitt, WR McKinney and RB Agnew. The defense seeks significant improvement against the pass. Despite the big loss of Presume, the defense is strong at linebacker with Williamson, Poole and Bivens, a potential breakout candidate. Kinney is one of the best place-kickers in the FCS.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 28 - Taylor

Sept. 6 - at Eastern Illinois

Sept. 13 - Southeast Missouri State

Sept. 20 - at Purdue

Sept. 27 - Western Illinois

Oct. 4 - South Dakota

Oct. 11 - at North Dakota State

Oct. 18 - at Youngstown State

Oct. 25 - Indiana State

Nov. 8 - at Missouri State

Nov. 15 - Northern Iowa

Nov. 22 - at Illinois State

5. ILLINOIS STATE REDBIRDS

LOCATION: Normal, Illinois

STADIUM: Hancock Stadium

COACH: Brock Spack (33-24 in five seasons at Illinois State)

LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 4-4 Missouri Valley (6th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)

BIG LOSSES: FB Jordan Aladenoye; OT Josh Aladenoye; DE Colton Underwood (66 TT, 12 TFL, 3 sacks, 5 PBU, 9 QBH, 2 FR, 2 FF, 1 BLK); Rickey Simpson (42 TT, 5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 9 QBH, 1 FR)

OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Marshaun Coprich, So. (221 carries, 885 yards, 9 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Pat Meehan, Jr. (82 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 4 QBH, 1 FR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Tre Roberson, Jr. (Indiana transfer)

QB Blake Winkler, So. (127-for-217, 1,637 yards, 12 TD)

QB Jake Kolbe, Fr.

FB Collin Keoshian, Sr. (65 carries, 204 yards, 6 TD)

WR Cameron Meredith, Sr. (21 receptions, 370 yards, 5 TD)

WR Lechein Neblett, Sr.

TE James O'Shaughnessy, Sr.

OT Mike Liedtke, Sr.

OG Rocco Ammons, Sr.

OT Jermaine Barton, Sr.

C Mark Spelman, So.

C Charles Cowley, Sr.

OG Kyle Avaloy, So.

DT Bradon Prate, Sr.

DE David Perkins, Jr.

LB Alex Donnelly, Jr. (74 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 5 PBU, 3 QBH)

CB Mike Banks, Sr.

S Dontae McCoy, Sr. (63 TT, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 FF)

S Tevin Allen, Sr.

PK Nick Aussieker, Sr. (9-of-11 FG, 62 points)

P C.J. Laros, Sr. (70 punts, 39.8 ypp)

LS Chris Highland, Sr.

OUTLOOK: In a conference with some heavy hitters, Spack doesn't mind that the Redbirds tend to fly under the radar. Last season, which ended with Spack's first losing record, was a transition as the team replaced QB Matt Brown, the 2012 Missouri Valley offensive player of the year. This season, the Redbirds' veteran offensive line will set the tone and provide time for Indiana transfer QB Roberson, who can run and pass effectively. RB Coprich and FB Keoshian are a formidable pair and the wide receivers unit gets back Neblett, who missed last year with a knee injury but was the second-leading receiver on the 2012 playoff squad. LB Meehan is the leader of a defense that must overcome the loss of Underwood, a two-time Buck Buchanan Award finalist. After finishing 5-0 at home last season, the Redbirds will play seven of their 11 games at Hancock Stadium. But it would be nice to win a couple road games. This is a team that should make a run at the playoffs.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 6 - Mississippi Valley State

Sept. 13 - Eastern Illinois

Sept. 27 - Austin Peay

Oct. 4 - South Dakota State

Oct. 11 - at Indiana State

Oct. 18 - at Western Illinois

Oct. 25 - Missouri State

Nov. 1 - at Northern Iowa

Nov. 8 - Youngstown State

Nov. 15 - at South Dakota

Nov. 22 - Southern Illinois

6. YOUNGSTOWN STATE PENGUINS

LOCATION: Youngstown, Ohio

STADIUM: Arnold D. Stambaugh Stadium

COACH: Eric Wolford (24-21 in four seasons at Youngstown State)

LAST SEASON: 8-4 overall, 5-3 Missouri Valley (Tie/2nd); No. 18 TSN final ranking

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)

BIG LOSSES: QB Kurt Hess (164-for-265, 2,229 yards, 22 TD, 6 INT); C Chris Elkins; DE Kyle Sirl (46 TT, 12 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 QBH); LB Teven Williams (81 TT, 4 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FR, 2 FF); P Nick Liste (50 punts, 44.2-yard punt return average)

OFFENSIVE STAR: TB Martin Ruiz, So. (192 carries, 1,094 yards, 15 TD; 20 receptions, 256 yards, 2 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Travis Williams, Sr. (51 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Dante Nania, Jr. (11-for-20, 180 yards)

QB Ricky Davis, R-Fr.

TB Jody Webb, So. (48 carries, 345 yards, 6 TD)

WR Andrew Williams, Jr. (26 receptions, 395 yards, 2 TD)

WR/KR Andre Stubbs, Jr. (29 receptions, 359 yards, 5 TD; 26.9-yard KO return average)

WR Christian Bryan, Jr. (26 receptions, 306 yards, 2 TDs)

TE Nate Adams, Sr.

OG Brock Eisenhuth, So.

OT Trevor Strickland, Jr.

C Stephen Page, Sr.

DE Vince Coleman, Sr.

DT Emmanuel Kromah, Jr. (29 TT, 6 TFL, 4 sacks, 6 QBH)

DL Terrell Williams, Jr.

LB Jaylin Kelly, So.

LB Mike Palumbo, R-Fr.

LB Kevon Caffey, Jr.

CB Julius Childs, Sr. (68 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 7 PBU, 1 FR)

SS Donald D'Alesio, Sr. (70 TT, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 2 FR, 2 FF)

FS Jameel Smith, So. (60 INT, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 QBH)

PK/P Joey Cejudo, Sr. (6-of-8 FG, 67 points)

LS Nathan Gibbs, Sr.

OUTLOOK: The playoffs eluded the Penguins last season after they lost their final three games following an 8-1 start. They haven't appeared in the postseason since 2006. Nania, the primary backup QB the last two seasons, will try to replace his predecessor, Hess, a four-year starter. While Nania settles in, the ball will be fed to RB Ruiz, one of the bright young talents in the conference and last year's winner of top MVFC freshman and newcomer honors. There's an assortment of pass catchers returning, so the offense will still be strong even without Hess. On the other side of the ball, the Penguins ranked last in the Missouri Valley in total defense (410.5 ypg) a year ago. They were terrible in stopping third down attempts but should be much improved against the pass because of a veteran secondary. On a D-line looking for more pressure, the Penguins will turn to Kromah. The Penguins remain a candidate for a playoff bid and probably don't need it to hinge on the season finale at North Dakota State.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - at Illinois

Sept. 6 - Duquesne

Sept. 13 - Butler

Sept. 20 - Saint Francis (Pa.)

Oct. 4 - at Missouri State

Oct. 11 - Western Illinois

Oct. 18 - Southern Illinois

Oct. 25 - at South Dakota State

Nov. 1 - South Dakota

Nov. 8 - at Illinois State

Nov. 15 - Indiana State

Nov. 22 - at North Dakota State

7. MISSOURI STATE BEARS

LOCATION: Springfield, Missouri

STADIUM: Plaster Sports Complex

COACH: Terry Allen (33-56 in eight seasons at Missouri Valley; 128-115 overall)

LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 5-3 Missouri Valley (Tie/2nd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (7 offense/5 defense)

BIG LOSSES: RB Mikael Cooper-Falls (142 carries, 604 yards, 3 TD); DE Anthony Grady (48 TT, 5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 5 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 2 BLK); OLB Nick Canavan (80 TT, 14.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FF); CB Sybhrian Berry (73 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 INT, 10 PBU, 1 FR, 1 BLK); CB Howard Scarborough (55 TT, 2 INT, 12 PBU)

OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/RS Julian Burton, Sr. (52 receptions, 686 yards, 4 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: S Caleb Schaffitzel, Sr. (110 TT, 2.5 TFL, 4 INT, 7 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Kierra Harris, Sr. (103-for-205, 1,220 yards, 6 TD, 9 INT; 87 carries, 329 yards, 9 TD)

RB Ryan Heaston, Jr. (66 carries, 367 yards, 2 TD)

RB Phoenix Johnson, So.

RB Cedric Miller, Jr.

RB Nick Masoner, Fr.

WR Eric Christophel, Jr.

WR/RS LeMarcus Stewart, So.

TE Gannon Sinclair, Sr. (11 receptions, 103 yards, 3 TD)

C Robert Booker, Jr.

OG Richard Galbierz, Sr.

OT Zack Cooley, R-Fr.

DL James Barnes, Jr.

DL Corey Feagin, Jr.

ILB Christian Hoffmann, Jr.

LB Andrew Beisel, Sr. (96 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF)

LB Dylan Cole, So. (71 TT, 6 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU)

DB Brandon Cheaton, Sr. (61 TT, 3 PBU, 2 sacks, 2 INT, 2 PBU)

S Mike Crutcher, Sr.

OUTLOOK: It's been easy to overlook in a terrific conference, but Allen has gotten the Bears to be more competitive the last couple seasons. With three offensive linemen on the Missouri Valley preseason team (Booker, Cooley and Galbierz), the Bears should be solid offensively, with QB Harris only needing to manage games. RB Heaston played in only seven games last season and will be healthier and more productive. In WR Burton, the Bears have game-breaking speed. On defense, they have lost all three starters on the defensive line and both cornerbacks, so there are concerns there. SS Schaffitzel is among the best FCS players in the nation and should continue his great career. Despite all the upbeat feelings, the Bears' difficult road schedule will make it hard to have a winning season.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 28 - at Northwestern State

Sept. 6 - at Oklahoma State

Sept. 13 - North Dakota

Sept. 20 - at Central Arkansas

Oct. 4 - Youngstown State

Oct. 11 - at South Dakota State

Oct. 18 - South Dakota

Oct. 25 - at Illinois State

Nov. 1 - at Indiana State

Nov. 8 - Southern Illinois

Nov. 15 - North Dakota State

Nov. 22 - at Northern Iowa

8. SOUTH DAKOTA COYOTES

LOCATION: Vermillion, South Dakota

STADIUM: DakotaDome

COACH: Joe Glenn (5-18 in two seasons at South Dakota; 193-118-1 overall)

LAST SEASON: 4-8 overall, 3-5 Missouri Valley (Tie/7th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (8 offense/5 defense)

BIG LOSSES: WR Terrance Terry (54 receptions, 502 yards, 3 TD); C Cody O'Neill; DE Emilious Davis (31 TT, 10 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 2 QBH); LB Tyler Starr (71 TT, 15 TFL, 9 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 5 QBH, 4 FF); SS Devin Taverna (78 TT, 3 INT, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 2 FF); FS Aaron Swift (57 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)

OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Kevin Earl, Jr. (165-for-314, 1,920 yards, 9 TD, 9 INT; 55 carries, 129 yards, 3 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Keyen Lage, Jr. (67 TT, 12 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 6 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Trevor Bouma, So. (164 carries, 781 yards, 3 TD)

RB Jordan Roberts, So. (126 carries, 544 yards, 3 TD)

RB/WR Jasper Sanders, Sr. (injured last season)

FB Drew Potter, So.

WR Riley Donovan, So. (31 receptions, 553 yards, 2 TD)

WR/QB Josh Vander Maten, Sr. (19 receptions, 238 yards, 2 TD)

WR Nick Meyer, Jr. (23 receptions, 296 yards, 1 TD)

LT Matt Huffer, Sr.

RG Andrew Schofield, Sr.

RT Derek Chancellor, Jr.

DT Nick Jacobs, Jr.

DE Drew Iddings, Jr. (51 TT, 9 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 8 QBH, 1 FF, 1 BLK)

LB Auston Johnson, Sr. (69 TT, 10.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 5 QBH)

LB Kyle Guziec, Sr. (53 TT, 1 INT, 2 FF)

LB Ryan Hillier, Jr.

LB Colin Buscarini, Jr.

CB Steve Tellefsen, Sr.

PK/P Miles Bergner, So. (12-of-21 FG, 57 points; 72 punts, 40.4 ypp)

OUTLOOK: Like Missouri State, USD is on the upswing but also is troubled by a tough schedule. A year ago, the Coyotes lost three times to a Top 25 opponent by less than a touchdown. The Coyotes were last in the Missouri Valley in points per game (17.4), but they were much more competitive behind pocket QB Earl, so he must be pleased to return to an offense that has experienced wide receivers and a deep running game. In addition to RBs Bouma and Roberts coming off strong freshman campaigns, Sanders is back from a wrist injury which sidelined him last season. The front seven of the defense should be productive with the aggressive play of DE Iddings and LBs Johnson and Lage. The secondary, though, is replacing all four starters. Expect a season similar to a year ago unless Glenn really does an even better coaching job.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - at Oregon

Sept. 6 - William Penn

Sept. 13 - at Montana

Sept. 20 - Northern Arizona

Oct. 4 - at Southern Illinois

Oct. 11 - Northern Iowa

Oct. 18 - at Missouri State

Oct. 25 - North Dakota State

Nov. 1 - at Youngstown State

Nov. 8 - Western Illinois

Nov. 15 - Illinois State

Nov. 22 - at South Dakota State

9. WESTERN ILLINOIS FIGHTING LEATHERNECKS

LOCATION: Macomb, Illinois

STADIUM: Hanson Field

COACH: Bob Nielson (4-8 in one season at Western Illinois; 174-67 overall)

LAST SEASON: 4-8 overall, 2-6 Missouri Valley (9th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)

BIG LOSSES: RB Nikko Watson (139 carries, 503 yards, 5 TD); OT Jimmy Holtschlag; DL Ryan Demming (34 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 QBH, 1 FR); LB Devon Butler (74 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 INT, 1 FR); RS Antoine Ford (11.1-yard punt return average)

OFFENSIVE STAR: RB J.C. Baker, Sr. (216 carries, 1,149 yards, 6 TD; 32 receptions, 183 yards)

DEFENSIVE STAR: LB J.J. Raffelson, Jr. (59 TT, 1 PBU, 1 QBH)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Trenton Norvell, So. (195-for-384, 2,140 yards, 16 TD, 16 INT)

RB Nikko Watson, Sr.

WR Lance Lenoir Jr., So. (39 receptions, 489 yards, 7 TD)

WR Hi-C Scott, Sr. (32 receptions, 458 yards, 3 TD)

WR Joey Borsellino, So. (41 receptions, 465 yards, 3 TD)

TE Taylor Hill, Jr.

OL Brandon De La Cruz, Jr.

OL Ryan Ricketts, Jr.

OL Sam Kachanuk, Sr.

DL Chip Holtschlag, Jr. (42 TT, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU)

DL Gino Durley, Sr. (52 TT, 8 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR)

LB Kevin Kintzel, Sr. (74 TT, 11 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 3 INT, 6 PBU, 3 FR, 2 FF)

LB Luke Venegoni, Sr. (49 TT, 5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PBU)

CB Martinez Davis, Sr. (50 TT, 4 TFL, 3 INT, 7 PBU, 1 FR)

DB David McDaniel, Sr. (68 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)

DB Jonathon Rollins, Sr. (66 TT, 4 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FF)

PK Nathan Knuffman, So.

OUTLOOK: Year 2 under Nielson should bring continued development of the Leathernecks' systems. In fact, they already have a solid defense after ranking second in the conference to North Dakota State in total defense (305.3 ypg). They bring back playmakers in LB Kintzel (eight takeaways and three touchdown returns last season) and CB Davis, and expect steady play from LB Raffelson, who was limited to six games by an elbow injury. On offense, QB Norvell will be more seasoned, but he has to cut down on 16 interceptions. RB Baker was the runner-up for MVFC newcomer of the year after rushing for 1,149 yards and adding 32 receptions. Now about that road schedule ... whew.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 28 - Valparaiso

Sept. 6 - at Wisconsin

Sept. 13 - Drake

Sept. 20 - at Northwestern

Sept. 27 - at Southern Illinois

Oct. 4 - North Dakota State

Oct. 11 - at Youngstown State

Oct. 18 - Illinois State

Oct. 25 - Northern Iowa

Nov. 8 - at South Dakota

Nov. 15 - at South Dakota State

Nov. 22 - Indiana State

10. INDIANA STATE SYCAMORES

LOCATION: Terre Haute, Indiana

STADIUM: Memorial Stadium

COACH: Mike Sanford (1-11 in one season at Indiana State; 17-54 overall)

LAST SEASON: 1-11 overall, 0-8 Missouri Valley (10th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (6 offense/10 defense)

BIG LOSSES: WR/RS Tanner Riley (42 receptions, 397 yards, 1 TD); C FN Lutz III; Russell Jones (89 TT, 14 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF)

OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Mike Perish, Sr. (139-for-243, 1,586 yards, 14 TD, 10 INT)

DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Connor Underwood, Jr. (76 TT, 18 TFL, 9 sacks, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 7 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Patrick Coyne, Jr. (Cincinnati transfer)

TB Buck Logan, Sr. (131 carries, 609 yards, 1 TD)

WR A.J. Johnson, Sr.

WR Sampson Levingston, So.

WR Kyani Harris, Sr.

WR Robert Tonyan Jr., So. (35-for-102, 348 yards, 3 TD, 5 INT)

TE Jamar Brown, Sr.

OL Dakota Vermillion, So.

DL Conrad Nicholls, Jr.

DL Kris Davis, R-Fr. (Miami-Ohio transfer)

LB Jameer Thurman, So. (91 TT, 9 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PBU)

LB Kendall Walker, Jr. (58 TT, 5 TFL, 3 PBU)

LB Jordan Wallace, So. (Indiana transfer)

LB Gerrick Ratliff (72 TT, 3 TFL, 1 sack)

DB Donovan Layne, Sr.

DB Mark Sewell, Jr. (87 TT, 5 TFL, 3 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR, 1 BLK)

PK Eric Heidorn, So.

OUTLOOK: A six-win drop-off is not what Sanford envisioned for his first season in Terre Haute. He says it's time for the Sycamores to prove themselves again. It wasn't all his fault as over 40 players missed time due to injury and 19 experienced season-ending injuries (14 on the original two-deep). The Sycamores also didn't match the loss of RB Shakir Bell (4,214 career rushing yards), who was first injured and then parted ways with the team. QB Perish, a two-year starter, needs to have a steady senior campaign to help get his offense on track. Logan did his best in replacing Bell and is another senior being counted on heavily. The rebuilding blocks on defense are DE Underwood, an All-Missouri Valley talent, and LB Thurman, who was among the FCS freshman leaders with 91 tackles last season. The Sycamores will be an underdog in most, if not all games, this season.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - at Indiana

Sept. 6 - Tennessee Tech

Sept. 13 - at Ball State

Sept. 27 - Liberty

Oct. 4 - Northern Iowa

Oct. 11 - Illinois State

Oct. 18 - at North Dakota State

Oct. 25 - at Southern Illinois

Nov. 1 - Missouri State

Nov. 8 - South Dakota State

Nov. 15 - at Youngstown State

Nov. 22 - at Western Illinois

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