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PFL builds coast-to-coast rivalries

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Newcomers to Pioneer Football League rivalries can't be blamed for asking the question:

Now what state is that school located in?

With 10 teams from eight different states, the league entering its 18th season of play nearly stretches from sea to shining sea. That might seem to make it hard to forge rivalries with schools as far apart as Jacksonville and San Diego.

It just might be more of a problem for fans of the schools than the teams. PFL coaches, who on Monday installed Dayton as a slight favorite over Butler and Jacksonville in their preseason poll, say their teams have built excellent rivalries.

"I think it is easier to instill the rivalry among the players than the fans," San Diego coach Ron Caragher said. "As a player, anytime you play a team in successive years - such as a conference opponent - you get familiar with such opponent, and vice versa. The competitor inside you gets cranked up a few notches as the competition level raises naturally.

"Further, you both are competing for the same award - winning the conference championship. As for the fans, yes, it certainly helps when students, alumni, and fans know people from the opponent as is often the case with regional opponents. That is the toughest obstacle to overcome."

Three Key Games
Dayton at Butler, Oct. 16 - The 2009 co-champions square off again in a rematch of Butler's 31-28 thriller. Dayton, which is 19-4 in coach Rick Chamberlin's first two seasons, has won a PFL-high 10 titles.

Jacksonville at Butler, Nov. 6 - Butler went 11-1 last season, and the losswas by stinging fashion to Jacksonville, 36-7. This could be a shootout with Jacksonville featuring 1,000-yard back Rudell Small and Butler boasting RB Scott Gray and WR Zach Watkins.

Drake at Dayton, Nov. 6 - This year's matchup may not have the title implications of other years, but it might be the league's top rivalry. Dayton features QB Steve Valentino, 2009 PFL Offensive Player of the Year, but Dayton's sack-happy Dain Taylor will be in pursuit.

"The conference is different because you play teams from across the country," Jacksonville coach Kerwin Bell said, "but when you play people year after year, there begins to be some familiarity. I think we have a healthy rivalry now with San Diego as we've both battled to win the league the last few years. I think the same could be said of Davidson as well, who we've played every year since the program began."

San Diego and Marist, which is located in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., don't have rivalries built out of proximity, but other teams in the PFL are much closer to each other. Campbell and Davidson are both located in North Carolina, and Jacksonville isn't too far away in Florida. Butler and Valparaiso are Indiana neighbors, and Drake (Iowa), Dayton (Ohio) and Morehead State (Kentucky) offer regional rivalries.

The recent competitiveness of the PFL also has played a factor in developing its rivalries. Dayton dominated the PFL during the first decade of play, but six different schools have won league titles over the last seven seasons, including each of the last four seasons. Butler and Dayton were both 7-1 last season, but Butler won the head-to-head meeting.

"I think the rivalries start in the locker rooms - the respect that you have for the team, the way they go about their business and the way they compete," Butler coach Jeff Voris said. "But there's no question that I think the traditional rivalries are more closer geographically. Our rivalries with Valparaiso and Dayton go back a number of years that predate the league."

"One way of developing a rivalry is by the proximity of the schools to each other like Butler, Valpo, Morehead, Dayton," Dayton coach Rick Chamberlin said. "We cross paths on the recruiting trails, so many of the players from both schools know each other. The other way is by competition. When schools play each other for a number of years and the games are always hard-fought (with) close scores, this will become a rivalry. All you have to do is look at the scores in a series to see who those teams are. The players know if they can beat a traditionally tough opponent (so) it builds up the intensity for the game."

The PFL's top teams this season are blessed with veteran players. Preseason favorite Dayton and Jacksonville each received four of the 10 first-place votes, with Butler getting the other two.

Dayton (9-2, 7-1 last season) returns five players who made the PFL first team last season, its three captains - quarterback Steve Valentino, guard Tyler Friedrich and linebacker Joe Reis - safety James Vercammen and defensive end Brandon Wingeier. Valentino is a nominee for the Walter Payton Award which honors the FCS' outstanding player and Vercammen was named to the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List for the FCS' defensive player of the year. Both awards are sponsored by Fathead.com.

Butler returns nine starters on offense and eight on defense, including dual- threat quarterback Andrew Huck, running back Scott Gray and top receiver, Zach Watkins.

Jacksonville (7-4, 6-2) features a superb offense with senior running back Rudell Small, its all-time leading rusher with 2,928 yards; junior quarterback Josh McGregor, who threw for 31 touchdowns last season; and junior wide receiver Josh Philpart.

"When you have a memorable game against a team, anticipation grows from that," Marist coach Jim Parady said. "The fans who follow the team know the history behind a rivalry.

"A lot of it has to do with where teams fall in the standings. There are always certain teams that if you want to win a championship, you have to go through them. It doesn't matter if those teams are next door to you or halfway across the country - those will be the teams that you shoot for."

PIONEER FOOTBALL LEAGUE PRESEASON POLL
(Head Coaches)

1. Dayton (4 first-place votes), 76 points
2. Butler (2), 69
3. Jacksonville (4), 68
4. Drake, 54
5. San Diego, 52
6. Marist, 45
7. Davidson, 30
8. Campbell, 25
9. Morehead State, 22
10. Valparaiso, 9


By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director


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