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Pioneer Season Preview

Steve Valentino is a nominee for the Walter Payton Award, sponsored by Fathead.com.
The Pioneer Football League might be renamed the Parity Football League if its hierarchy of programs isn't careful.

There's been a different champion in each of the last four seasons, from San Diego in 2006 to Dayton in 2007 to Jacksonville in 2008 to the epitome of the change across the league, Butler, which went 11-1 and won the title last season after being a mere 0-11 in 2005 - the season before Jeff Voris became the Bulldogs' head coach.

"If Butler can go from the bottom to the top, there's no question that the rest of the programs have the coaching and the personnel to do it, too. It's a real fun league for our guys to play in," Voris said.

Technically, the PFL crowns co-champions, but Dayton beat San Diego in 2007 and Butler edged Dayton last year, thus sending those two teams to the Gridiron Classic which matched the PFL champion against the Northeast Conference champion. That championship series, from 2006-09, has ended because the NEC winner is gaining an automatic FCS playoff berth for the first time this season.

What will continue, however, is a PFL race with a deep pool of title contenders. Butler and Dayton - both 7-1 in league play last season - and Jacksonville and Drake - both 6-2 - are at the head of the class.

Dayton, the longtime power in the PFL, is the preseason favorite among the 10 teams, but conference head coaches expect another tight race. In their preseason poll, they gave third-place Jacksonville as many first-place votes (4) as Dayton. Butler was sandwiched between those two teams with two first- place votes and a prediction for second place. Drake wasn't far behind in fourth place.

Dayton has the star power with fifth-year seniors Steve Valentino and James Vercammen. Valentino, a quarterback who was named PFL Offensive Player of the Year last season, is a nominee for the Walter Payton Award, sponsored by Fathead.com, and given to the FCS' outstanding player. Vercammen, who plays the Flyer position in Dayton's secondary, is a nominee for the Buck Buchanan Award, also sponsored by Fathead.com, and given to the FCS' outstanding defensive player.

At Butler, Voris has improved the Bulldogs' win total in each of his four seasons and took a team picked fifth in last year's PFL preseason poll to a tie for the league's single-season record for wins. His Bulldogs, 11-1 last season, return 17 starters - second-most in the league.

Jacksonville will ride the speed and power of all-time leading rusher Rudell Small, while Drake hopes to make it five different PFL champs in five seasons with defensive end Dain Taylor leading a veteran defense.

The PFL will be offensive-oriented with the return of many of last year's top skill-position players. The teams play eight conference games - each avoiding just one of their conference brethren.

Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2010 Pioneer Football League race.

The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:

1. Dayton
2. Butler
3. Jacksonville
4. Drake
5. San Diego
6. Marist
7. Campbell
8. Davidson
9. Morehead State
10. Valparaiso

Offensive Player of the Year: Steve Valentino, QB, Dayton

Defensive Player of the Year: James Vercammen, Flyer, Dayton

1. DAYTON FLYERS (9-2 overall; 7-1 PFL)

COACH: Rick Chamberlin (18-5 in two seasons at Dayton)

STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (10 offense/3 defense)

OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Steve Valentino, Sr. (170 of 286 for 2,376 yards, 14 TDs and 8 INTs; 164 carries, 722 yards, 10 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Flyer James Vercammen, Sr. (134 TT, 17 TFL, 6 sacks)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
RB Brian Mack, So. (124 carries, 485 yards, 4 TDs)
RB Dan Jacob, So. (89 carries, 319 yards, 3 TDs)
FL/PR Justin Watkins, Sr. (47 receptions, 927 yards, 7 TDs)
FL Luke Bellman, Jr. (14 receptions, 279 yards, 3 TDs)
WR Justin Millio, Sr. (22 receptions, 203 yards, 2 TDs)
WR Nick Collins, Sr. (27 receptions, 358 yards, 2 TDs)
SE Anthony Papp, Sr. (19 receptions, 213 yards)
LT Erik Studt, Sr.
LG Dan Fornek, Sr.
C Blake Saul, Sr.
C Justin Griffis, Sr.
RG Tyler Friedrich, Sr.
RT Dan Prindle, Sr.
DE Brandon Wingeier, Sr. (39 TT, 11.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FR, 1 FF)
DE Devon Langhorst, Sr. (6 TT) LB Joe Ries, Sr. (70 TT, 4.5 TFL, 3 INTs, 1 FR, 2 FF)
S Ben Welsh, Jr. (24 TT, 2 TFL, 1 FR)
CB A.J. Kaltenbach, Sr. (11 TT, 1 FR)
CB/KR Gary Hunter, Fr.
PK/P Nick Glavin, Sr. (5 of 11 FG, 43; 38.7-yard punt average)
P/PK Nate Miller, So. (39.2-yard punt average; 5 of 8 FG, 36 long)

OUTLOOK: The PFL's longtime power is 29-6 overall and 19-4 in league games over the last three seasons. Chamberlin's five losses in two seasons as head coach are by a combined 20 points. Expect the offense to soar this season behind Valentino, who, incredibly, went from being an All-PFL first-team wide receiver in 2008 to the first-team quarterback last season. Also returning are all the top receivers, including the big-play Watkins, and the top running backs, while the offensive line has five senior starters. Can the defense stay on an elite level is the question. The Flyers led the PFL in total defense (242.6 ypg) and scoring defense (13.6 ppg), but return only three starters. At least they are the right three: Flyer Vercammen was third in the FCS with 12.2 tackles per game last season and joined DE Wingeier and LB Ries on the All-PFL first team. Dayton has to travel to Butler (Oct. 16) a week after the long trip to San Diego, but the Flyers don't play Jacksonville for a second straight season.

2. BUTLER BULLDOGS (11-1 overall; 7-1 PFL)

COACH: Jeff Voris (24-21 in four seasons at Butler; 39-55 in nine overall seasons)

STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (9 offense/8 defense)

OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Zach Watkins, Jr. (78 receptions, 918 yards, 10 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Grant Hunter, Jr. (39 TT, 11.5 TFL, 10 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Andrew Huck, Jr. (233 of 371 for 2,454 yards, 21 TDs and 11 INTs; 102 carries, 467 yards, 10 TDs)
QB Matt Kobli, Jr. (237 of 358 for 2,518 yards, 23 TDs and 7 INTs in 2008; did not play last season)
RB Scott Gray, Sr. (169 carries, 868 yards, 5 TDs; 13 receptions, 134 yards, 1 TD)
RB Ryan Hitchock, Jr. (55 carries, 346 yards, 4 TDs)
WR Eddie McHale, Sr. (38 receptions, 493 yards, 3 TDs)
WR/RS Jordan Koopman, Jr. (24 receptions, 258 yards, 1 TD; 22.7-yard KO return average; 13-yard punt return average)
TE Carter Walley, So. (5 receptions, 42 yards, 1 TD)
LT Mike Staniewicz, Sr.
LG Donnie Gilmore, Sr.
C Rob Hobson, Jr.
RG Pete Mattingly, Jr.
DE Jeff Poss, Jr. (41 TT, 7.5 TFL, 3 sacks)
DE Rob Cosler, Sr. (26 TT, 1 sack)
NG Ross Teare, Jr. (29 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks)
OLB Nick Caldicott, Jr. (70 TT, 8 TFL, 3 INTs, 1 FR, 3 FF)
OLB Andrew Cottrell, Jr. (43 TT, 2.5 TFL)
OLB William Lamar, Jr. (24 TT)
MLB Jordan Ridley, So. (36 TT, 8.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 FF)
FS Mark Giacomantonio, Jr. (45 TT, 4 TFL, 5 INTs, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
SS Logan Sullivan, Jr. (38 TT, 1 INT, 4 PBU)
SS Matt Foor, Jr. (13 TT, 1 FR)
CB/PR Todd Dombart, Sr. (30 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 3 PBU; 6-yard punt return average)
CB Jack McKenna, Jr. (42 TT, 3 INTs, 5 PBU)
PK David Lang, Jr. (7 of 11 FG, 39 long; 33 of 43 PAT)

OUTLOOK: Even if the Bulldogs are better than last season's 11-1 squad, it might be hard for them to show it in their record. They do have home games against Dayton (Oct. 16) and Jacksonville (Nov. 6). The offense has moved to a higher level in the last two seasons, and this season it could turn prolific behind a veteran line, QB Huck, RB Gray and WR Watkins, whose 78 catches led the PFL a year ago. Kobli, the backup QB, threw for a school-record 23 touchdowns and the second-most passing yards (2,518) in school history in 2008. Juniors dominate the defense. DE Hunter is among the FCS' best at getting to quarterbacks - he had 10 sacks last season - and LB Caldicott was their leader in tackles. The Butler Bowl, where the Bulldogs were 7-0 last season, received a facelift in the offseason. It will be another special season there this fall.

3. JACKSONVILLE DOLPHINS (7-4 overall; 6-2 PFL)

COACH: Kerwin Bell (19-16 in three seasons at Jacksonville)

STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (10 offense/5 defense)

OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Rudell Small, Sr. (195 carries, 1,074 yards, 9 TDs; 16 receptions, 112 yards)

DEFENSIVE STAR: LB JoJo Fennell, Sr. (86 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Josh McGregor, Jr. (178 of 315 for 2,693 yards, 31 TDs and 7 TDs)
RB Keith Dawson, Jr. (32 yards, 146 yards, 2 TDs)
WR Josh Philpart, Jr. (54 receptions, 912 yards, 13 TDs)
WR Tommie Rogers, Sr. (15 receptions, 200 yards, 2 TDs)
WR/PR Elliott Finkley, Sr. (21 receptions, 384 yards, 5 TDs; 8.2-yard punt return average)
WR Larry Thompson, Jr. (21 receptions, 405 yards, 2 TDs)
TE Christopher Kuck, Sr. (12 receptions, 215 yards, 5 TDs)
TE Andrew Davis, So.
LT Leonard Payton, Sr.
C Ian Osking, Jr.
OG Dustin Robinson, Sr.
OG Chad Cypher, Jr.
RT Kevin Halverson, Jr.
DE Shaun Lewis, Sr. (58 TT, 14.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
DE Rolando Fines, Jr. (40 TT, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR)
DE Bradley Burns, Sr. (20 TT, 4 sacks)
DE Montaque Mack, Fr.
NT Montavis Mack, Fr.
LB Will Perry, Sr. (55 TT, 3 TFL)
LB Layne McCombs, Jr. (45 TT, 3 sacks)
S Lacy McDougald, Jr. (33 TT, 2 INTs, 4 PBU)
FS Jordan Dewhirst, So. (10 TT, 1 INT, 1 FR)
SS Leonard Smith, So. (11 TT)
CB Darren Johnson, Jr. (8 TT)
CB/KR Colby Walden, So. (2 TT; 22.2-yard KO return)
P Logan Chipperfield, Jr. (39.9-yard punt average)

OUTLOOK: Jacksonville is coming off the first back-to-back winning seasons in program history (the Dolphins were 9-4 in 2008). Last year, the Dolphins were the only team to beat Butler, dominating the game, 36-7. They led the PFL with a 31.9-point average last season and it won't stop this season with physical RB Small ready to build on his school records of 2,928 career rushing yards and total touchdowns (33) and QB McGregor ready to do the same with his records for passing yards (5,137) and touchdown passes (55). Philpart should own all the career receiving marks by season's end. Still, Bell is stressing the importance of the defense, which has retooled in the secondary after sustaining key graduation losses. The linebackers fuel the defense, with Fennell hoping to become an All-PFL first-team player. The season has a difficult opening with trips to Old Dominion (Sept. 4) and Appalachian State (Sept. 11).

4. DRAKE BULLDOGS (8-3 overall; 6-2 PFL)

COACH: Chris Creighton (14-8 in two seasons at Drake; 109-32 in 13 overall seasons)

STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (7 offense/8 defense)

OFFENSIVE STAR: FB Steve Platek, Sr. (30 carries, 147 yards, 6 TDs; 49 receptions, 553 yards, 3 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR:DE Dain Taylor, Sr. (48 TT, 19.5 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 5 PBU, 1 FR, 4 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Michael Piatowski, Jr. (203 of 323 for 2,139 yards, 14 TDs and 9 INTs; 2 rushing TDs)
SB Patrick Cashmore, Sr. (47 carries, 251 yards, 2 TDs)
SB Tom Kostek, Sr. (88 carries, 347 yards, 4 TDs; 14 receptions, 83 yards, 1 TD)
SB Trey Morse, So. (80 carries, 278 yards, 1 TD)
SE Joey Orlando, So. (20 receptions, 259 yards, 3 TDs)
FL Drew Blackmon, Jr. (31 receptions, 457 yards, 1 TD)
LT Matt Purdom, So.
LG Stephen Flynn, Sr.
C Chris Wilson, Jr.
RG Dan Clinton, Sr.
RT/C Evan Lawrence, So.
NG Dave Witkiewicz, Jr. (8 TT, 1 FR, 1 blocked kick)
DE Andrew Asbell, Sr. (redshirt last season)
DE Josh Walkup, Sr. (32 TT, 13.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 FF)
MLB Ben Morrison, Sr. (75 TT, 14.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 3 FR, 3 FF, 2 blocked kicks)
MLB Stoy Hall, Sr. (13 TT)
OLB Tyler Moorehead, Jr. (67 TT, 14.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 4 FF)
S Nick Chenier, Jr. (44 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
CB/PR Michael Lahart, Jr. (29 TT, 2 INTs, 1 blocked kick; 10.6-yard punt return average)
CB/KR Lucas Mosier, Sr. (48 TT, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 8 PBU, 1 FR; 21.4-yard KO return average)
PK/P Mitch Rasmussen, Sr.
PK/P Billy Janssen, Sr.

OUTLOOK: Particularly tough on defense, the Bulldogs should thrive with an experienced unit that is led by DE Taylor. His 19.5 tackles for losses ranked third in the FCS last season. OLB Moorehead emerged into a playmaker and the secondary is experienced. Offensively, Piatowski helped the Bulldogs average 6.4 more points per game in 2009 than in 2008. The backfield is experienced, with FB Platek earning All-PFL first-team honors. Graduation, though, took some key players, including PK/P Brandon Wubs. The Bulldogs have had only one losing season (5-6 in 2002) over the last 18 years and visitors find it hard to win at Drake Stadium. That shouldn't change this season, and the Bulldogs hope their Nov. 13 season finale against Butler will be meaningful.

5. SAN DIEGO TOREROS (4-7 overall; 3-5 PFL)

COACH: Ron Caragher (22-9 in three seasons at San Diego)

STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (5 offense/6 defense)

OFFENSIVE STAR: WR John McGough, Sr. (49 receptions, 680 yards, 6 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Mario Kurn, Jr. (33 TT, 10 TFL, 4 sacks)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Sam Scudellari, Jr. (67 of 117 for 1,004 yards and 8 TDs)
QB Bill Stompro, So. (65 of 115 for 824 yards, 8 TDs and 5 INTs)
TB Matt Jelmini, Jr. (63 carries, 301 yards, 2 TDs)
TB Phil Morelli, Sr. (52 carries, 189 yards)
TB Justin Fontenberry, Sr. (39 carries, 126 yards)
FB Quintin Brown, So. WR Godfrey Smith, Sr. (27 receptions, 302 yards, 2 TDs)
WR Kyle Warren, Jr. (11 receptions, 338 yards, 6 TDs)
TE Patrick Boyle, Sr. (21 receptions, 291 yards, 3 TDs)
TE Zach Lewis, Sr. OT Matt Peleti, So.
LG Christian Fetters, Jr.
RG Pat Thompson, Sr.
DE Andrew Bakhtiari, Jr. (3 TT)
DT Paul Tremblay, Sr. (40 TT, 5.5 TFL)
DT Dustin Geyer, Jr. (20 TT, 4.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 FR)
OLB Joe Martin, Sr. (39 TT, 8 TFL, 1 INT)
MLB Mike Calahan, Sr. (5 TT, 1 FR) OLB Loka Kanongataa, Sr. (64 TT, 12 TFL, 3 sacks, 4 PBU, 2 FR) LB Zach Dunaj, So. (26 TT)
LB Anthony McCrady, Sr. (21 TT, 5 TFL, 1.5 TFL, 1 FF)
CB Don Davis, So. (21 TT)
CB Al-Rilwan Adeyemi, Jr. (41 TT, 2 INTs, 9 PBU, 1 FF)
DB Derron Juarez, Sr. (26 TT)
DB Don Davis, So. (21 TT)
PK Mike Levine, Jr. (7 of 8 FF, 44 long)

OUTLOOK: The Toreros' big run from 2005-08 - when they went a combined 40-6, including 23-3 in PFL action - is history after last season's considerable dropoff. The Toreros will learn where they stand within the league by opening PFL play against Butler (Sept. 25), at Jacksonville (Oct. 2) and against Dayton (Oct. 9). You can hear Torero fans gulping about that stretch. Some holes are glaring: the Toreros are replacing RB J.T. Rogan, their team MVP last season, while Fetter is the only returning starter on the offensive line. QB Scudellari, who threw for eight touchdowns without an interception before getting injured, has a solid target in McGough. Defensively, the line stands out with its experience, led by Kurn and Tremblay. Still, it will be hard for the Toreros to improve much considering the depth of the league.

6. MARIST RED FOXES (7-4 overall; 5-3 PFL)

COACH: Jim Parady (96-88-1 in 18 seasons at Marist

STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (3 offense/8 defense)

OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/PR James LaMacchia, Sr. (62 receptions, 1,075 yards, 5 TDs; 7.8-yard punt return average)

DEFENSIVE STAR: CB Jaquan Bryant, Jr. (27 TT, 5 INTs, 7 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Tommy Reilly, Jr. (37 of 55 for 379 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs)
QB Michael Gentile, Jr. (injured last season)
RB Ryan Dinnebell, Jr. (31 carries, 128 yards, 9 TDs)
FB/KR Greg Whipple, Sr. (35 carries, 120 yards, 3 TDs; 21.8-yard KO return average)
WR Joe DeSimone, Sr. (15 receptions, 228 yards)
WR Kevin Fitzpatrick, Jr. (14 receptions, 189 yards, 1 TD)
TE Chris Ortner, Sr. (9 receptions, 115 yards, 2 TDs)
OT Peter Evans, So.
OT Phede Celestin, So.
OT Brandon Pizzuti, Fr.
LG Patrick Desautels, Fr.
RG Timothy Lamezec, Fr.
C Jack Meussner, Fr.
DE Matt Snow, Sr. (12 TT, 1 FR)
NT Terrence Turner, Sr. (27 TT, 5 TFL, 1 FF)
DE Jim Desautels, Jr. (17 TT)
LB Kees Coughlin, Sr. (66 TT, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FR)
LB Ryan Cronan, Jr. (20 TT)
LB Isaac Sine, So. (15 TT, 1 INT)
S Rory Foley, Sr. (69 TT, 7 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 PBU)
S John Van Aman, Sr. (26 TT)
S Brandon Kicklighter, Jr. (41 TT, 1 INT, 4 PBU)
P/PK Kevin Pauly, Sr. (37.6-yard punt average; 2 of 6 FG, 46 long)
PK Jason Myers, So. (8 of 11 FG, 40 long)

OUTLOOK: A year ago, the Red Foxes overcame three straight losing records in a surprising first season in the PFL. It will take a lot to enjoy similar success this season as the Red Foxes lost a ton, including their starting quarterback (Chris Debowski), feature back (O'Neil Anderson), all five starters on the offensive line and two leading tacklers (LBs Nick Andre and Kevin Foley). They return one of the league's top playmakers in WR LaMacchia, but the first 1,000-yard receiver in Marist history will be the focus of opposing defenses all season. Their o-line will be among the youngest in all of Division I football. Meanwhile, their 3-3-5 defense should remain fairly stingy with a veteran d-line and standouts in the secondary in Foley (a safety who freelances like a linebacker) and Bryant. Parady needs four wins to reach 100 in his Marist career.

7. CAMPBELL FIGHTING CAMELS (3-8 overall; 2-6 PFL)

COACH: Dale Steele (4-18 in two seasons at Campbell)

STARTERS RETURNING: 20 (11 offense/9 defense)

OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Daniel Polk, Sr. (115 of 216 for 1,355 yards, 5 TDs and 7 INTs; 143 carries, 572 yards, 4 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: CB/RS Brandon Chandler, Jr. (43 TT, 3 INTs, 6 PBU; 192.-yard KO return average; 9.6-yard punt return average)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
RB C.J. Oates, Jr. (103 carries, 567 yards, 3 TDs; 15 receptions, 141 yards, 1 TD)
RB Carl Smith, Jr. (91 carries, 463 yards, 5 TDs; 12 receptions, 132 yards)
RB Rashaun Brown, Jr. (54 carries, 296 yards, 2 TDs)
FB Jordan Cramer, Jr. (20 carries, 57 yards, 1 TD)
WR Harrison Jordan, Jr. (24 receptions, 404 yards, 3 TDs)
WR Kelvin Murphy, Jr. (13 receptions, 89 yards)
WR Paul Constantine, Jr. (13 receptions, 230 yards, 2 TDs)
TE Mike Stryffeler, Sr. (29 receptions, 355 yards, 2 TDs)
LT Sam Issermoyer, Jr.
LG Branden Burt, Jr.
C Troy Horan, Jr.
RG Andy Johnson, Jr.
RT Jeremy Hill, Jr.
OG Daniel Ritter, So.
DE Charles Fiore, Sr. (25 TT, 5.5 TFL)
DE Matt Cox, R-Fr.
DT Randel Herring, Jr. (36 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 blocked kick)
NG Eric Bratton, So. (23 TT, 6 TFL)
DE Taylor Reed, Jr. (31 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 QBH, 1 FF)
MLB Lee Stanley, Sr. (88 TT, 2.5 TFL)
OLB Milton Brown, Jr. (61 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
OLB Manny Davis, So. (35 TT, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OLB Chris Price, Jr. (4 TT)
LB Michael Rudisill, R-Fr. (Appalachian State transfer)
CB Jared Hart, Jr. (58 TT, 1 FR)
SS Erik Feliciano, Jr. (49 TT, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
SS Steven Goldsmith, Jr. (39 TT, 1 INT)
FS Christian Dixon, Jr. (27 TT, 3 INTs, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
PK Adam Willets, Jr. (9 of 12 FG, 44 long)
P Ted Moore, Jr. (38.6-yard punt average)

OUTLOOK: Behind a lineup that returns nearly every starter, the Camels expect to take a big step in their third season as a program. They went from 1-10 overall and 0-8 in the PFL in 2008 to 3-8 and 2-6 last season. In their second season, the Camels averaged a league-high 189.7 rushing yards per game, led by QB Polk and a trio of running backs in Oates, Smith and Brown. Both lines return all of their starters, so the Camels will be solid up front. The defense will be much-improved, led by LBs Brown and Stanley and CBs Chandler and Hart. It's mostly a junior-driven lineup, so the Camels appear to be building to a breakthrough season in 2011. But they would like to arrive early this season.

8. DAVIDSON WILDCATS (3-7 overall; 3-5 PFL)

COACH: Tripp Merritt (23-28 in five seasons at Davidson)

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)

OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Kenny Mantuo, Sr. (139 yards, 626 yards, 5 TDs; 10 receptions, 91 yards)

DEFENSIVE STAR: ILB Daniel Astrop, Sr. (68 TT, 5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 4 PBU, 2 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Matt Heavner, Jr. (34 of 70 for 227 yards, 1 TD and 5 INTs)
QB Chris Cochrane, So.
RB/RS Justin Williams, Sr. (80 carries, 258 yards, 1 TD; 9 receptions, 56 yards; 20.6-yard KO return average; 8.7-yard punt return average)
WR Mark Hanabury, Sr. (32 receptions, 309 yards, 1 TD)
WR Jonathan Adams, Jr. (14 receptions, 148 yards)
WR Chris Trinetti, Fr.
WR Jeff McDaniels, Fr.
TE/QB Michael Blanchard, Sr. (80 of 161 for 830 yards, 3 TDs and 6 INTs; 143 carries, 485 yards, 4 TDs)
TE Reese Williams, Fr.
LT Ethan Clark, Jr.
C Alex Fleming, Jr.
RG Zenus Williams, Sr.
RT Marshall Ellis, Sr.
RT Colin Wint, Jr.
OL Adam Kurtz, Fr.
NG Ellis Martin, Jr. (26 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 blocked kick)
DT Morgan Popham, Jr. (18 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 PBU)
OLB Patrick Hunt, Jr. (57 TT, 7.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FR)
OLB John Behm, Jr. (55 TT, 3 TFL, 2 FR, 1 FF)
CB Brandon Sykes, Jr. (13 TT, 2 TFL, 2 PBU)
CB Harvey Kee, Sr. (9 TT, 2 PBU)
CB Rodney Lasher, Sr. (18 TT, 2 PBU)
FS Matt Guerrieri, Sr. (15 TT, 2 PBU)
SS Peter Kidwell, Jr. (53 TT, 3 INTs, 2 PBU)
SS Malcolm Moses-Hampton, Jr. (32 TT, 7.5 TFL)
PK Ben Behrendt, Sr. (7 of 11 FG, 37 long)
P Andrew Wohler, Sr. (40.5-yard punt average)

OUTLOOK: The PFL's smallest school (enrollment, 1,800) is finding it hard to keep pace with some of its bigger rivals, but a scaled-down non-conference schedule (Georgetown, at Lenoir-Rhyne and at Presbyterian) gives the Wildcats the chance for improvement. In an unusual twist, Blanchard, last year's starting quarterback for the first eight games, has moved to tight end. The Wildcats are desperate to have an improved offense after they averaged only 12.4 points per game last season. The offensive line suffered some key losses, but reliable RB Mantuo has rumbled for 1,360 yards and 21 touchdowns in his career. A solid linebacker corps, featuring Astrop, will ignite the defense. A healthier Guerrieri will improve the secondary.

9. MOREHEAD STATE EAGLES (3-8 overall; 1-7 PFL)

COACH: Matt Ballard (90-41 in 16 seasons at Morehead State; 125-109-1 in 22 overall seasons)

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (7 offense/6 defense)

OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Zach Lewis, So. (86 of 161 for 813 yards, 4 TDs and 7 INTs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Mark Hall, Jr. (32 TT, 9 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB/WR Evan Sawyer, Sr. (67 of 147 for 750 yards, 5 TDs and 7 INTs)
HB Ronnie McDermott, Jr.
HB Drew Morgan, Sr.
FB/KR Desmond Cox, Jr. (80 carries, 305 yards, 1 TD; 21.1-yard KO return average)
WR Jaison Yoshimura, So. (14 receptions, 136 yards, 1 TD)
WR Donte Sawyer, So. (15 receptions, 170 yards, 2 TDs)
TE Lance Murphy, Jr.
LT Brad Seger, Jr.
LG Josh Ison, Jr.
C Joey Clegg, So.
RG Eric Matteson, Jr.
RT Jacob Hayes, Fr.
RT Elijah Barnett, Fr.
DE Jerome Raymond, Jr. (28 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
DE Mark Hall, Jr. (32 TT, 9 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 PBU)
DT Chris Burns, Jr. (9 TT, 2.5 TFL)
LB Tony Bachman, Jr. (56 TT, 8 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 PD, 2 FR)
LB Keaton Mays, Jr. (43 TT, 7 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR)
LB Thaddeus Winston, Fr.
CB Kameron Scott, So. (35 TT, 2 INTs, 6 PBU, 1 PBU)
CB D.J. Smith, So. (23 TT, 2 INTs, 1 PBU, 1 FF)
SS Ryan Williams, Sr. (42 TT, 3 PBU)
PK Rainer Duzan, So. (7 of 15 FG, 45 long)
P Justin Mullins, Jr.

OUTLOOK: After suffering some key personnel losses, it would seem hard for the Eagles to repeat their defensive excellence of last season, when they finished in the top 10 in the FCS in rushing defense (fourth), total defense (seventh) and tackles for loss (first). The toughest player to replace is LB Wes McDermott, who had 109 tackles (15.5 for loss) as an all-league first-team selection. Bookend DEs Hall and Raymond hope to set the example for their teammates. The Eagles need QB Lewis to raise his game after he gained experience as a freshman last season. The Eagles were plus-8 in turnovers in their three wins and minus-15 in their eight losses, so Lewis hopes to solve that problem. Getting LT Seger back from an injury helps him in a big way. The home schedule is advantageous, including dates with Davidson (Oct. 16), Valparaiso (Nov. 13) and Campbell (Nov. 20).

10. VALPARAISO CRUSADERS (1-10 overall; 0-8 PFL)

COACH: Dale Carlson (first season at Valparaiso; 110-103-3 in 21 overall seasons)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)

OFFENSIVE STAR: LT Nate Blair, Jr.

DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Nikko Carson, Jr. (43 TT, 11 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Nate Goergen, Sr. (49 of 99 for 487 yards, 5 TDs and 8 INTs)
QB Bobby Wysocki, Jr. (70 of 170 for 783 yards, 3 TDs and 11 INTs; 76 carries, 237 yards)
HB Eddie Morelli, So. (24 carries, 23 yards, 1 TD)
HB Isaac Wildermuth, So. (66 carries, 198 yards)
WR Sean McCarty, Jr. (13 receptions, 183 yards, 2 TDs)
WR Ryan Myers, Jr. (23 receptions, 247 yards, 1 TD)
WR Desmond Lewis, Jr.
WR/KR Tim Bennett, So. (27 receptions, 376 yards; 20.9-yard KO return average)
TE Mike Gerton, So.
TE Alex Petrik, Jr.
LG Gavin Grillo, Jr.
C Ferdinand Velez, Jr.
RG Tayler Aiello, Jr.
RT Sean Cook, So.
DE Chris Lyda, Jr. (15 TT, 2 TFL)
DT Brett Heber, Jr. (24 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 FR, 1 FF)
MLB Cody Gokan, So. (39 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks)
MLB Francis Baker Jr., Fr.
CB Adrian Gober, Sr. (14 TT)
CB Roger Satur, Sr. (53 TT, 4 TFL, 2 INTs, 1 FF)
CB Blake Torres, Fr.
FS Eli Crawford, Sr. (56 TT, 3 TFL, 4 INTs, 1 FR)
SS Laurence Treadaway, Sr. (51 TT, 4 PBU, 2 FR, 1 blocked kick)
PK Mike Pando, Fr.

OUTLOOK: Carlson, accustomed to turning around programs, arrives from Ohio Dominican to try to lift the Crusaders. Last season, they were outscored 344-121, with their only win by three points over Division III Concordia (Wisc.). Their 23-14 loss at Butler was their only PFL defeat under double- digits. That the Crusaders return experience on both lines is a good start for Carlson. If Goergen can settle in at quarterback - he made four starts last season - he will rely on a deep, experienced wide receivers corps, which has an emerging sophomore in Bennett. DE Carson (four sacks against Drake) and FS Crawford (nine career interceptions) are the defensive leaders, but Treadaway is sidelined by a knee injury. Carlson's debut is at Western Illinois on Sept. 2.

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director


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