PFL favorite Jacksonville revs its offense
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
As the points, and then wins, pile up, Jacksonville University is trying to be more than a championship football team.
The Dolphins want to be a championship program.
"Let's be a team that consistently wins year-in and year-out," fifth-year head coach Kerwin Bell said.
"Let's be in contention every year with our program."
Much to their dismay, other head coaches in the Pioneer Football League believe it is happening already. On Monday, eight of the 10 coaches selected Jacksonville at the top of their preseason poll, ahead of Dayton and the other schools in the coast-to-coast league.
Dayton and Jacksonville didn't meet last season when both went 8-0 and shared the league title. This season, they will square off on Oct. 8 at Jacksonville - their first meeting since 2008.
QB Josh McGregor threw for 3,049 yards and 32 touchdowns as a junior last season.
Bell inherited a floundering program in 2007 and led the Dolphins to their first PFL title a year later. He felt the '09 squad underachieved, finishing in a tie for third place, but that disappointment motivated last year's team, which lost only at Southern Conference power Appalachian State during their 10-1 co-championship season.
"We had a really good run last year, felt very comfortable at the end of the year," Bell said. "I'll tell you, our kids have taken that to, 'We understand this is a new year, a new team.' We've got a lot of good players returning, we've got the best roster we've had here since I've been here."
That's saying a lot considering Jacksonville lost 10 starters as well as both kickers from a team that led the FCS in scoring average (42.2 ppg) and total offense (486.3 ypg) last season.
Back at the controls of the offense, which is mix of pro style and spread, is senior quarterback Josh McGregor, whose 169.54 passing rating led the FCS. He threw for 3,049 yards and 32 touchdowns with only seven interceptions.
McGregor will have his choice of weapons in running back J.J. Laster and wide receivers Josh Philpart, Larry Thompson and Tommie Rogers, a 2009 starter who missed last season with an injury.
The defense gets overshadowed by the offense, but it returns eight starters, including safety and 2010 tackle leader Leonard Smith, defensive end Rolando Fines, linebacker Mike Klein and cornerback Colby Walden.
"We've got a lot of characters that have fun," Bell said, "but, boy, when we walk between the white lines, I tell them we're either win or lose that day, so let's make sure we win it."
Dayton, which lost only to Duquesne of the Northeast Conference in going 10-1 last season, suffered more significant losses than Jacksonville, so the PFL's perennial power (11 league titles) appears hard-pressed to match the Dolphins.
The Flyers were sixth in the FCS with a 35.5-point average last season, but coach Rick Chamberlain's squad has to replace quarterback Steve Valentino, the league's offensive player of the year in each of the last two seasons. His successor could be redshirt freshman Zachary Splain, who was the most- impressive signal-caller during spring practice.
RB J.J. Laster rushed for 810 yards on an FCS-best 8.5 yards per carry last season.
If Jacksonville gets knocked off in league play, the title race would expand quickly with the likes of Drake (Mike Piatowski), San Diego (Mason Mills), Butler (Andrew Huck) and Morehead State (Zach Lewis) all returning their starting quarterbacks.
While McGregor is the league's top-returning offensive player, San Diego senior defensive end Mario Kurn is considered the top defensive player. The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Preseason All-America selection led the FCS with 17 sacks last season.
PIONEER FOOTBALL LEAGUE PRESEASON POLL (Head Coaches)
1. Jacksonville (8 first-place votes), 10 points
2. Dayton (1), 69
3. Drake (1), 60
4. San Diego, 59
5. Butler, 47
6. Morehead State, 38
7. Campbell, 33
8. Marist, 31
9. Davidson, 23
10. Valparaiso, 9
Note: Coaches could not vote for their own team.