GLIAC FOOTBALL SEASON PREVIEW
By Tony Nicolette, GLIAC Contributor
When previewing the most recent GLIAC Football seasons, a certain focus has centered around the significant amount of change happening within the league. The topic of change did possess merit, as the line-up of our football playing members has seen three consecutive years with at least one adjustment. What’s funny is that with all of the upheaval we have witnessed, an old adage has come to the fore: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
What has stayed the same? Well, for starters the top-to-bottom caliber of the league’s remaining members continues to be tremendous, with the level of weekly competition showing to be unrivaled in Division II. Additionally, the conference boasted multiple playoff entrants yet again last year. 2012 was the only time in the last eighteen seasons that fewer than two GLIAC members made the NCAA Playoffs, and that same 2012 season was the last time that a regional final was played without at least one GLIAC participant.
Another sign of things “staying the same” is found when noting that the conference’s highest expectations lie squarely on the shoulders of teams who have figured into nine of the last eleven GLIAC Titles. The GLIAC Coaches again are predicting that Grand Valley, Ferris State, and Ashland will rise to the top of the league standings, which replicates last year’s voting. These three squads are within seven points of each other in the 2018 edition of the GLIAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, with Grand Valley garnering the top ranking. The Lakers also received the highest number of first place votes, and they are one of the few teams in the league planning to be piloted by a senior QB (Bart Williams). Ferris was a very close second in the poll, and the Bulldogs have been the last GLIAC club standing in the NCAA Playoffs each of the last two years. As for third-ranked Ashland, they know that preseason rankings are just that: preseason. The Eagles were slotted third last year as well, but they ignored that prognostication and earned the out-right 2017 GLIAC Championship.
The second tier of teams in our poll all garnered an identical 35 points, tying for the number four spot in the rankings. Northwood hopes to carry positive momentum into this year, as their 7-4 finish in 2017 included victories in five of their last six games. Saginaw Valley and Wayne State were both disappointed with their 5-6 marks after entering last season with promise, but flashes were shown and both clubs return several exciting playmakers that could help them turn their fortunes in 2018.
The final trio of clubs in our poll were also segmented in to a relatively tight bunch, as they were separated by only 11 points. Northern Michigan, ranked seventh in the poll, will look to reigning GLIAC Offensive Back of the Year in Jake Mayon to boost the Wildcats offense in 2018. Michigan Tech earned the number eight spot, after their 2017 season saw them start off strong but then win only once in their final six outings. Rounding out our poll is Davenport who showed signs that significant improvement is within reach for the coming season. All three teams in this group have coaching staffs entering their second seasons at their respective schools, and the identities of these programs should now start to take on a true shape with the growing tenure of their staffs.
While the GLIAC is a bit smaller these days, the updated alignment reduces the number of conference games played. This creates openings on schedules for new and different opponents. GLIAC clubs will face teams that belong to six other Division II conferences in 2018, providing several previously unseen and interesting foes for fans to check out. Unusual or potentially unique opponents aside, most of us love the league for its traditional rivalries. The majority of those remain intact and should provide an exciting landscape for the play we’ll see in 2018. Will the league’s most recent powers continue to dominate, or will someone else challenge to join their ranks? Time will soon tell, and the kickoff of the season can’t get here fast enough.