2013 GLIAC Football Preview: Coaches Pick Grand Valley State & Ashland to Win Divisional Titles

By Tony Nicolette, Special Writer for the GLIAC

2013 GLIAC Football
Preseason Coaches’ Poll
 
School (1st-votes) Points  
North Division  
1.      
Grand Valley St. (6) 94
 
2. Saginaw Valley St. (6)   
87
 
3. Ferris State (1) 69
 
4. Michigan Tech (1) 66
 
5. Hillsdale (1) 65  
6. Wayne State 48  
7. Northern Michigan 23
 
8. Northwood
22  
South Division  
1. Ashland (10)
88  
2. Ohio Dominican (4) 80
 
3. Findlay (1)
69
 
4. Walsh 
43  
5. Lake Erie 40  
6.
Tiffin  30  
7. Malone 21  
BAY CITY, Mich. – The last two GLIAC seasons have produced first-time, outright championships for a pair of the league’s long-standing members; Hillsdale earned the title in 2011, with Ashland completing an unbeaten regular season to claim the crown in 2012.  Will the 2013 title go to another first-timer?  The league’s head coaches seem to think it not impossible as their preseason poll results were announced.

On the heels of their 11-0 regular season, Ashland is picked to repeat as league champs garnering ten first-place votes and 88 points.  The South is no runaway in the coach’s minds, however, as fourth-year member Ohio Dominican ranked second notching 80 points along with four first-place nods.  Findlay was the final member of the south to earn a first place vote, and tallied 69 total points to slot third.  On the strength of their defense and excitement around new coach Ted Karras, Walsh earned a fourth place spot with 43 points, followed by Lake Erie (40), Tiffin (30), and Malone (21).

The picture in the North has even less clarity, which resembles how the standings looked at the end of 2012.  Four teams finished atop the north at 7-3 last year, and each of those clubs earned at least one first-place vote in this year’s preseason poll.  Grand Valley led the way with 94 points and six first-place ballots.  Saginaw Valley also picked-up six first-place votes, but only tallied 87 total points to finish second.  Fellow co-champs from last year Michigan Tech (66 points, one first-place vote) and Hillsdale (65 points, one first-place vote) finished fourth and fifth respectively, but found themselves passed over for third by the coaches as Ferris State garnered 69 total points along with a single first-place nod.  It’s obvious that the coaches see Ferris and Ohio Dominican as teams to watch out for in 2013, and it will be interesting to see if their thoughts are validated on the field.

Rounding out the North Division balloting was sixth place Wayne State with 48 points, seventh place Northern Michigan with 23 points, and finally Northwood with 22 points.

The 2013 Division II football season opens for six GLIAC members on Thursday, September 5th, with seven more of the league’s clubs playing two days later on Saturday the 7th.   The conference schedule then begins in earnest on Saturday, September 14th.


Ranked in order picked in the 2013 GLIAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll:


 1.    Grand Valley State University (8-3 overall, 7-3 GLIAC)

 After six straight outright conference crowns, Grand Valley has had to settle for shares of the North Division title in each of the last two seasons.  Coach Matt Mitchell and his crew look to break out from their back-to-back 8-3 finishes and return to the playoffs in 2013.  They will have the luxury of selecting from a pair of experienced quarterbacks in Heath Parling and Isiah Grimes.  Parling led the nation in pass efficiency in 2011, but his 2012 was cut short due to an early season injury.  Grimes then stepped in and proceeded to replicate Parling’s 2011 feat, leaving the Lakers with a pair of nationally rated passers at their disposal.  Aerial attack aside, this could be a run-first Laker team in 2013 as all but twelve of their rushing yards from last year return, and they lose top receiver Charles Johnson.


Whatever the Lakers do on offense, it’s hard to expect them not to be potent as they led the league in scoring last year at nearly 42 points per game.  What needs to be fixed is a defense that was next to last in the GLIAC in total defense a year ago.  Top tacklers Charles Hill and Brad Horling are back, and they will need to help fix a run defense that allowed 237 yards or more on six separate occasions.

Grand Valley will have their difficult North slate, but in total may have as favorable a schedule as anyone in the division (seven home games help to that end, including having no U.P. trips and Hillsdale and Saginaw in Allendale).  The Lakers open the season with three seemingly winnable home contests against Asuza Pacific, Truman State, and Tiffin.  We may know by a stern test at Ohio Dominican in week four whether the coaches were right to have them as their pick to take the North in 2013.



 
2.      Saginaw Valley State University (8-3 overall, 7-3 GLIAC)

Much like last year, Saginaw Valley will likely go as their “J.J.’s” go.  Quarterback Jonathon Jennings led the GLIAC in passing in 2012, notching just short of 299 yards per game.  And of course, his primary target was Jeff Janis, who led the nation in receiving on his way to GLIAC “Offensive Back of the Year” plaudits.  This pair may once again be the most feared pitch/catch combo on the league…and maybe the country.  They guided the Cardinals to an 8-3 mark last year and share of the North Division crown.  Add in another seven returning starters (including the entire offensive line), and the Cardinal faithful should be very excited about what their club could do this year.

As if that weren’t enough, Coach Jim Collins and his staff welcome back eight returning starters on defense.  Senior Brian Johnson was second on the team in tackles last year with 102, and he will lead a unit that finished in the middle of the league in scoring and total defense.  Let’s face it, if the Cardinal offense is able to put up any kind of similar numbers to last year the defense will not be expected to do the majority of the heavy lifting.

 Much like a large number of its North Division brethren, the Cardinals face a difficult schedule.  They open at perennial MIAA and national power Northwest Missouri State, and also face trips to Findlay and Ferris in the first half of the year.  Upon reaching November they’ll make a trip to Houghton to face Tech, and will close the season at Grand Valley in a rematch of last year’s “instant classic”.

 
  3.     Ferris State University (7-4 overall, 6-4 GLIAC)
By most accounts, year one of the Tony Annese era had to be considered a success for Ferris State.  A 7-4 record might even belie how competitive the Bulldogs really were, and there’s little doubt that the folks in Big Rapids are excited to see what kind of step forward their club can make.  Leading the way will be quarterback Jason VanderLaan, who earned GLIAC Freshman of the Year honors in 2012.  VanderLaan rushed for nearly as many yards as he threw for last year, and is causing the league’s defenses to decide what exactly they feel they can take away from him week to week.


While the Bulldog offense gained potency during the course of the season, the defense had some struggles at times.  They allowed more than 30 points per game last year, and roughly half of their starters must be replaced.  There’s little doubt that the Bulldog offense will be able to generate points, so the key question might be whether or not the defense can improve and not make what the offense does a necessity.

Ferris will open its season on the road at two-time defending FCS champ North Dakota State.  After a trip to Ashland in week three, the Bulldogs reach week five and have a month of October that sees them face all four of the GLIAC North’s Co-Champions from 2012.  They then finish the year with two of their final three at home.
 
4.     Michigan Technological University (7-3 overall, 7-3 GLIAC)

For the Co-North Champ Michigan Tech Huskies, the luxury of a seasoned quarterback is one that they will enjoy entering 2013.  Junior Tyler Scarlett enters his third season at the controls having already tallied the two highest passing yardage season totals in school history.  He’ll be working with a significant number of new faces, however.  Three of 2012’s top ball carriers have departed, as have almost all of last year’s receptions in the passing game.  Coach Tom Kearly has proven he can plug new players into key positions in the past, and if Scarlett has any Tom Brady in him he may just surprise us all with how he can keep the offense churning regardless of who the other pieces might be.

 On defense, it seems like no matter the year the Huskies have play at defensive end that makes everyone else in the league take notice.  This season should be no exception as Cameron Allen and Nelson Wienke return after All-GLIAC nods a year ago.  The outside of the secondary is also solid, as experience returns in DeShawn Nelson who led the league in passes defended.


Tech hits the road three times in their first four games this year, but they enjoy the opposite trend at the close of the slate when they stay in Houghton for three of their final four tilts.  A week five trip to Grand Valley will be circled on the calendar after a wild one in Houghton a year ago, and a week later the Huskies will host arch rival Northern for the Miner’s Cup.



 
5.     Hillsdale College (7-4 overall, 7-3 GLIAC)

Despite the success of the prior two seasons (GLIAC Champs in 2011, Co-North Champs in 2012), Coach Keith Otterbein and Hillsdale College might be a bit disappointed that neither of those campaigns were able to get them back into the playoff field.  If the Chargers want to make the bracket in 2013, they’ll have to find a way to do it without their all-time leading rusher in Joe Glendening, and multi-year starting quarterback Anthony Mifsud.  Aiding in the transition from those top performers will be four returning starters on the offensive line, as well as senior receiver Andrew Mott who has led the club in receptions each of the past two seasons.

The strength of the Chargers this year may prove to be their defense, as nine of eleven starters return from last year’s group that was second in the league in total defense.  Included in that mix is arguably the best linebacking corps in the league; the trio of Steven Embry, Devin Moynihan, and Brett Pasche enters its third year of starting together and were the team’s top three tacklers a year ago.

There just aren’t any weeks off for Hillsdale in the 2013 slate, as the Chargers may have the most difficult schedule in the league.  As most figured out in 2012, any North Division schedule is as tough as what any team in the country faces.  On top of that the Chargers will have non-league tilts against perennial PSAC power California (PA), and reigning GLVC Champ Indianapolis.  They’ll also face a week two roadie at Ohio Dominican who enters the season on a five-game win streak and just two short years removed from having defeated Hillsdale.


6.      Wayne State University (5-5 overall, 5-5 GLIAC)

A 5-5 mark in 2012 had to be a bit of a letdown for Wayne State, particularly having it come on the heels of a run to the National Championship game in 2011.  Getting back on the national scene will be in the cross-hairs for coach Paul Winters and company this year, as will vying for a top spot in the GLIAC North.  To do so, they’ll have to start by replacing quarterback Micky Mohner who started the last 44 games for the Warriors.  Despite Mohner’s departure, the bulk of the offensive production of last year returns in leading rusher Toney Davis, and top pass-catcher Dominique Maybanks.

 One of the GLIAC’s better scoring defenses from last year will have its top tackler back in Ed Viverette.   The senior linebacker is coming off an All-GLIAC season a year ago, as is defensive back Gerren DuHart.  Viverette and DuHart will be called upon to lead the way for a unit that must replace more than half of its starters from 2012’s group.

Prior to entering its North slate, Wayne will have pair of stern tests right out of the chute.  They travel to SAC power Carson-Newman to open the season in a Thursday night battle, and then return home to host reigning league champ Ashland.   Toss in a pair of roadies to the U.P. in their divisional schedule, and Wayne definitely faces one of the more difficult set of tests in the league.

 
7.    Northern Michigan University (4-7 overall, 3-7 GLIAC)

Head coach Chris Ostrowsky had to be pleased with how his club came together down the stretch a year ago.  After a dismal start to the year the Wildcats went 3-2 to finish the season.  Those two losses came by a total of eight points, so Northern definitely turned things around in the second half.   Keeping that momentum going won’t come easy as in addition to their North schedule the ‘Cats must face the top three finishers from the South to open the season, including a week four trip to Ashland.


Charged with leading the way for the Northern offense will be quarterback Cody Scepaniak, whose insertion into the line-up midway through last season was one of the catalysts to the turnaround in Marquette.  He’ll be flanked with a strong group of ball carriers, but likely the most explosive skill player Northern returns is senior wideout Christian Jessie.

The Wildcat defense will look to improve upon the 31.5 points per game it allowed a year ago.  Even after their “turning point” last year, the ‘Cats yielded 28 points or more three times so shoring up that side of the ball will prove key.  Linebacker Nick Krause will be the lynch pin for the unit, and the junior is coming off a 2012 that saw him lead the team in total tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks.


8.    Northwood University (5-6 overall, 4-6 GLIAC)

2012 was a “tale of two seasons” for Northwood and Coach Mike Sullivan.  After sprinting out to a 4-0 start, the Timberwolves dropped six of their final seven tilts to wind-up a game under .500 for the year.  Despite graduating nearly half of their starters, this is still a senior-laden group lead by running backs Jordan Jonker and Cameron Jackson.  Aaron Shavers has departed, so there will be a new quarterback at the helm of the offense.

Defensively, Northwood was greatly improved last year finishing in the top third of the league in both scoring and total defense.  Top tacklers in Ryan Whittum and Spencer Remtema have graduated, meaning new leaders will need to emerge if the Timberwolves want to remain one of the top defensive units in the GLIAC.


At first glance, the Northwood schedule appears to be favorable to a club trying to fill a few key holes.  A visit from PSAC foe Slippery Rock will be a tough opener, but the rest of their September dates are filled with clubs that NU defeated a year ago.  Their division schedule sets in from there and includes their Axe Bowl game at Saginaw Valley, as well as visits from Tech and Grand Valley to close out October.

 

 

1.    Ashland University (11-1 overall, 10-0 GLIAC)

After an 11-0 regular season and the school’s first GLIAC Title, one could presume it’s a rosy situation for Ashland entering the 2013 campaign.  The stout Eagle defense of a year ago returns the league’s reigning Defensive Lineman of the Year in Jamie Meder, as well as leading tackler Cody Bloom at linebacker.  As if that weren’t enough eight of the offense’s eleven starters will also be back, including the ground-churning 1-2 punch of Anthony Taylor and Jordan McCune.  The tandem combined for more than 2100 rushing yards last year, and each found the end zone 14 times on the season.

While a returning bevy of production like that would be the envy of most (and appears to be, given the Eagles are picked to win the South Division), Coach Lee Owens knows that the few losses he suffered due to graduation are indeed key ones.  GLIAC “Defensive Back of the Year” Brian Gamble must be replaced, as does GLIAC “Player of the Year” Taylor Housewright.  Housewright ran the Eagle offense for the last three years, and may well have been the heart-and-soul of one of the best teams in school history.   Add in the loss of Housewright’s top target in Anthony Capasso, and there are still some big shoes to fill in key spots as Ashland opens the defense of its GLIAC crown.

Coach Lee Owens should know how his holes are being filled early in the season, as road tests at GLVC Champ Indianapolis and 2011 National Runner-Up Wayne State face the Eagles right out of the chute.  Home dates with Ferris in week three and Ohio Dominican in week six round out a test-laden first half of the year.

  2.    Ohio Dominican University (8-3 overall, 7-3 GLIAC)

One could contend that things are “going pretty well according to plan” for Ohio Dominican head coach Bill Conley.  After learning the ropes of the GLIAC for a few seasons, the Panthers broke out with an 8-3 mark in 2012.  Each of those three losses came at the hands of a ranked opponent, and ODU closed out the second half with a five-game win streak.  Conley is a proven commodity at more than one level of college football, and he’s showing his stripes once again as ODU is quickly earning a reputation within the GLIAC as a team to be reckoned with.  The rest of the league appears to have taken notice as they are the coaches’ pick to finish second in the South Division.

Keeping things moving forward in 2013 will fall on the shoulders of junior quarterback Mark Miller and his fellow backfield mates.  Miller was quite efficient last season and will have the luxury of his top two receivers returning, as well as his top three ground gainers.  The rushing attack will feature sophomore Brandon Schoen, who notched more than 1,000 yards in his rookie campaign.  They will need some patience in order to replicate their production last year, however, as nearly the entire offensive line must be retooled.  Similarly, about half of the defense has also departed, but leading tackler Justin Bell will once again be there to lead the charge from the secondary.

With only four home dates this year, the Panthers will live a “traveler’s life” for most of the season.  This is particularly true of the second half of the slate, as four of their final six games will be on the road.  There is some “bang for the buck” in their home games, however.  They have early visits from Hillsdale and Grand Valley, and the highlight of the schedule may well be a nationally televised Thursday Night gig against Findlay in week seven.
 


3.    University of Findlay (7-3 overall, 7-3 GLIAC)

Coach Rob Keys enters his third season at the helm of the Oilers, and is excited about the opportunity to improve upon last year’s 7-3 mark.  Successfully doing so starts with figuring out who will replace multi-year starting QB Clay Belton, and Findlay’s all-time leading rusher in Monterae Williams.  Such a task will be slightly less daunting thanks to having the Gordy Lockbaum-esque Seth White back for one more go-around.  The senior wideout led the team in receiving last year, and moonlit in other spots on offense as well.  If that weren’t enough, he handled all of the punting duties and even took the reins as a kicker, connecting on all but one of his 35 combined PAT/FG attempts.  White was the team’s second-leading scorer in 2012, and has a chance this year to become UF’s all-time leading pass catcher.

It’s not entirely a youth movement for Findlay, as 19 players who started games last year are back.  The defense should once again be solid, and senior Ray Ballard looks to continue shoring up the secondary as he did from his safety spot a year ago.  The defense generated a +9 turnover margin last season, and Ballard and his mates will look to continue that trend in 2013.

The Oilers open the slate with three of their first four games at home.  The one roady in that group is a week two trip to Marquette to face an NMU bunch that was much improved last season, and is followed by back-to-back home dates against Saginaw and Tech.  That opening set will certainly season UF prior to its National TV date at Ohio Dominican in week seven, and its early November tilt against Ashland.
 


  4.     Walsh University (3-8 overall, 2-8 GLIAC)

During the offseason, the Walsh Cavaliers lost the only head coach they’ve ever known.  Jim Dennison retired from the post he has held since the program’s inception in 1995, passing the torch to Ted Karras who enters fresh off his NAIA National Title at Marian University.  Karras inherits a defense that kept the Cavaliers competitive in their inaugural run through the GLIAC, finishing fourth in the league in scoring defense at 21.5 points per game.  This group should be heavy on experience, with as many as seven seniors slated to be in the starting line-up.

Offensively, despite running the ball the majority of the time last year the key returnee is a wide-out.  Anthony Schrock is back after averaging more than 18.5 yards per grab last year, and that big-play ability might be key for the Cavs as there will be new faces at quarterback and throughout the offensive line.  Schrock’s efforts should be aided by backs Steve Smith and Justin Keith, who both saw plenty of action behind last year’s primary ball carrier Toba Olarewaju.

The schedule offers no breaks for the Cavaliers.  Tough September dates against Tech and Ferris will be tests, as will an opener with PSAC foe Edinboro.  October finds home tilts against Ohio Dominican and Ashland sandwiched around archrival Malone.  They then conclude their slate by hitting the road four straight times.



  5.  Lake Erie College (3-8 overall, 3-7 GLIAC)

Lake Erie has the bulk of its club back after posting a third consecutive 3-8 mark in 2012.  Nearly all of the skill-position starters return on offense, including signal-caller Brendan Gallagher who started the last five games of 2012 and notched two of The Storm’s three wins.  Alongside Gallagher are his top two receivers from last year in Anthony Kukwa and Tommy Jackson, as is leading rusher Anthony Bilal.
 
Where Coach Mark McNellie has his work cut out for him is on defense, as The Storm yielded nearly 40 points per game and finished last in the GLIAC in total defense.  Top tackler Marcus Rogers is back after tallying 99 stops a year ago, and he’ll be tasked with leading the defense in improving upon their less-than-sparking statistics of a year ago.


Despite having six home games, the bulk of Lake Erie’s tough tests will likely come on the road.  Trips to Ferris and Saginaw glare in September, as does a roll down I-71 to Ohio Dominican in November.  The Painesville patrons will enjoy an opener with border rival Gannon, as well as a visit from defending league champ Ashland in week five.



6.    Tiffin University (3-8 overall, 1-8 GLIAC)

After multiple years of going winless or only registering a single victory, Tiffin was able to pick up three conquests in 2012 and third year coach Gary Goff looks to parlay that improvement into some momentum in the GLIAC South.  While the Dragons look at a variety of options at quarterback entering camp, nine other starters return on offense.  Leading rusher Dominique White is back, as is All-GLIAC receiver Marcus Beaurem.  They’ll be charged with improving a 17.7 point per game output from a year ago.


Defensively, the Dragons return two of their top three tacklers in linebacker Bryon McCorkle and All-GLIAC lineman Joseph Collard.  Tiffin showed dramatic improvement in their defense, slashing over 20 points per game from their defensive average while finishing in the middle of the pack defensively in the conference.

Tiffin has a couple of interesting non-conference road games.  They’ll be facing off against Division II McKendree and then travelling to Drake University to take on South Dakota School of Mines at midseason. Tiffin also has road contests at Grand Valley, Northwood, Lake Erie, and Ashland. The home folks will get to see visits from Michigan Tech, nearby rival Findlay, Malone, Walsh, and an early November date with Ohio Dominican.



7.    Malone University (1-9 overall, 1-9 GLIAC)

After a rough initial trip through the GLIAC in 2012, Malone will try and improve on the 1-9 mark they garnered a year ago.  Some key contributors are back on defense, particularly in the secondary where safeties Brandon Commodore and Demarco Donaldson return after strong campaigns.  Donaldson was second in the GLIAC averaging 11 tackles per game, but he and Commodore will need some help from the front seven if the Pioneers hope to do a better job of keeping opponents off the scoreboard at a slower pace than the 35.9 points per game they allowed a year ago.


Leading the offense once again for Coach Eric Hehman will likely fall on the shoulders of the experienced Will Szpor.  The junior quarterback will be backed by his top three rushers of a year ago, including juniors Malik Felton and Steven Niewiedzial.  The backfield tandem saw almost identical touches a year ago, and will be called upon this year as Szpor’s top target in the pass game of a year ago has departed.

Malone will know early how they stack up in the league, as their crossover games include trips to Saginaw Valley and Wayne State.  Those games are sandwiched around a visit from Hillsdale so the Pioneers will know where they stand as September draws to a close.  They then have a mid-October date with cross-town rival Walsh, and visit Ashland to close out October.

 

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