GLIAC FOOTBALL SEASON PREVIEW
By Tony Nicolette, GLIAC Contributor
2015 saw three GLIAC schools in the NCAA Division II Playoffs for the second consecutive year. While it’s hard to predict whether that will happen for a third straight time in 2016, the results of this year’s GLIAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll suggest that the league’s coaches are a group of guys who feel like they are leading their teams into playoff games every single week of the season. The tallies were very close, and it is clear that the perceived difference between the league’s top clubs is rather minimal.
In the North Division, two-time defending league champion Ferris State actually finished a close second in the voting. The loss of two-time Harlon Hill Award winner Jason Vander Laan at quarterback (one of three of last year’s Bulldogs presently in NFL camps) no doubt figured into their not claiming the top spot. That rung was garnered by Grand Valley State, who, despite not having won the GLIAC since 2010 has won Regional Championships in two of the last three seasons. 17 starters return for the Lakers from last year’s group that claimed the second of those previously mentioned Regional titles. Not far behind were Michigan Tech and Wayne State, and in fifth place was Hillsdale. Tech, Wayne and Hillsdale all return experienced quarterbacks and solid running attacks, which are not only foundations for success in the GLIAC, but can make a team dangerous during any given week. Saginaw Valley claimed the sixth position after a pair of seasons that fell below the program’s traditional expectations. In a tie for seventh were Northern Michigan and Northwood, which is hard to believe when one considers that both clubs won five games a year ago.
At the top of the South Division, there isn’t much surprise to see Ashland firmly grasping the top spot. The Eagles shared the GLIAC Title a year ago on the strength of an unbeaten regular season, and return 18 starters from last year’s squad. In a tie for second place are Ohio Dominican and Tiffin. While the Panthers have established their position over many seasons as a strong program in the league, this is somewhat unchartered territory for Tiffin. With perhaps the league’s most dynamic returning playmaker in Antonio Pipkin, the Dragons will face their highest set of expectations since joining the league. Following in fourth position is Findlay, who has experienced quarterback play returning to a club that posted a winning record in 2015. Walsh comes in at the fifth spot, and the list concludes with Lake Erie. Both of these last two clubs have been developing youth over the past couple of seasons, and could be poised to take a step forward in 2016.
The overall level of play during the 2016 GLIAC campaign should once again be tremendous. Five of the league’s teams have made at least one playoff appearance in the last two seasons, and as many as ten clubs return their starting quarterback from last year. There is depth, experience, and explosive talent throughout the league. Based on how the coaches voted in their poll, there is little doubt that they expect this to be one of this most challenging league seasons in recent memory. Whoever hoists the hardware in November will have undoubtedly fought hard to earn it.