HERO Sports welcomes you to "Two-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 125 FCS programs, with two being released each day from June 18 to August 18 (with the final day having three in one day). Today we give you … South Dakota.
SOUTH DAKOTA (8-5 IN 2017)
MVFC (USD was 5th in 2017)
COACH: Bob Nielson – 3rd year (12-12 record)
2017 OFFENSE: 38.2 ppg. (4th in FCS)
2017 DEFENSE: 26.5 ppg. (65th in FCS)
SUM IT UP: "Chris will be the first to tell you Austin has a better arm than he does." That's a quote from Bob Nielson. Chris is Chris Streveler, last year's starting quarterback who will go down as one of the best athletes in USD history. Austin is Austin Simmons, who is expected to take over as QB1. That's pretty high praise. And it's important praise because many expect the Coyotes to take a step back this year with the graduation of Streveler. He did carry the team, in rushing and passing, to many wins and should have won the Walter Payton Award. But USD still has a ton of key players returning with roughly 14 starters back.
Simmons doesn't have to be Streveler. In fact, asking him to do so is asking too much. If he can make accurate throws and take care of the football, this offense should be explosive once again. The offensive line remains intact. Top running backs Michael Fredrick and Kai Henry are back after combining for 1,318 yards and 13 touchdowns. Three of the top four players in receptions are gone, but Shamar Jackson does return after leading the team with 53 catches to go with 766 yards and four touchdowns. The defense has work to do and needs to play at a higher level if USD wants to return to the playoffs. The Coyotes gave up more than 30 points in their last five games. A good nucleus returns on defense, though, including preseason All-American defensive end Darin Greenfield and leading tackler Andrew Gray.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: The Coyotes return to the playoffs and make a deep run. The talent is there offensively. The defense should improve just based off the number of returning starters. This is a team that won't take as big of a step back as people think. Like they did last year, the 'Yotes are going to need a hot start. Nonconference games include FBS Kansas State and Big Sky opponents Northern Colorado at home and at Weber State. Going 2-1 is absolutely essential, especially when October features three straight games versus Northern Iowa, at Youngstown State and versus North Dakota State with a season finale at South Dakota State. USD started 2017 6-0 but was one of the last teams to make it into the playoff bracket after losing four of its last five games. That can't happen again this year if USD wants to make it past the second round.
TOP RETURNEE: DE Darin Greenfield (HERO Sports Preseason First Team All-American)
THE NEXT BEST: WR Shamar Jackson (53 catches, 766 yards, 4 TDs); RB Michael Fredrick (705 yards, 7 TDs); C Tyler Ciurej (Freshman All-American); S Andrew Gray (89 tackles); S Phillip Powell (64 tackles, 3 INT.)
DID YOU KNOW?: USD was not a member of the MVFC until 2012 and played at the Division II level until announcing a move to D1 in 2006.
THE QUOTE: "Winning championships is a process, and Coach Nielson has built a championship foundation through consistent and successful recruiting, hiring outstanding assistant coaches, and providing a vision for our program. He has led our team with integrity and stability, and he has tremendous passion for South Dakota. I look forward to watching him lead our football program for many years to come." — USD AD David Herbster said on Bob Nielson's contract extension through 2020-21
SOCIAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
THE HASHTAG: #WeAreSouthDakota
FOOTBALL TWITTER: @SDCoyotesFB