HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs from June 17 to August 6. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 12-15. Today, we present … South Dakota State.
We'll leave no stone left unturned when it comes to giving the FCS diehards all they could ask for this offseason. Learn about every program in the country with HERO Sports.
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South Dakota State (10-3 IN 2018)
MVFC (SDSU finished 2nd in 2018)
COACH: John Stiegelmeier – At School: 22nd Year (158-100) Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2018 (Semifinals)
2018 OFFENSE: 42.5 ppg (5th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 22.3 ppg (25th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Oct. 26 vs. North Dakota State: SDSU handled the Bison the last time they were in Brookings, but the Bison went 2-0 against the Jacks last year. Not only will this game have massive implications in the MVFC standings, but will also impact the playoff picture.
SUM IT UP: The Jackrabbits have taken that next step as a program in recent years. They got past the second-round hump by reaching the quarterfinals in 2016 and then advanced to the semifinals in 2017 and 2018. Last year, the assumption from many outside the program was SDSU would take a step back with All-American pass-catchers Jake Wieneke and Dallas Goedert off to the NFL. The Jacks did the opposite and got even more explosive on offense. Now they hope to replace a key offensive player once again in Taryn Christion, arguably the greatest quarterback in school history.
Outside of that position, SDSU has a stacked roster coming back for new offensive coordinator Jason Eck and co-defensive coordinators Brian Bergstrom and Jimmy Rogers, who were hired from within. Seven starters are back on offense and seven return on defense along with kicker Chase Vinatieri and long snapper Bradey Sorenson, both HERO Sports Preseason All-Americans.
But let's not downplay the importance of that quarterback spot. If the Jacks want to keep making deep playoff runs and not fall back to second-round exits, they need solid QB play. The offensive skilled talent surrounding the new quarterback is as good as you'll find in the FCS, so the new starter doesn't have to be Christion in his first year. But if you want an example of what happens when a talented team has inconsistent quarterback play, take a look at the 2018 James Madison Dukes.
So who is this new starter going to be? It appears redshirt freshman J'Bore Gibbs, a highly-touted recruit, is now the front-runner. Arizona State transfer Kurt Walding looked to have a good shot as well in the spring but decided to retire from football. Junior Kanin Nelson and redshirt freshman Matt Connors are in the mix too. Replacing a few starters on the offensive line is another big question. Evan Greeneway and Eagan Lickiss are the lone returning starters. Center Wes Genant plans to redshirt this season due to injury but does have the option of playing four games without using a year of eligibility.
The offensive weapons are the strength of this team. SDSU essentially has its entire RB and WR/TE room returning outside of RB Isaac Wallace, who missed the second half of his senior season last year with an injury. Pierre Strong Jr., a HERO Sports Preseason All-American, Mikey Daniel and C.J. Wilson form what could be the best backfield in the MVFC. Same goes for the wide receivers with the likes of HERO Sports Preseason All-American Cade Johnson, Adam Anderson and Jacob Brown.
Defensively, building depth behind the experienced returning starters is key. The unit limped its way to the end of last season, which showed in the second half of the semifinal loss to NDSU. The front seven is stout with standouts like 2018 All-MVFC Second Team defensive end Ryan Earith, HERO Sports FCS Freshman All-America defensive tackle Krockett Krolikowski and HERO Sports Preseason All-American linebacker Christian Rozeboom. The secondary has a few more questions with cornerback Marshon Harris the lone returning starter.
OUR TAKE: From top to bottom, this is the most talented roster SDSU has had. The program has stepped up its recruiting, which has allowed it to reload. But as stated with the JMU example above, the Jacks need consistent and solid quarterback play if they want to continue progressing as a program. The schedule sets up nicely for SDSU with three favorable nonconference FCS games and a season-opening contest at Minnesota, which the Jacks could have the Gophers on upset alert. And they get NDSU and Illinois State, two teams expected to be in the Top 3 of the MVFC, at home. SDSU is a playoff team in 2019. No doubt about that. And we expect the Jackrabbits to be in the national title picture again, preseason ranking them No. 5. But the team does have big questions it needs to answer (QB, OL and the secondary). However, not many FCS programs can improve their passing attack after their tight end and wide receiver earn pro contracts. So something tells us the Jacks will answer these offseason questions in a strong way once again.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./LB Christian Rozeboom (HERO Sports Preseason All-American, 105 tackles)
THE FOUNDATION: So./RB Pierre Strong Jr. (HERO Sports Preseason AA, 1,116 rushing yards and 11 TDs); Jr./WR Cade Johnson (HERO Sports Preseason AA, 1,332 yards receiving and 17 TDs); Sr./K Chase Vinatieri (HERO Sports Preseason AA); Jr./LS Bradey Sorenson (HERO Sports Preseason AA); So./DT Krockett Krolikowski (HERO Sports Freshman AA, 7.5 TFLs and 4 sacks); Sr./DE Ryan Earith (All-Conference 2nd Team, 9 TFLs and 5.5 sacks); Sr./FB Luke Sellers (AC HM); Sr./OL Evan Greeneway (AC HM); Sr./WR Adam Anderson (AC HM, 47 rec. for 718 yards and 7 TDs)
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./RB Devin Blakley (HERO Sports' 115th ranked recruit in 2019)
THE QUOTE: "Our coaching staff is very excited about completing our 2019 signing class. We set out many months ago to fill certain needs and we have accomplished that with this class. As always, our assistant coaches have done a phenomenal job getting to know each student-athlete and their families. The expectations for this class will be high, as they are for our entire program." — Head Coach John Stiegelmeier said
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's SDSU Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The MVFC
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast