The face of Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference football will change dramatically in two years with the departure of six teams to the Great Midwest Athletic Conference. While the league will return to its roots as a Michigan-centered league (with Ohio-based Ashland and Tiffin) by 2017, that doesn’t make for any less excitement in one of the tougher conferences in Super Region 4. With three teams representing the GLIAC in the NCAA playoffs, there’s no reason to suspect that a similar number of teams won’t qualify for this year’s expanded postseason. Before we conclude our two-part look at GLIAC football with a look at the Southern Division (Northern Division Preview Here), let's take a look at where each team stands as we head into the season. Rankings provided by BennettRank. [one_half]
|34||Grand Valley State|
|45||Wayne State (MI)|
Complete D2 Football Preseason Rankings by BennettRank
Complete D2 Football Conference Power Rankings and Previews
BR-144 Malone Pioneers
2014 Record: 1-10, 1-9 GLIAC Projected Finish (Preseason Poll): 7th GLIAC South Head Coach: Eric Hehman (6th season, 11-42; 11th overall, 39-64) Projected Returning Offensive Starters: 6 Projected Returning Defensive Starters: 9 Amid rumors of a drop to Division III, the Malone football program appeared to be in turmoil. Those rumors were quashed in the spring when Malone became the first of six schools to announce their intent to leave the GLIAC for the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (Malone joins the G-MAC next season). With the long-term future for the Malone program stabilized, the focus for head coach Eric Hehman is to improve on last season’s 1-10 mark. “They went through a lot of injuries last year, I think they’ve been resolved,” Hehman said. “The Crucible last year prepared them for what I think are great things this year.” In their four years as a D2 program, Malone has gone 8-42, with the high water mark a 4-7 record in their provisional year back in 2011. “We got through it because we believe in what we do, we believe in our players and those principles are true no matter whether you’re winning or losing,” Hehman said. Where the Pioneers can build upon are the players who’ve stuck with the program during the past three seasons. “It’s the first time since we’ve been in D2 that I can say we have an ‘old’ group,” Hehman said. It’s the first time we have 4 scholarship classes.” Senior quarterback Will Szpor returns after missing last season with an injury. Szpor’s return hopes to give a moribund offense a spark as Malone ranked last in several offensive categories last season and allowed the most turnovers in all of D2 (37). Junior Ronnie Beers (81-478-6) and sophomore Matt Blasiole (40-277-1) return at running back while senior Damien Russell (21-189) and sophomore Eian Elsass (7-165-2) are Malone’s leading returning receivers. “We’ve got some newcomers that we think will vie for positions,” Hehman said. Where Malone hopes to be strong is on defense, with nine starters set to return, most of whom will be starting for their third season. “Two years ago, when we were scoring points, we were giving up a lot of points. And that’s because we started nine freshmen. Those guys are juniors now.” Junior Austin Cary (5.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks) anchors the defensive line while senior Lucas Haupt (1 TFL, 1 INT) and sophomore Daniel Tepe (3 INTs) headline the secondary. The Pioneers are deep at linebacker with senior Fred Baker (4 TFLs, 1.5 sacks) on the corners and sophomore Ryan Weber (4.5 TFLs, 3 sacks) inside. If nothing else, Malone has confidence heading into 2015. “We don’t have to do anything different,” Hehman said. “We just have to do everything better.” [divider]
BR-91 Walsh Cavaliers
2014 Record: 4-7, 3-7 GLIAC Projected Finish (Preseason Poll): 6th GLIAC South Head Coach: Ted Karras (3rd season, 7-15; 12th season overall, 69-54) Projected Returning Offensive Starters: 5 Projected Returning Defensive Starters: 6 In their penultimate year in the GLIAC, Walsh is looking to crack “A lot of guys have been waiting in the wings for their opportunity. I’m looking to see how they shine this year.” Senior quarterback Jason Fracassa (55.8 percent completion, 775 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INTs) will be challenged in camp by sophomore transfer Reid Worstell (Ohio State). “When he’s got the opportunity to play, he’s made those plays and he’s earned his right to come in as the number one starting this camp,” Karras said of Fracassa. Junior tailback Aaron Male (116 carries, 665 yards, 5 TDs) is the backbone of the Cavaliers’ run game, with contributions expected from sophomore Kalvin Gordon (35 carries, 176 yards, 2 TDs) and junior Luke Lloyd (38 carries, 108 yards, 1 TD). “[Male] has to keep improving, but he had a real solid year last season and we’re looking for big things from him this year,” said Karras. Junior Jeremy Willison (13 catches, 144 yards, 1 TD) and sophomore Blake Williams (11 catches, 102 yards, 1 TD) are Walsh’s leading returning receivers, though junior Matt Matuska made strides during spring ball and could see time as a starter. Junior Eric Franklin is one of three returning starting linemen. On defense, the Cavaliers have a mix of veterans and young players who will vie for playing time, especially on the defensive line. Senior tackle Sklyar Parks (9.5 TFLs) is the leading returner up front, though Karras was very high on junior transfer Alex Jones (Cerritos Junior College), who was one of the top defensive ends among Northern California juco players. Junior Dan Good and redshirt freshman Hunter Reichenbach are also expected to compete for a starting spot. “There’s quite a few young guys that haven’t been able to play yet and I’m looking for them to step up,” Karras said. “If we have to play eight or nine linemen this year, we will.” Seniors Brailey Blair (9.5 TFLs) and Gary Ransom (44 tackles, 2 fumbles recovered) headline the returning linebackers, while senior defensive back C.J. Chatman (4 TFLs, 1 INT) anchors the Walsh secondary. The competition at many spots can be healthy for a program looking to develop into a champion, something Karras accomplished as head coach at NAIA Marian in 2012. “There’s going to be so much competition,” Karras said. “Only 58 guys can get on the bus to go to Tiffin (for the season opener), and we’re going to have (over 100) reporting in August. Each and every day is going to be a battle.” [divider]
BR-87 Lake Erie Storm
2014 Record: 4-7, 3-7 GLIAC Projected Finish (Preseason Poll): 5th GLIAC South Head Coach: Mark McNellie (7th season, 27-50) Projected Returning Offensive Starters: 5 Projected Returning Defensive Starters: 6 Lake Erie could have one of the most dynamic running backs in the country in senior Anthony Bilal. Head coach Mark McNellie wants to take advantage of Bilal’s skills as the Storm’s offense looks to develop. “We did an outstanding job of getting the ball in his hands and we had an offensive line in front of him that gave him the opportunity to make some big plays,” McNellie said. “He’s a proven commodity and we’re going to be as creative as we can this year to find more ways to give him the ball.” The Storm are looking to diversify their offense with a talented group of skill players surrounding Bilal (251 carries, 2,091 yards, 29 TDs). The consistency they’re looking for starts at quarterback, where a three-way battle is brewing. Senior Mitch Hokavar started seven games in an injury plagued season, while senior Ryan Bitzer and junior Tyler Eden also saw some game experience last season. Junior John Banyasz is also expected to compete for the starting job. “It’s going to be a battle in camp, and that’s a great thing for us,” said offensive coordinator Gerald Hazzard. “We have three guys who are ready to go and can start football games for us.” Junior Brandon Phenix and senior Donnie Eatmon are also expected to see significant playing time as Bilal’s understudies. “I think we’ve put some people around him where if (defenses) want to divert all their attention to Anthony, they’re going to have some other guys to worry about,” McNellie said. Senior wideout Shane Van Fleteren (21 catches, 296 yards, 3 TDs), junior receiver Demarco Rojas (15 catches, 144 yards, 2 TDs) and senior tight end Anthony Kukwa (6 catches 121 yards, 2 TDs) lead a diverse, deep and talented set of receivers. Senior right guard Ben Miller and senior right tackle Jeremy Durbin are the Storm’s only returning linemen. Lake Erie’s defense struggled through injuries and inexperience last season, which contributed to a D2-worst 570 yards of offense per game. “We bring back a lot of players who at one point or another we lost due to injury,” McNellie said. Seniors Davon Daniels (4 TFLs, 3 recovered fumbles) and Aaron Rojas are key returnees on the defensive line. The Storm bring back depth at linebacker with senior Nick Kirschner (4 TFLs, 2 sacks) along with juniors Nick Szabados and Christian Cole (72 tackles). Lake Erie’s secondary is anchored by junior Tony Andrews, whose nine interceptions were second in the nation, with juniors Nick Iapaolo and Maurice Hale (6.5 TFLs, 3 INTs) also expected to play big roles as well. Lake Erie could pull off a few upsets if the can tighten their defense and if the offense continues to break open holes for Bilal … and if the team can stay healthy. “We thought last year was going to be our year, but we had some breaks that didn’t go our way and some injury issues,” McNellie said. “We’re really excited about the group of men we’re bringing back and we’re looking forward to rolling them out there and seeing how it goes.” [divider]
BR-113 Tiffin Dragons 5-6, 4-6 GLIAC
2014 Record: 5-6, 4-6 GLIAC Projected Finish (Preseason Poll): 4th GLIAC South Head Coach: Gary Goff (5th season, 10-34) Projected Returning Offensive Starters: 9 Projected Returning Defensive Starters: 9 When Gary Goff arrived at Tiffin four years ago, the Dragons slogged through a winless season. Now, with 18 returning starters from a year ago, Tiffin is poised to take the next step – their first winning season since 2007. Junior quarterback Antonio Pipkin (63.6 percent completion, 2,863 yards, 19 TDs, 6 INTs; 143 carres, 556 rushing yards, 5 rushing TDs) will have several key skill players among the nine returning starters. Junior tailback Jerry Brown (67 carries, 255 yards, 2 TDs) will be joined by a pair of sophomores in Chris Watkins (32 carries, 133 yards, 1 TD) and Jordan Nobles (20 carries, 131 yards) in the backfield. Seniors Tony Shead (44 catches, 444 yards, 2 TDs) and Pedro Correa (42 catches, 520 yards, 4 TDs) is the Dragons’ leading returning receiver, with a pair of juniors – Jalen Santoro and Austen Rankin – battling in camp for the starting slot receiver spot. Tiffin returns four of five starting offensive linemen and are expected to be deep in the trenches with 15 linemen on the roster as camp opens. Much like the offense, Tiffin’s defense boasts nine starters returning, with a mix of newcomers and transfers entering the program. The book on the Dragons defense last season: run, run and run some more. In 489 attempts last season, Tiffin’s run defense allowed a league-worst 246.4 yards; conversely, the defense held opponents to 185.8 passing yards per game on 283 pass attempts. Junior Jalen Randolph (3 TFLs, 1 sack) and sophomore Darius Walker (3 TFLs) are the leading returnees on the defensive line, while junior Terry Harper (69 tackles, 2.5 TFLs) anchors the linebacker corps. Tiffin’s secondary, led by junior Justin Hernstein (8.5 TFLs) and sophomore Jalen Alexander (1 INT), looks to improve as the team forced 13 turnovers, tied for the fewest in the GLIAC and tied for the third fewest in D2. If the Dragons look to contend in the GLIAC South this year, Goff’s defense needs to step up in a big way, while Pipkin continues to guide a high-powered, pass-oriented offense. And Tiffin might have the depth to make that a reality. “We’re a lot better on both sides of the ball,” Goff said. “We’re very excited about the depth at every position. That’s going to make us that much better.” [divider]
BR-59 Findlay Oilers
2014 Record: 5-6, 4-6 GLIAC Projected Finish (Preseason Poll): 3rd GLIAC South Head Coach: Rob Keys (5th season, 26-17) Projected Returning Offensive Starters: 8 Projected Returning Defensive Starters: 6 Very few people would have predicted that Findlay would be one of the five schools leaving the GLIAC for the Great Midwest Athletic Conference in 2017. But, that’s exactly what happened and the Oilers are looking to make the most of their final two seasons in the GLIAC. While there are eight returning starters on offense, two key positions are open with the graduation of quarterback Verlon Reed and wideout Lloyd Henry. “We need to be more consistent on offense,” Keys said. “I would love to average 50 points a game and 500 yards. We’re close to that mark, but we’re not quite there. We’re better when were balanced.” A three-way battle for the starting quarterback spot between a pair of sophomores (Rhys Gervais and Darnell Fields) and freshman Josh Pennington during spring camp appears to have been won by Fields as camp opens. Meanwhile, despite Henry’s graduation, four of the Oilers’ top five receivers, led by junior Dylan Bunk (29 catches, 373 yards, 1 TD) and sophomore tight end Anthony Frederico (20 catches, 170 yards, 5 TDs), return. Sophomore Chauncey Bridges (119 carries, 643 yards, 6 TDs), Findlay’s leading rusher last season, and senior Daiquone Ford, who rushed for 1,789 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2013 before being the emergence of Bridges and injuries limited him to 634 yards last season, provide a 1-2 punch in the backfield. While six starters return on defense, there are several newcomers to the program who could strengthen a sometimes inconsistent defense. “New is sometimes good and we’re really excited about getting this puzzle put together with all the pieces we have,” Keys said of his defense. Junior Mitchell Campbell (3 TFLs) is one of the key returnees on the defensive line, while juniors Myles Alexander (9.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks) and Brad Fenton (4 TFLs) anchor the linebackers. Senior cornerback Greg Brown (1 TFL) and sophomore safety Aaron Ivory are expected to play a big role in an Oilers secondary which yielded the second fewest passing yards per game (197.1) in the GLIAC last season. [divider]
BR-24 Ashland Eagles
2014 Record: 5-6, 4-6 GLIAC Projected Finish (Preseason Poll): 2nd GLIAC South Head Coach: Lee Owens (12th season, 79-41; 21st season overall, 119-102) Projected Returning Offensive Starters: 4 Projected Returning Defensive Starters: 6 Although they were one of several schools courted by the Great Midwest Athletic Conference over the summer, Ashland president Dr. Carlos Campo made it clear to his athletic department that the Eagles were staying put in the GLIAC for the long run. And that could spell trouble for the rest of the league. The Eagles’ playoff chances last season were alive up until the final week of the season with a 28-12 loss at Michigan Tech. Ashland, however, gets a chance for revenge as they host the two teams they lost to last season – Tech and Ohio Dominican. The Eagles only return four starters on offense – including two linemen – making for a young and inexperience unit. One of those starters, however, is sophomore quarterback Travis Tarnowski (58.3 percent completion, 2,167 yards, 16 TDs, 6 INTs). “I’ve never had a redshirt freshman play as well as he has, particularly at that position,” said head coach Lee Owens. Tarnowski, the GLIAC’s freshman of the year, will have some new faces among the receiving corps, with four of the team’s top six wideouts having graduated. Junior wideout Kameron Green (21 catches, 298 yards, 4 TDs) is the team’s leading receiver, while sophomore Max Shawver is seen as an up and coming receiver heading into camp. Sophomore Adam Shaheen is expected to play a bigger role at tight end with the graduation of Max Schweitzer and Logan Slavinski. Watch for junior RB Vance Settlemire (94 carries, 753 rushing yards, 3 rushing TDs; 14 catches, 172 receiving yards, 1 rec. TD) to take on more of a role in the offense with the graduation of Ashland’s all-time leading Anthony Taylor (1,177 yards, 13 TDs). The backfield gets a boost with senior Jordan McCune returning for his senior season after battling through injuries during the past two seasons. Ashland’s defense fares a little better depth wise as six starters from last season return. “We do have a lot of experience coming back on defense,” said associate head football coach Doug Geiser. “Even though they’re not starters, they’ve had playing experience. Hopefully that’s a strength for us.” Senior defensive tackle Tom Lehr (1.5 TFLs), senior defensive end Chase Hoobler (10.5 TFLs, 1 INT) and junior defensive end Adam Wallace (8 TFLs, 2 sacks) anchor the defensive line. Junior Zach Olszewski (34 tackles) and junior Brandon Gency (8.5 TFLs, 3 sacks) are the leading returning linebackers, while a pair of seniors, Donzale Ashley (50 tackles, 1 INT) and James Ester (7 pass breakups, 1 INT) headline the Eagles’ secondary. [divider]
BR-5 Ohio Dominican Panthers
2014 Record: 11-2, 9-1 GLIAC (lost in Super Region 4 championship game to Colorado State-Pueblo) Projected Finish (Preseason Poll): 1st GLIAC South Head Coach: Bill Conley (5th season, 38-18) Projected Returning Offensive Starters: 8 Projected Returning Defensive Starters: 10 While there is no question the best college football in the nation is played in Columbus, one could argue that The Ohio State University isn’t the only top flight college football program in the Ohio state capital. Ohio Dominican is slowly turning into one of the power teams in Super Region 4. After a second round exit at the hands of West Texas A&M two season ago, the Panthers followed that up with a deep playoff run, including road wins at Colorado Mines and Ferris State, capped with a trip to the national quarterfinals, where a late rally at eventual national champion Colorado State-Pueblo came up short. “We really grew as a football team and we got better as the season went along,” said head coach Bill Conley. “By the time the playoffs hit, we were playing our best football.” While a lot of starters are returning on both sides of the ball, the biggest hole to be filled is under center, with the graduation of quarterback Mark Miller. While sophomore Grant Russell is the only quarterback on the roster entering training camp with collegiate game experience, it was redshirt freshman Thomas Wibbeler who had the strongest spring practice of the three prospective quarterbacks. Sophomore Austin Ernst is also expected to be part of the quarterback competition in camp. Senior tailback Brandon Schoen (212 carries, 1,134 yards, 12 TDs) and sophomore Aaron Everson (84 carries, 308 yards, 2 TDs) are expected to return to form a formidable backfield combo. Senior Dez Russell (62 catches, 1,156 yards, 11 TDs) leads a talented group of wideouts, including sophomore J.T. McFarland (22 catches, 324 yards, 4 TDs) and senior tight end Jerad Butler (18 catches, 179 yards, 1 TD), while four of five starting offensive linemen are set to return. The Panthers look to be potent on defense, with nearly all starters returning, and significant depth at most positions. “Hopefully we can keep some fresh bodies on the field,” Conley said. “That’s what you have to do in D2 football. You have to be able to have enough bodies to keep fresh guys in there. Some of our offenses in the GLIAC can burn you on any play.” Senior defensive ends Sydney Omameh and Di’Andre Harrison (10.5 TFLs, 7.5 sacks) form a potent threat in the trenches, with sophomore Cameron Kohl (3.5 TFLs, 1 INT) emerging at linebacker after a strong playoff run, including a recovered fumble and a critical late-game interception in the Panthers’ playoff win over Ferris State. Senior cornerback Billy Eakins and senior safety Brad McCurdy each recorded four interceptions last season as they headline a veteran secondary. Senior Austin Osborne (15 TFLs) can be a force in the secondary or up front as a hybrid linebacker/safety. The biggest weapon for the Panthers could be on special teams. Senior placekicker Brent Wahle, who has hit 50 of 62 field goals in his collegiate career, has nine career field goals longer than 45 yards, including 53 and 51 yarders against Saginaw Valley State last season. With last year’s playoff run fresh in their minds, the Panthers are surely motivated to punch their ticket to Kansas City for the national title game. “We have enough players who’ve had that experience,” Conley said. “Hopefully they’ve got even stronger goals than they had a year ago.” [divider]
GLIAC SOUTH 2015 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
(All times Eastern)
Ashland at Lake Erie, 7:00 p.m. Walsh at Tiffin, 7:00 p.m. Ohio Dominican at Malone, 7:30 p.m.
Findlay at Hillsdale, 7:00 p.m.
Ashland at Walsh, 12:00 p.m. Grand Valley State at Ohio Dominican, 12:30 p.m. Malone at Michigan Tech, 1:00 p.m. Saginaw Valley State at Tiffin, 1:30 p.m. Lake Erie at Hillsdale, 7:00 p.m. Findlay at Tarleton State (LSC), 8:00 p.m.
Lake Erie at Walsh, 12:00 p.m. Malone at Wayne State (Mich.), 6:00 p.m. Ohio Dominican at Ashland, 7:00 p.m. Tiffin at Findlay, 7:00 p.m.
Walsh at Ohio Dominican, 12:30 p.m. Grand Valley State at Lake Erie, 1:00 p.m. Tiffin at Malone, 1:00 p.m. Findlay at Ashland, 7:00 p.m.
Ashland at Malone, 2:00 p.m. Ferris State at Findlay, 12:00 p.m. Lake Erie at Ohio Dominican, 12:30 p.m. Walsh at Northwood, 1:00 p.m. Wayne State (Mich.) at Tiffin, 3:00 p.m.
Findlay at Walsh, 12:00 p.m. Malone at Northern Michigan, 1:00 p.m. Urbana (MEC) at Lake Erie, 1:00 p.m. Ferris State at Tiffin, 1:30 p.m. Ohio Dominican at Hillsdale, 2:30 p.m. Ashland at Saginaw Valley State, 7:00 p.m.
Ohio Dominican at Ferris State, 12:00 p.m. Hillsdale at Ashland, 1:00 p.m. Northwood at Findlay, 2:00 p.m. Tiffin at Concordia-Selma (USCAA), 2:00 p.m. Walsh at Malone, 6:00 p.m. Lake Erie at Saginaw Valley State, 7:00 p.m.
Ashland at Northern Michigan, 1:00 p.m. Ohio Dominican at Quincy (GLVC), 2:00 p.m. Tiffin at HIllsdale, 4:30 p.m. Wayne State (Mich.) at Walsh, 6:00 p.m. Findlay at Grand Valley State, 7:00 p.m. Malone at Lake Erie, 7:00 p.m.
Findlay at Wayne State (Mich.), 12:00 p.m. Northwood at Ohio Dominican, 12:30 p.m. Ferris State at Lake Erie, 1:00 p.m. Tiffin at Michigan Tech, 1:00 p.m. Grand Valley State at Ashland, 7:00 p.m. Northern Michigan at Walsh, 8:00 p.m. OPEN: Malone
Lake Erie at Wayne State (Mich.), 12:00 p.m. Malone at Findlay, 12:00 p.m. Michigan Tech at Ashland, 1:00 p.m. Grand Valley State at Tiffin, 1:30 p.m. Ohio Dominican at Saginaw Valley State, 7:00 p.m. OPEN: Walsh
Northern Michigan at Findlay, 12:00 p.m. Walsh at Ferris State, 12:00 p.m. Tiffin at Ohio Dominican, 12:30 p.m. Michigan Tech at Lake Erie, 1:00 p.m. Northwood at Malone, 1:00 p.m. OPEN: Ashland If you have any comments, questions, or corrections, please email me directly at <a href="mailto:creighto