Preseason rankings are uniformly the least accurate rankings of the season. Before the teams take the field there’s just no way to know for sure if the offseason brought improvement or attrition, if new starters will boom or bust, or if the off season hard work was in the right direction. We don’t have the data to make anything more than educated guesses.
Of course, this doesn’t mean preseason rankings are worthless — not to the fans at least! We’ve waited all summer for football, and now that kickoff is practically here we want to talk about it. It does mean some of our guesses will be wrong though. Probably quite a few of them. So I’m going to try and predict a couple spots where our preseason rankings might come up short — starting with a team that looks primed to climb into the top 25, BR26 Grand Valley State.
BR26 Grand Valley State
Last Season: 12-3 (7-2) Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
The Lakers finished third in the GLIAC North last season with a 7-2 conference record. They would have liked to take the conference title no doubt, but third place was good enough for a playoff berth. Once they got there, GVSU made it all the way to the National Semifinals before finally surcumbing to Northwest Missouri State 27-13. The 14-point difference in that game was the tightest margin of victory in any playoff game for the eventual National Champs.
This offseason, Grand Valley State lost five starters from the defense including top-tackler Jordan Kaufman, two of their top pass-defenders (Reggie Williams and Erik Thompson), and backfield disruptors Luther Ware and Charles Hill. All five leaders within their position groups. They should be okay at DB with Deonte’ Hurst and Brad Horling coming back, and the d-line actually has a chance to be one of the better units in the country with experienced vets Matt Mosley, De’Ondre Hogan, and Frank Boenzi. The only position of real concern for the defense is linebacker, where Kaufman and Hill were beasts at the heart of the D — they’ll be tough to replace.
On the other side of the ball, the offense is ready to make moves. Although second leading receiver Brandan Green moved on this spring and took his twelve-hundred receiving yards with him, first team Daktronics All-American tight end Jamie Potts and third-leading receiver Darryl Pitts will both be back, Potts a junior and Pitts as a senior. They’ll be excellent targets for sixth-year senior quarterback Heath Parling.
The success of the Lakers, like any football team, depends on their quarterback. Parling has the talent to lead his team back to the National Semifinals and beyond, but for that to happen he’s going to have to get his mojo back. It’s been three years since the 2011 season in which he posted the best passer efficiency rating in D2, and two years since the ACL tear that ended his [tooltip text=”2012 campaign” gravity=”n”]The Lakers missed the playoffs in 2012 after they lost three regular season games by a combined 10 points[/tooltip] just three weeks in.
Parling rehabbed the knee all offseason in 2012 and was ready to go for game one of 2013. He led the Lakers to a 38-17 win over Azusa Pacific in that game, but then missed the next three weeks with a shoulder injury. When he returned to the field he played [tooltip text=”two games” gravity=”n”]A 49-3 win over Michigan Tech and a 54-44 loss to Ferris State[/tooltip], before another shoulder injury knocked him out for two more games. As you can imagine, it’s pretty hard for a quarterback to get a rhythm when he’s off the field as much as he’s on it, like Parling during that span. For some perspective, compare his 2013 stats to his 2011 pre-injury sophomore season:
2011: 11 GS, 154/249 (61.8%), 2,415 yards, 34 TDs, 10 INTs, 31 carries, 128 yards, 1 TD
2013: 10 GS, 155/273 (56.8%), 2,441 yards, 27 TDs, 8 INTs, 40 carries, -132 yards, 0 TD
They’re actually pretty similar. Three things stand out though: touchdowns (seven fewer), completion percentage (down 5%), and rushing yards, where he netted nearly 300 fewer yards than he did his sophomore year. The touchdown difference is alarming, but the other two statistical discrepancies are more telling. Differences in completion percentage and rushing yards show that his mobility wasn’t what it used to be last season, pretty much on-par for a player coming off a major knee injury.
Recovering from an ACL tear is a two-year process. With rehab, returning to normal function takes six to nine months. But college football is hardly “normal function.” It’s [tooltip text=”usually” gravity=”n”]Not always, there are physical freaks who come back more quickly, see: Peterson, Adrian.[/tooltip] the case that Parling should be at that point right about now. If he can get comfortable in the pocket again and return to the level of play he’s displayed in the past, this could be a big year for the Lakers, and one that sees them jump into our top 25 pretty quickly.
Grand Valley State football is currently sitting at BR26, so it wouldn’t take much for them to move into the top 25. We’ll know a lot more about where they stand after their home-opener vs BR20 Ohio Dominican week two. If they can make it to 3-0 with wins over Ohio Dominican and Ferris State (the only two teams that beat them during the regular season in 2013), you can bet they’ll be in. We’re ready to put you in the top 25, Lakers! Just give us an excuse.