RELATED: FCS Season Preview Central
Two main things make the PFL such a unique conference. No. 1, the schools do not offer football scholarships. And No. 2, the teams are spread out from California to New York to Florida. But make no mistake, the level of football is still solid despite these challenges.
San Diego proved that by defeating Cal Poly out of the powerful Big Sky 35-21 in the first round of last year's playoffs, a team they lost 38-16 to earlier in the season. USD defeated every conference opponent by double digits to go 8-0. But watch out for Dayton (7-1) and Drake (6-2) to make the race for a conference title interesting.
Campbell's Aaron Blockmon led the Pioneer Football League with 1,038 yards receiving. (Campbell Athletics)
Names to Know
THE VETERAN COACH: Jim Parady – Marist
Parady is entering his 26th season as head coach and has guided Marist from Division III to the FCS.
TOP PASSER: Mike White, Marist
Threw for 2,931 yards and 21 touchdowns.
TOP RUSHER: Duvante Lane, Butler
Ran for 706 yards and nine touchdowns.
TOP RECEIVER: Aaron Blockmon, Campbell
Only PFL player to go over 1,000 yards receiving.
TOP TACKLER: Jeb Boudreaux, Stetson
Accounted for 116 total tackles, 74 solo.
TOP SACK MAN: Jonathan Petersen, San Diego
Racked up 11.5 sacks.
TOP INT ARTIST: Wesley Beans, Marist
Snagged six of them in 2016.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Drew Snouffer, Valparaiso
Had more than 100 tackles at linebacker as a sophomore last year.
Morehead State – The Eagles led the conference in attendance last season, averaging 5,736 fans at six home games.
DID YOU KNOW?
San Diego became the first non-scholarship program and the first team from the PFL to win an FCS playoff game last year.
A lot of people see the non-scholarship factor and dismiss the PFL. While it's true that a majority of the players just want to keep playing football, get a degree and find a job, that doesn't mean it's not impossible to find a post-college career in football. The NFL is well aware of the PFL. In fact, the conference had a historic moment at this year's NFL Draft when Drake tight end Eric Saubert and San Diego defensive back Jamal Agnew were both picked in the fifth round. Before that, just two players in PFL history were drafted.
Dayton. Despite going 7-1 in conference play last season, Dayton is still considered a darkhorse. And that's because USD dominated its way through league play. But keep an eye out on Dayton, who made the FCS playoffs in 2015. The Flyers and San Diego square off on Sept. 30.
All the momentum is on San Diego's side right now. Coming off its historic season with the playoff win, the Toreros don't appear to be slowing down. It all starts with defense. The Toreros finished No. 2 in the FCS in total defense. Most thought those numbers had an asterisk next to it because of the conference they play in. But they showed how good the unit is by handling Cal Poly's triple option offense and giving the five-time defending national champions North Dakota State some first-half troubles in the second round. That unit should be solid again while the offense is in the good hands of quarterback Anthony Lawrence, who threw for 2,998 yards and 25 touchdowns.
San Diego quarterback Anthony Lawrence was named on the preseason 2017 FCS STATS Walter Payton Award watch list. (USD Athletics)
FCS PREVIEWS CONFERENCE BY CONFERENCE
Aug. 15 – The Northeast Conference and The Patriot League
Aug. 16 – Big South and Southern Conference
Aug. 17 – Southland and Ohio Valley
Aug. 18 – Ivy League and Pioneer League
Aug. 21 – CAA
Aug. 22 – SWAC and MEAC
Aug. 23 – Missouri Valley and Big Sky