As the Fort Hays State Tigers travel to Edmond, Okla., for the MIAA Game of the Week, there are plenty of quality football games on the slate for Week 1, including a matchup of two of the conference’s top program and a perennial powerhouse travelling to a team seen toward the bottom of the conference that could make some noise in 2015.
Emporia State at Missouri Southern State
Week 1 marks the start of a new beginning for the Missouri Southern State Lions.
The Lions — picked 10th in the MIAA by the media and 11th by coaches — hired Denver Johnson as head coach April 1.
The 30-year vet of the college ranks brings experience from Division I schools like Colorado and Tulsa.
On the other hand, Garin Higgins has brought success to Emporia State, who started 2014 in the top 25 after a trip to the playoffs, only to finish seventh in the MIAA.
Emporia State handled Missouri Southern in last year’s opener 53-28, putting up 518 offensive yards and scoring 15 defensive points. The Hornets also have a healthy quarterback returning in Brent Wilson, who went down in Week 4 last year. Hornets junior running back Antonio Brown was the 2013 MIAA Freshman of the Year, but the Hornets are young entering the season in key positions.
Missouri Southern is among the youngest teams in the league, led by running back Giresse Forchu, who rushed for 728 yards and 15 touchdowns, and junior safety Johnquavious McBride, a third-team All-MIAA selection who snagged four interceptions, tying the league-high.
Emporia State has the ability to improve on last year’s seventh-place finish in the MIAA if it can break through the top-tier teams and a season-opening win on the road could propel the Hornets to back-to-back contests with Central Oklahoma and Central Missouri the following weeks.
With wins hard to come by against the league’s top teams, expect Emporia to pull away at the end. Prediction: Emporia State wins, 42-21.
No. 7 Pittsburg State at Northeastern State
For a team picked to finish last in the MIAA like Northeastern, starting the season against the country’s No. 7 team is not ideal to building momentum.
While picked to finish second in the league Pittsburg State, the Gorillas do have to positions that need to prove themselves in 2015 and going up against the league’s bottom-feeder will only build confidence for a team replacing its top wide receiver, quarterback and members of the secondary.
However, if the Tim Beck’s quarterback situation is not settled, Week 1 would be a good opportunity to put the challengers to the test and test in-game chemistry with wideout Marquise Cushon and Mizzou transfer Levi Copelin.
The Gorillas shutout the RiverHawks last season 37-0. Northeastern State committed three turnovers, including an interception from the Gorillas’ 6-yard line, and turned the ball over on downs from the 2-yard line of Pittsburg State.
Prediction: The Gorillas repeat last year’s home opener with a 42-3 victory.
No. 5 Northwest Missouri State at Nebraska-Kearney
While it is unseen if Nebraska-Kearney has the ability to make the same jump in 2015 as Central Oklahoma did last season, the Lopers have the potential to make strides this season. With 16 returning starters, including senior quarterback Bronson Marsh, a three-year starter who led UNK in all rushing categories while tossing 10 TDs, there is potential on the offensive side of the ball.
Two-time All-MIAA senior running back Romero Cotton had three 100-yard games in 2014 and three returners in the secondary were All-MIAA honorable mention selections. Add junior linebacker Tyke Kozeal, a Third-Team All-MIAA selection with 136 tackles and 16 tackles for loss, the potential for former Bearcat and first-year head coach Josh Lamberson is apparent.
Northwest is 3-3 all-time at Kearney and, despite being ranked No. 5 in the country, must replace role players all across the field, especially on defense.
Two-time Defensive Player of the Year Matt Longacre has been working with the St. Louis Rams while D.J. Gnader and Eric Reimer are graduated as well. Bryce Enyard can play anywhere in the secondary for the Bearcats. Phil Jackson and Cameron Wilcox will help the offense move with their excellent vision in the backfield.
The Bearcats come into the season opener inexperienced at wide receiver and parts of the offensive line, next to senior quarterback Brady Bolles. Nebraska-Kearney is expecting a record-setting crowd and could be a game to keep a close eye on if the game is close as the third quarter winds down.
Prediction: In the end, I think the run game of the Bearcats and the interior line combination of Collin Bevins and Brandon Yost gets them through. Bearcats 31-21.
Missouri Western at Central Missouri
The Griffons have arguably the toughest Week 1 and 2 matchups with a road contest at Central Missouri followed by their home opener against Central Oklahoma.
The Griffons have solidified sophomore Skyler Windmiller threw for nearly 1,800 yards as a freshman and return one of the MIAA’s top backs in Raphael Spencer behind four offensive linemen.
On the other hand, the Mules have been in the middle of a three-way QB battle and will try to avenge the 10-9 loss from last season in St. Joesph, Mo.
These two teams have been fighting to dethrone Pitt State and Northwest Missouri State, and the past two games have been decided by one point and three points, both wins by Missouri Western. This should prove to be another defensive battle, as the Mules were fourth in the country with 24 interceptions last season while the Griffons return their defensive line.
The game could come down to the kicking game, which will test the Griffons, who are replacing all-american at kicker and punter.
Prediction: For that reason, the Mules will start 1-0 with a 17-14 victory.
Washburn at Lindenwood
Both teams disappointed in 2014, as Washburn tallied just four wins while the Lions went 2-9. Last season, Lindenwood went on the road to open the season and beat Washburn 44-38 after the teams combined for 31 first-quarter points.
Lindenwood’s revamped offense will be put to the test against a strong returning Ichabods defense.
The Lions secured Jesse Scroggins, a quarterback transferring from the University of Arizona, and Rob Standard, a running back transferring from Iowa State, to lead the third lowest-scoring offense in the league.
The Lions’ All-American linebacker Connor Harris was fourth in the nation with 152 tackles as a sophomore and will be a difference maker in every game he plays.
With Washburn looking for a new starting running back and quarterback, a transfer from North Dakota State, to lead the offense, this game should be one that is competitive throughout and puts Lindenwood’s new offensive tools to the test and could be decided by Lindenwood converting on an opportunity in the red zone.
Prediction: The game starts shaky for the Ichabods but come out victorious, 38-30.