A Recap of the 2016 Season
by, 12-21-2016 at 11:15 PM (2219 Views)
The 2016 season came to an end this past Saturday and, for the sixth time, the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats were the last team standing as they knocked of the North Alabama Lions 29-3 in a snowstorm at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas in front of what looked to be about 5,000 fans. While the game was played in less than favorable conditions, it caught the eye of almost 800,000 people across the country on ESPN2, making it the highest rated D2 National Championship game in some time. The Bearcat defense had another outstanding performance, holding the Lions to just 201 yards of total offense, with just 20 of those coming in the third quarter and a net of zero in the final quarter of the season. Neither team threw the ball with a whole lot of success in the snow, and the Lions held their second straight opponent to 112 yards of passing. The game was won in the trenches, though, and Northwest outgained UNA 226-22 yards on the ground to propel them to their sixth title, the most in Division II history. North Alabama finished an excellent year at 11-2 with their best finish since winning it all in 1995.
Since the conclusion of the National Championship Game, both head coaches said goodbye to their respective teams, as UNA’s Bobby Wallace retired and NWMSU’s Adam Dorrel resigned to become the Head Coach at Abilene Christian University. Bearcat Defensive Coordinator Rich Wright was named as Dorrel’s successor (with the rest of the NWMSU staff staying in Maryville) and the Lions have begun the search to find the next UNA Head Coach. In a surprise move, UNK Head Coach Josh Lamberson resigned in order to join Dorrel’s staff at ACU, meaning there will be four new coaches in the MIAA next year. It will be interesting to see if it happens, but it’s entirely possible Jerry Partridge could end up on the UNK sideline.
Looking back at 2016
The Bearcats ran the table for the second straight year and the third time in the last four years, making this year’s senior class 55-2 over that time span, including 30 in a row. The most impressive thing about those 30 straight wins is that the last 26 of those games have been decided by at least 15 points. For a team with a bullseye on its back to win as dominantly as they did all year long was quite the feat, and not one that I imagine will be replicated for a long time.
Emporia State finished with the same record as the National Runners-up at 11-2, with both losses coming to the Bearcats. After dropping the season opener, the Hornets won 11 straight games, including a playoff win over perennial playoff participant Minnesota Duluth, avenging a playoff loss during the 2013 season. The team finished in the top 10 of the final AFCA poll for the second year in a row.
The Mules of Central Missouri finished 9-3 and made the playoffs for the second time under Head Coach Jim Svoboda, losing in the first round to Super Region 3 Finalist Harding. The Mules were the only team besides the Bearcats to be in the Top 5 of the league in both offense and defense, ranking third in terms of yardage on both sides of the ball.
Fort Hays State finished 8-4 for the second straight year, but this year got the first postseason win in school history with a 45-12 win over Eastern New Mexico in the C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas bowl. Head Coach Chris Brown’s squad was one of two teams (the other was ESU) to improve their defense over last year, and the Tigers’ Sie Doe, Jr. ended up with the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
Pittsburg State, with their 7-4 record, had a decent year compared to the rest of the conference. However, for many of the Pitt faithful, the Gorillas are to be compared on the national level, and anything less than that is a disappointment. The Gorilla defense finished in the bottom 20 in all of D2 (155th out of 170 teams), and that performance completely outweighed the fact that Pitt had the MIAA’s top offense in 2016.
The Ichabods made it to the postseason for the first time since losing to eventual National Champions Pittsburg State in 2011. Unfortunately, though, Washburn lost in the Mineral Water Bowl to Bemidji State to finish 7-5 on the season. A solid defense (5th in the MIAA) could not overcome a highly inconsistent offense (10th in the MIAA) this year.
Missouri Western finished with their first losing record in over a decade (2004) at 4-7, and fired the longest tenured coach in the MIAA because of it. The Griffons had the league’s top rusher in Josh Caldwell, but could not get a single win against one of the teams with a winning record in the MIAA, and dropped another to the Bronchos in Week 4.
Central Oklahoma had a disappointing year after overcoming an 0-4 start in 2015 and winning a bowl game. They had a similar bad start to this year (1-3), but failed to adjust the way they did a year ago and finished 3-8 on the year. Defense was once again a weak spot, but the offense could not repeat as the conference’s best unit from last year, despite having both Jake Gandara and Clay McKenzie healthy this year.
Lindenwood finished 3-8 for the second straight year, and showed some improvement from the past few years, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Despite defensive manimal Connor Harris breaking the NCAA’s all division’s record for career tackles, the Lindenwood defense was the 9th worst in all of D2, and it cost Patrick Ross his job as head coach. Jed Stugart and most of his staff at the University of Sioux Falls, fresh off an undefeated NSIC championship and their first NCAA playoff win, is now running the Lion program.
Northeastern State finished 2-9 on the year, but early on in the season looked to have one of the better quarterbacks in the league with Dimonic McKinzy. However, the Riverhawks had the league’s worst rushing offense, and defenses were able to key in on McKinzy as a result, forcing him to throw more interceptions than any other QB in the MIAA. The defense wasn’t a whole lot better, as it ended up the 20th worst defense in the country.
Missouri Southern State improved by a win over a year ago, finishing 2-9, but repeated as the team with the worst defense in the conference. Considering how poorly defense was in the MIAA this year, that was certainly something the Lions did not want to do, and they actually regressed from last year by 34 yards per game, making them the 6th worst defense in the nation in 2016.
The Lopers of Nebraska Kearney finished as the league’s worst team for the second year in a row, although they did finish with their first win in two years, knocking off the Bronchos. Linebacker Tyke Kozeal led the nation in tackles this year, but the offense was the worst in the league. Defensive Coordinator Ken Gordon resign from his position after the season ended, and the whole staff may be completely different next year with Lamberson’s departure.
How My Preseason Predictions Ended Up
In my first blog of the season, I had 10 random predictions. Let’s see how they turned out:
- No team will go undefeated in conference play.
Oops. In my defense, I expected the Bearcat offense to have a larger learning curve than they did this year with a new starting quarterback. Zimmerman was absolutely outstanding, and ended up finishing second in the voting for the Harlon Hill Trophy.
- The Mules will win at least a share of the title.
Wrong again. The Mules finished 3rd in the MIAA, and while they played the Bearcats to their closest first half of the year in league play (7 points), they didn’t finish as the Bearcats closest game like they did a year ago.
- UCO will make the postseason for the second year in a row.
Like UCO this year, I started 0 for 3. Although if they had made the postseason this year it would have been for the third year in a row, the Bronchos did not come close to sniffing the post season.
- FHSU’s streak of improving by a win per season gets broken this year.
I finally got one right, although the Tigers were only a win a way from keeping the streak alive.
- UNK wins at least 3 games.
Uh, no. The Lopers were very close to winning two games (with a 3OT loss to Washburn), but not three, losing every other game by double digits.
- Missouri Western and Washburn both finish with losing records for the first time since 1998.
Half right. MoWest had their worst season since 2004 to finish 4-7, but Washburn found a way to win seven games and made it to the Mineral Water Bowl.
- UCM’s Garrett Fugate wins OPOY, NWMSU’s Collin Bevins/LU’s Connor Harris win Co-DPOY
Nope. Fugate had a very good year, but Zimmerman was even better. Same goes for the defensive side, as Sie Doe, Jr. clearly deserved the award over Bevins and Harris, ranking fourth in D2 in sacks.
- A team from the MIAA wins the Super Region
While the NSIC was not as good as I thought they might be going into this season and Harding ended up having a monster season in the GAC, the Bearcats were the class of the region again.
- Six different teams will be ranked in the top 25 at some point in their seasons.
So close. Five different teams were ranked in our poll this year, with NWMSU, ESU, and UCM all being ranked wire-to-wire, and both FHSU and PSU being ranked at some point during the season.
- PSU’s John Roderique finishes the season in second place in total offense.
This one depends. Roderique finished 3rd behind Fugate and ESU’s Braxton Marstall in total offense per game at the end of the season, but these stats include the postseason stats. If you don’t include the postseason and just use MIAA only stats, then Roderique did finish second behind Fugate. Had Roderique not gone down to injury in the first half against UCM and then played the two games against UCO and NSU, he may have ended up with better numbers than he did. I’ll go ahead and give myself a half-win, because I can.
Not the best percentage by any means (3 total out of 10), but the predictions were meant to be on the bold side, so I’ll take it.
Final Thoughts of 2016
Even with the Bearcats winning the title again, the MIAA did decently in non-conference games, going 5-2 in the postseason, as UCM and Washburn each lost to non-MIAA teams this year. This mark was slightly worse than last year, when the league’s only non-con loss was the FHSU loss to UMD in the Mineral Water Bowl. The landscape of the region changes dramatically next year, with the NSIC and GNAC being replaced with the GLIAC and the GLVC. That will be a lot more fully funded schools in the mix than what we’ve seen in the recent past, and it will be interesting to see how the MIAA fares against the GLIAC in region play for the first time. Also interesting are the aforementioned coaching changes. A full third of the conference will be under new leadership next year, and it’s going to be fun to see how that aspect shakes out.
Well, folks, another year is in the books, and a big part of me is sad to see it end, even with the conference claiming another National Championship. We’re just about six weeks away from National Signing Day, and eight and a half months away from the 2017 season. While that seems like a long ways away (and it certainly is), it will be here quicker than you think! I hope you all have Happy Holidays, and I look forward to “seeing” you next year!
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post below. You can also follow me on Twitter @IanD2FMIAA.