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Tony Nicolette

Week Two Previews

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Outside of Northern's Thursday-Nighter, every game from here on out is a conference game. Commence the Meat-Grinder! These first three weekends will feature crossover games, so every contest will pit teams against each other that are not in the same GLIAC Division. Of course, the clubs with playoff aspirations (OK...they all have them at this point, but you know what I mean) will be rooting for their division-mates to notch victories so that everyone in that division will get the strength-of-schedule "bump" that comes along with wins. It may not seem like much, but come November every win that your team's opponents had could make a difference. OK, let's dig in to the crossovers...

Walsh (1-0) at Northwood (1-0)

My hunch is that the elapsed time for this game should be somewhere in the 2:25 to 2:40 range. Why? Well, these clubs are run-first outfits. Back in the day, Northwood games were notorious for only taking about two-and-a-half hours as they would chew up about 35:00 of possession time on their way to 340 yards rushing. The Woodbone might not be quite as effective these days, but that's still the primary goal for NU's offense. On the other side of the ball is Walsh. It is certainly true that I don't know a whole lot about them yet, but unless their coaching staff was really committed to the idea of "not showing anything" last week I think it's safe to presume they want to run the ball also. These clubs were a combined 14-37 throwing the ball in their Week One wins, so I don't think I'm misguided in my thinking.

So who will outrun the other? Well, at this point I'm leaning toward the Woodies. They'll be at home, which helps, but more importantly they have a much better athlete running their offense with Aaron Shavers. I think they're also a bit more seasoned to the rigors that GLIAC members truly face, so while I don't think this is a gimme by any stretch, I think Walsh will find as the game wears on that the depth and level of play in this league are indeed a step up. It's not a runaway (ha...still on the "run" thing), but I like Northwood to be the team that comes out of this game with the 2-0 mark. Northwood 37, Walsh 27.


Tiffin (1-0) at Michigan Tech (0-0)

The Dragons are flying high, breathing fire, eating knights, you know...doing all that stuff that Dragons do after a win. And what is their reward? A trip to the U.P. to face one of the league's top defenses of a year ago. Michigan Tech didn't have a game last week, but I don't doubt that they're more than ready to get to work on, er, slaying the drag...ugh, I can't even finish it. You guys know what the heck I mean.

Tiffin knocked off a weaker outfit last week in McKendree. No such luck on Saturday, as Tech was super-competitive last year and they retain the services of QB Tyler Scarlett. The sophomore's initial campaign running the Husky offense was a successful one, and if his ground game is able to pick up the pace a bit Tech has the pieces to be offensively potent in 2012. Where my questions lie as the season begins are on defense. Only three starters return from last year's top-notch group, and three of the eight starters that are gone were All-GLIAC First-Teamers: Drew Vanderlin and Todd Storm were arguably the best pair of defensive ends in the country, and defensive back Jesse Vandenberg led the team in tackles in each of the last three seasons. It's one thing to lose a few players, but replacing guys of that caliber won't be easy.

At this point, I don't think a Tiffin upset is a realistic outcome. While TU finally got off the schneid, expecting a winning streak to ensue just isn't likely at this point. Even though Tech will be shaking some rust off, I like them to cruise in their openener. Tech 38, Tiffin 17.


#14 Saginaw Valley (1-0) at Malone (0-0)

The Cardinals notched the biggest non-conference victory of this season for the GLIAC by knocking off Valdosta State a week ago. While the win was hard-earned, it was hardly perfect as the Cards had the benefit of Blazer starting QB Cayden Cochran suffering an injury in the first half...not to mention SV turned the ball over four times on the night. A bit more consistency is something Saginaw will be looking for this week, and as this team progresses from game one to game two I'd expect that to be a step we see them take.

Standing in the way of improvement for SV will be the Malone Pioneers. In addition to making their season debut, this is also Malone's first game in D2 and in the GLIAC. Leading the offense for the Pioneers will be sophomore QB Will Szpor, who is shooting for a big step forward after the 2011 Malone offense only mustered 20.7 points and 286 yards per game. We all know what Jon Jennings and the Cardinal offense are capable of, so the Pioneers will have to find a way to keep up with the visitors as slowing them down seems pretty unlikely.

Look, I'm not going to pick on the new clubs all year. That said, facts are facts...none of them had great records last year, and all played schedules that featured various mixes of low-end D2 programs, as well as NAIA schools and a D3 outfit here or there. The bottom line is that these new clubs simply haven't faced the week-in, week-out grind that the GLIAC presents. In a few weeks things might be different, but for now it's hard to see how a club that was 4-7 a year ago and struggled offensively can keep up with one of the league's more high-powered attacks. Saginaw Valley 50, Malone 10.


Ohio Dominican (1-0) at #17 Hillsdale (0-1)

It almost seems silly to think that the second game of the year is a "big" one, but that may well be the case for Hillsdale. Of course, the home-opener is always important, and this one will be special for the fans and alums as the defense of their 2011 GLIAC Title commences. Additionally, there is a revenge factor here as Hillsdale blew a 12-point edge over the last five minutes of last year's tilt and helped derail their playoff plans in the process. Perhaps most importantly, the Chargers are staring an 0-2 hole in the face and don't want to see their hopes for the year all but dashed when the campaign is all of ten days old. Yep...it may be early, but this is a BIG one.

The Charger offense moved the ball in typical fashion a week ago, but seemed to have trouble closing the deal as they missed a couple of FG's and also had another drive stall on Cal's side of the field. Finishing drives is a key, and I like Hillsdale to do a better job this week against an ODU defense that was decent last year, but hasn't been tested thus far. Another important factor in this game is how new Panther QB Mark Miller deals with a legit D2 defense. His first start a week ago against Virginia-Lynchburg was hardly a test, and while there's little question that he and Ronnel Spates will have some effectiveness via the ground I'm interested to see if Miller can move the ball via the air if the run isn't working. The perceived weakness thus far of the Charger defense is the secondary, and Miller will likely be required to throw at least some in order for ODU to win.

I really believe that ODU is an up-and-comer in this league, and that the Panther program will be one that people dread dealing with very soon. As for 2012, I'm going to wait just a bit and see. I spoke last week about how the two best offensive players of a year ago need to be replaced, and while Miller, Spates and Company won easily last week they essentially beat up a club team...pretty hard for me to put much stock in that. The Chargers are a far more polished team at this point, and they lost a close one to a quality D2 opponent. Add in Coach Otterbein's understanding of what it takes to win important games and I like Hillsdale to come out swinging in this one. Hillsdale 35, ODU 21.


Ferris State (1-0) at Lake Erie (0-1)

It never fails that I'll provide a nickname or a title for a game and then the opposite will happen. Oh well, I suppose a little humility never hurt anyone right? OK, so I'm going with this game as being this week's most likely candidate to be a "track meet". It isn't that these two offenses are necessarily all that proven to this point, rather that both secondaries were absolutely torched a week ago. While we certainly can expect some improvement heading into Game Two, I'll be genuinely interested to see how big of a leap forward they can make.

OK, let's temper things a bit. Ferris was very much a run-first bunch a week ago, but Tony Annese offenses in his most recent stint at Grand Rapids Community College often featured plenty of slingin' it around the lot. I have to believe that this week's game plan will be to run the ball, for sure. I mean, QB Jason VanderLaan was over 100 yards rushing as was RB Skyler Stoker, who is one of the more proven backs in the league. That said, LEC's defense gave up 420 yards via the air last week to Gannon, and held the Golden Knights to -18 yards on the ground. Path of least resistance for the Bulldogs? Could be. We may just learn a lot more this weekend about VanderLaan's skill sets and how Annese plans to use them.

On the other side of the ball, Lake Erie QB Patrick Nicely is a proven commodity. The Akron transfer is a seasoned senior who started 19 games in three years with the Zips and while his numbers weren't necessarily overwhelming, it's not hard to presume that he can get the ball to open receivers. The Storm has also been a group that likes to run the ball first, but they'll get a Bulldog D that allowed 373 yards passing against an NAIA offense last week. Again...path of least resistance? I suppose we'll see.

I don't expect either offense to abandon their desire to be balanced. With that said, as the game progresses and if things are tight this could be one where there is a ton of scoring in the fourth quarter...and that usually means a lot of passing. I can make plenty of cases in both directions for each team as the favorite, but in the end I'll take Lake Erie at home and with a senior QB that has a great deal more experience. Lake Erie 32, Ferris 30.


Notre Dame (1-0) at #4 Grand Valley (1-0)

The Shipyard should be rockin' Saturday as the Lakers open their home schedule with a re-dedication of Lubbers Stadium. New field turf along with expanded home and student seating are a few of the highlights of the renovations that took place since the end of the 2011 season. The evening is set to be highlighted by a halftime ceremony honoring Grand Valley's President Emeritus, Arend Lubbers, and a re-dedication of the facility named in his honor. So, improved digs for the league's biggest perennial power, raucous crowd, a Black Out in effect, a Laker outfit intent on avoiding the early "stumbles" of a year ago...welcome to your one year in the league, Notre Dame!

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"I kid...I kid..."

OK, truth be told I'm guessing that no one in the Laker locker room is taking NDC the least bit lightly. The Falcon defense snatched eight (yep, count'em, eight) takeaways from Mercyhurst last week, and while I don't think The 'Hurst has an O anywhere near the level of that of GV, NDC's defense has to have some swagger. Additionally, the Notre Dame offense did its part with QB Ray Russ tossing five TD passes and RB Pedro Powell racking up 243 yards and two TD's on the ground. Again, I doubt that anyone will confuse these two "Laker" outfits (remember gang? Mercyhurst is also the Lakers...), but the notion that Notre Dame will come into this game lacking confidence is likely a misguided one.

Now, while Notre Dame's offense might be able to do some things and may even make some stuff happen on Saturday, their defense (swagger and all) has some serious issues. I'll grant that they raked in eight turnovers last week, but in doing so they still managed to give up a 42-spot? How does the math shake out on that? I'm not even sure how it's even possible, but that's how it went down. Look, if the 'Hurst posted 42 even with giving the ball away that much, what can we expect from GV on Saturday? I guess the game will bear that out for us, but in all honesty the Falcon defense would have to make a major improvement in seven short days to really think that they can have a shot here.

In the end, I don't think GV will take Notre Dame lightly and will be intent on breaking in their improved digs with some style. I'll be surprised if the Lakers don't cruise. Grand Valley 47, Notre Dame 17.


#16 Wayne State (0-0) at Ashland (1-0)

Last year's National Runner-Up finally gets things going as they visit Ashland. This was likely going to be a good one anyway, but after Ashland dismantled Indianapolis a week ago one has to wonder if this year's Eagle bunch is a cut above the 2011 group. Ashland QB Taylor Housewright led a balanced, mistake-free attack and the Eagle defense held the 'Hounds in check as the second half progressed. Remember, UIndy had one of the top offenses in the GLIAC last year so keeping them under wraps was no small feat.

Wayne comes into the year wearing the biggest bulls-eye in program history. It'll be up to QB Mickey Mohner and RB Toney Davis to shoulder the load on offense, but they'll have to do so without the likes of Josh Renel, Troy Burrell, Joe Long and Will Khoury. It's tough to replace guys who graduated and teams do it every year, but the caliber of what Wayne lost (on both sides of the ball) is nothing short of significant. For us at D2Football, that's the biggest thing we are watching heading into the new season...how do the Warriors replace those great guys on offense, along with Jeremy Jones and the key guys departed from their defense.

Speaking of defense, the Warriors need to be ready for a finally healthy one-two punch from the Ashland ground game. RB's Anthony Taylor and Jordan McCune were both very effective last week for AU, and if Wayne can't slow them down it will be an uphill climb for the Warriors. Of course, Wayne's ground game isn't suffering as Toney Davis is back after a break-out season in 2011. Despite having to abandon the run as the game progressed a week ago, UIndy still managed 5.6 yards per carry against the Eagles so Wayne should be able to move the ball on the ground. If both teams are able to be effective rushing, the QB's should be a big factor in deciding things. Wayne signal-caller Mickey Mohner definitely took a step forward last year, while AU's Housewright struggled through an injury-plagued campaign. Housewright was sharp a week ago, and may have the upper hand this week simply for already having a game under his belt.

I absolutely think Wayne will be solid again this year. Will they be playoff-caliber? I'm still leery of saying "yes", but a solid performance and a win on the road in this one would go a long way toward firming up the "yes". With that said, it's tough for me to pick them against a team that already has a game behind them...and a rather well-played one at that. I'll take the Eagles at home in a tight one. Ashland 24, Wayne 22.

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Updated 09-07-2012 at 08:26 AM by Tony Nicolette

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  1. thunderpup12's Avatar
    Excellent use of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog. Continuing with that theme, the new teams in the South Division are great teams, great teams for me to .... (you know the rest.) And, now I'm realizing how difficult it will be for my Ashland Eagles to make the playoffs with this new 16-team format.
  2. Tony Nicolette's Avatar
    Thanks...yeah, I'm a big Triumph fan. To be honest, I could probably find a way to sneak him in there weekly! Would lose it's value pretty quickly that way, unfortunately...
    As for AU making the playoffs, we'll see. It might take 10 wins, and if AU can keep playing well that isn't unrealistic. Your win over Indy will have value more because it hurts their resume as opposed to it improving yours. Long way to go.