Balancing expectations and reality in 2015

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Welcome back GNACers. Despite it seemingly taking forever to flip the calendar to September, it wasn't too long ago in early June when the buzz of spring practices started to wear off and fanatics went stir crazy thinking about dates to report to camp. But we're here and the 2015 football season is upon us in a matter of hours.

Blogger's note: Let's also remember this year looks as promising as last year's 2014 D2 fantasy football championship. Looking for two championships in a row with an All-GNAC, all season roster.

In an effort to skip repeating what polls and talking heads have already discussed, we'll take a quick look at how the GNAC will shape out come November. No disrespect to the mighty Cougars of Azusa Pacific, but losing All-World running back Terrell Watson and defensive side decimated by departures, I was surprised that Azusa garnered five of seven first place votes in the GNAC preseason poll (and equally surprised Western Oregon received one vote). I'm not surprised APU earned votes, just surprised it was that one-sided. Put Azusa, Humboldt State and Central Washington in a hat and any of those initially drawn could be first in my book. Depending on the day, you could throw Western Oregon in that mix, too.

But if the grass is always greener on the other side, the grass at the bottom half of the GNAC is certainly in need of some water, fertilizer and ropes to prevent the neighbor's kids from treading on the delicate blades of brown grass. South Dakota Mines, Dixie State and Simon Fraser are not looking great this year. Mines will put up some offense, but what will that defense look like? Will Dixie ever get consistent? Did Simon Fraser throw in the towel this winter by scheduling just nine games?

Here's how I see the GNAC playing out:

1. Central Washington (insert homerism rant against a CWU grad here)
2. Azusa Pacific (they're more than just Watson, they just need to prove it)
3. Humboldt State (yes, the 'Jacks are third, but the gap is tiny)
4. Western Oregon (home sweet home here for WOU: spoiler one week, upset another week)
5. South Dakota Mines (great offense, suspect defense)
6. Dixie State (don't get many penalties...or points)
7. Simon Fraser (new coaches, few games, oh boy)

Top GNAC games
Let's stay away from the non-conference tilts and look at the games within our small group (although those non-conference games look great):
Sept. 12 - Humboldt at Azusa Pacific (early season, big-time clash)
Oct. 3 - Central Washington at Azusa Pacific (mid-season, big time clash)
Oct. 10 - Dixie State at Simon Fraser (battle to keep out of the cellar)
You could circle any game on the calendar and mark it as a must-see. Why? Well for a few of these teams, one loss could make or break a season. Yeah, every team across the D2 scope can say that, but really, do you think one loss by Duluth or Northwest Missouri or Valdosta takes them out of playoff contention? No. Azusa Pacific went 10-1 last year and it's loss was against a solid Humboldt State squad. Yes, they needed another D2 game to fill that schedule, but in the GNAC, one loss is pretty much a playoff killer.

Let's look at this week's slate and I'm giddy talking about games...finally.

Every first week game is awesome. A game against a defending champion. A game in front of Texas football fanatics. A rivalry Mines game. A great GNAC rivalry game that's gone back and forth each year.

I went with a coin flip to choose between Central Washington and Azusa Pacific (I really did flip a coin) and here's what the coin said:

Game of the Week
Central Washington (7-4, 2014) at No. 2 Colorado State-Pueblo (14-1, 2014 National Champion)

Two weeks ago, I was high on Central Washington. Today, I'm still high on Central Washington, but boy does CSU-Pueblo look pretty stacked. Maybe it's the CWU grad in me affecting my mindset (I'll admit), but this season feels like 2009 when CWU rolled into Duluth and knocked off the defending national champs. They were on the road, with a second-year coach and playing on TV. Fast forward six years later and here we are again.
But what a tall order. Historical stats are such a non-factor right now because even if each team brought back every starter from 2014, the fact remains they haven't played a down in 2015 yet.
Let's be honest: Pueblo should be heavily favored right now. Swagger, experience and playing at home. Central Washington has put crazy expectations on themselves this year as well.
Central Washington is the team to beat in the GNAC, but will get beat in Pueblo. CSUP 27, CWU 20.

No. 23 Azusa Pacific (10-1, 2014) at West Texas (6-5, 2014)
Azusa Pacific loses Terrell Watson and West Texas loses almost no one with 19 starters back. 19! Of course, that's 19 starters on a team that went 6-5 last year. APU needs to find out how to play without a guy they built their offense around for the last three-plus years and they will. Not sure how long that will take, but I'm confident they've got the talent to shine this week and this year. I like APU, 28-27.

Humboldt State (8-2, 2014) vs. Western Oregon (6-5, 2014)
Humboldt State has a running game. Western Oregon does not. However, Western Oregon has a new quarterback at the helm, so that might force the Wolves to develop a little bit in the backfield. Who knows? Both teams might be a bit more even on the defensive side of the ball.
Since this game is south in Arcata, that helps me give the nod to the Lumberjacks, 31-21

South Dakota Mines (2-9, 2014) at No. 17 Colorado Mines (10-2, 2014)
We're going to see a bit of offense in this one. Colorado Mines put a hurt on SD Mines with a 43-19 decision last year. This will keep going in Colorado Mines' favor, but I believe SD Mines will keep it respectable. Colorado Mines, 40-24.

Dixie State (1-10, 2014) vs. Colorado Mesa (6-5, 2014)
Mesa isn't a team that strikes fear in a team, but they fit that persona against a Dixie team that didn't strike fear in any team last season. The Red Storm bring back a bit of experience on both sides of the ball, but it won't be enough to knock off a Mesa team picked to finish behind three RMAC teams with deep playoff aspirations. Mesa, 30-17.

Welcome back GNAC fans. We'll see some great things this season, but will it be enough for others outside of our far-flung, but small league to notice? I hope so.

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  1. JackoftheGNAC's Avatar

    Thanks for coming back once again this year and for your continued excellent work. Great stuff!