Tony Nicolette

Week 1 Previews - Saturday's Games

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We've taken a look at the bulk of this week's slate with so many games happening prior to the weekend. We still have a few games taking the "traditional" Saturday route, so let's preview how the GLIAC weekend will conclude:

Virginia-Lynchburg (4-6) at Ohio Dominican (7-4)

As Ohio Dominican embarks on its third season in D2/The GLIAC, coach Bill Conley and his staff might find that this year is loaded with something that the prior two probably weren't: expectations. A 6-4 mark last year (7-4 overall) catapulted the Panthers to the top half of the GLIAC South, and closing the year by winning five of six (including one over league champ Hillsdale) has everyone on watch to see how they'll get things rolling in 2012.

The early lead for this year will likely have to come from the defense. While it was middle-of-the-road unit in the league in 2011, most of the starters are back. They'll have to take the lead as the top three skill position players for ODU have now departed, including QB Jeremy Fudge and RB Mike Noffsinger. I know, that's part of how college football works...guys graduate, the next man steps up, etc. I get all of that, but consider this: ODU was third in the GLIAC in rushing at more than 211 yards per game last year, and the Fudge/Noffsinger combination accounted for nearly 83% of those rushing yards. No, that's not a typo...83%. There isn't anyone on the Panther roster who had more than 186 yards rushing last year, so replacing two major producers like that on a run-first offense is going to be a tall order.

Ultimately, folks "in the know" around the league are well aware of the terrific experience and recruiting prowess that Conley and his staff have, and I doubt anyone's feeling sorry for the 2012 Panthers and their need to plug in some new playmakers. They will be marked in the league this year, and I actually am interested to see how they rise to that challenge. As for this weekend, I don't expect them to have much of a problem against Lynchburg, who belongs to the USCAA and is only in its second year of football. Ohio Dominican 38, Lynchburg 16.

McKendree (2-8) at Tiffin (0-11)

After 14 straight winning seasons, McKendree lived through a nightmare a year ago going only 2-8. The offense appeared to be a big part of the problem, as the Bearcats could only muster 277 yards and 14 points per game. It's hard to know what to expect from them entering 2012, especially seeing as they'll be playing a D2 slate and should face a consistently tougher level of competition.

For Tiffin, tough seasons have been the norm since joining the GLIAC, but Coach Goff and his staff have some optimism entering this year. Basically every starter is back on offense, including QB James Capello and WR Obadiah Dykes. Both have shown they have playmaking ability, and they offer hope that the Dragon offense will be improved this season. Where hope may run thin is on defense, as the Dragons allowed a GLIAC-worst 51.6 points per game in 2011. The D has to do better, or it's going to be another year of drudgery for Tiffin and its fans.

I'm going to give Tiffin a serious shot in this weekend's game. McKendree's offense was even more dismal than Tiffin's last year, and that wasn't against a GLIAC schedule. Look for Capello to have big game to start his junior campaign, and the 16 true freshmen that started games for the Dragons last year to start to provide some solid contributions. Tiffin 33, McKendree 24.

#4 Grand Valley (8-3) at Western Oregon (6-5)

We gave the "Shortest Trip" award to Lake Erie in the preview of Thursday's GLIAC games. In that same spirit, we'll give the "Longest Trip to play an Opener" award for 2012 to Grand Valley, as the Lakers will make the roughly 2,000 mile excursion to Monmouth to take on Western Oregon. Despite not being especially crisp, the Lakers won last year's tilt between the two rather easily. One has to wonder if things won't be a bit tighter this year as the Lakers will be the ones who are travel weary, not to mention they'll enter McArthur Field where the Wolves were 4-0 in 2011.

Offensively for Western Oregon, there are a lot of parts that need replacing. Starting QB Evan Mozzochi is gone, as is leading receiver Trevor Gates. Cody VonAppen and Royce Spencer will be called upon to take over those respective positions, but they will have the help of leading ground gainer Kenneth Haynes who returns. The Wolves hope things are even brighter on defense, as they return eight starters from last year's group. A successful season for WOU hinges on this unit taking a step forward, as they actually allowed more points than their offense scored a year ago. All that said, they allowed only 17 points per game at home in 2011, which was far superior to when they were on the road.

As for the Lakers, they hope to continue the positive trending from their "Tale of Two Seasons". After a 1-3 tailspin to open the year, they responded with a seven-game win streak that included six wins by 25 points or more. Few seem worried about the Grand Valley offense, as QB Heath Parling (who led the country in pass-efficiency last year) and 1,000-yard WR Charles Johnson both return, along with nearly every rushing yard from 2011. Toss in All-America OL candidates Tim Lelito and Matt Armstrong (who is returning after a year away due to injury), and the Lakers are expected to move the ball very well in 2012. Where the question marks reside are on defense. The 20+ points per game allowed by the 2011 group was more than any GV defense had in more than a decade. With that said, during the seven-game run to close the year the Lakers were only giving up 15.6 points per game, so they were improving along with the offense after the sluggish start. The bulk of the key contributors are back to that unit, and Laker fans are keenly watching for continued improvement from the D.

So, in looking at Saturday it's hard not to like GV in this one. They were arguably the hottest team in the country when the 2011 regular season wrapped-up. Plus, they weren't "dominated" in any of their three losses, AND they beat WOU last year when they weren't in their stride yet. Add in the Wolves having to retool their passing game for this year, and I just don't see the upset. I like the Wolves to make it interesting for a while, especially in their own place. However, look for this one to stretch out as the second half progresses. Grand Valley 38, Western Oregon 24.

#13 Valdosta State (6-4) at #17 Saginaw Valley (7-4)

The Hillsdale/Cal game on Thursday certainly offers the country a top-end, non-conference match-up. The GLIAC delivers again with this one, as another pair of perennial powers collide...and this tilt has a certain extra "umph" to it, in my book. Why, you ask? Well, as I see it these are two clubs that have an awful lot riding on 2012 and need this win to get things rolling.

On the one hand, we have Valdosta State. After posting National Titles in 2004 and 2007, the Blazers have only made the playoffs in two of the four ensuing seasons, including a 6-4 mark a year ago that saw them lose three straight to close the slate. It's the second 6-4 season in three years, so one has to wonder if the VSU faithful are watching very nervously to see whether or not a playoff berth and deep run can be had this year. Leading the charge to return to form is QB Cayden Cochran, who is experienced having made three starts and appearing in nine games a year ago. While the offense appears to be in good hands, it seems that the bigger concern for the Blazers is the defense. While a glance at their statistics doesn't show anything glaring, a deeper dive reveals a bunch that allowed more points in the 4th quarter than its offense could produce, a unit that allowed nearly 30 points per game during the season-ending skid I mentioned earlier, and a penchant for giving up big plays at inopportune times.

On the other hand, there is Saginaw Valley. With playoff appearances surrounding a 4-7 2010, the question for the Cardinals is whether or not they can now keep things going and return to their glory/power days of the early 2000's. If they are going to make a statement, this is the year to do it as nearly every key offensive skill position player returns, including QB Jonathan Jennings who was second in the nation in pass efficiency a year ago and has shown a knack for making big plays. He'll have most of his key pass-catchers back, and will also have the strongest ground game that SV has had in a while with both Tim Hogue and Ronnie Lark sharing that workload. This an offense that should move the ball plenty this year, and may have to as the Saginaw defense had its own struggles late in games last year. The Cards also landed in the bottom half of the league in scoring and rushing defense in 2011, so an improved ability to handle the more physical teams will be a must this year.

As for Saturday, while everyone expects the GLIAC guy to pick the GLIAC team, the Cards are a solid pick in my eyes because of a few of key factors: First, Saginaw Valley definitely has an advantage at QB, which we all know is the most important position on the field. Jonathon Jennings is a proven starter and an All-America candidate. Second, they'll be at home where they a bit tougher (their only home loss last year was a three-point decision to league champ Hillsdale). Third, while the Cardinal defense was porous at times, they were actually one of the better teams in the league in the red zone. This was a major area of struggle for the VSU offense a year ago, as they only scored TD's on 45% of their red zone trips. If the Cards force FG attempts to close out Blazer drives, SV wins. Last, I'm looking for at least two to three big plays by Jennings and company that result in short fields and/or easy scores. Giving up big plays was a problem for the Blazers, and Jennings was one of the most prolific playmakers in the GLIAC last year. It should be entertaining, but I'll take the Cardinals. Saginaw 32, Valdosta 27.

OK, Gang...there you have it. Took me a few posts, but we have all of this week's games covered. Happy New Year, everyone! Enjoy this great, long weekend of football, and get ready for the nitty-gritty to get rolling in Week Two as conference play opens fully.

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Updated 08-29-2012 at 07:25 AM by Tony Nicolette

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  1. coachDano's Avatar
    good stuff Toney. I'm hoping to make it out to the SV / Valdosta St game Sat. night.