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Thread: 2018 GAC Preseason Thoughts

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    Default 2018 GAC Preseason Thoughts

    Please keep in mind the info I have is based upon my own research into stats, last year’s two-deeps, and most importantly watching last year’s games. I have not spoken with any head coaches. I have listed the teams in alphabetical order.

    Arkansas-Monticello
    2017 record: 5-6
    Offensive starters returning: 5
    Defensive starters returning: 9

    The offense continued to improve last year, having a balanced attack. While quarterback Cole Sears returns this year, there are questions about how potent the offense can be given the loss of wide receivers Jalen Tolliver and Trevon Smith—they accounted for 1,619 of UAM’s 2,763 receiving yards and 23 of their 30 passing touchdowns. Adding to those woes are the loss of three starters on the offensive line. The bright spot is that running back Imani Riley returns which should help take some pressure off of Sears and the passing game. Last year the defense under first year defensive coordinator Darren Drago was much improved. With so many returning, UAM should continue to improve defensively. Last year UAM went 5-6 but came very close to breaking through into the winning record column on more than one occasion. If the Weevils offense can gel like they did last year and learn how to consistently execute in the big moments this year, and if UAM can continue to build off of the defensive strides they made last year, it is not unrealistic to think that they can get to six wins.

    Arkansas Tech
    2017 record: 8-4
    Offensive starters returning: 5
    Defensive starters returning: 9

    The offense for Tech returns around five starters, three of them along the offensive line, and their starting running back Bryan Allen. The ATU offense did take some big losses. First, the graduation of quarterback Ty Reasnor and Braden Stringer, the other half of their vaunted running back duo. The other big loss was offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon who took the head coaching job at his alma mater. The big question is will new offensive coordinator Jared Haas, who was promoted from wide receivers coach/recruiting coordinator, keep the same style of offense that propelled the Wonder Boys into the post-season two of the last three years or go in a different direction? Linebacker KJ Reid and rover Cua’ Rose return to lead a veteran Wonder Boys defense that was second in scoring defense (20.8 ppg) and fourth in total defense (368.1 ypg) last year in the GAC. If Tech is going to break through the regular season 8-win barrier they need to find a way to consistently close out the close games. When the Wonder Boys do that, they will contend for playoff spots and conference titles.

    East Central
    2017 record: 2-9
    Offensive starters returning: 7
    Defensive starters returning: 7

    Offensively, East Central returns running back Ontario Douglas and wide receiver Trinity Benson. Safety Justin Hayden and linebacker R.J. Williams return to lead the defense. After the second season in a row that saw ECU at or near the bottom of the GAC, head coach Tim McCarty resigned. The Tigers hired Wisconsin graduate assistant Al Johnson in December, but he did not take the reins until January. Offensively, expect a Wisconsin-style offense—power running and passing off the run. Defensively, the Tigers are switching over to a 3-4 defense. The past several years East Central has had offensive talent but has struggled to turn that talent into realized results. While many might consider Wisconsin-style offense to be boring, its results speak for themselves. If ECU can consistently execute on their offense, they will likely see marked improvement this year just on their ability to maintain possession by pounding the ball. The defense will need to improve. Even if the offense is able to execute consistently, those long rests will do no good if the defense continues to struggle to get opposing offenses off the field.

    Harding
    2017 record: 11-4
    Offensive starters returning: 5
    Defensive starters returning: 9

    The Harding offense returns fullback Cole Chancey, and their three interior offensive lineman. However, the Bisons offense lost their starting quarterback, slotbacks, and tackles. Normally those kinds of key losses hurt a team, but HU has shown a propensity to reload along the offensive line, and at the fullback and slotback positions. The big question marks will be whether or not Harding will have a quarterback capable of reading all levels of the option and will they have the ability to pass the ball independent of their run game? Linebacker Sam Blankenship leads a veteran defense that led the GAC in scoring defense (20.3 ppg) and total defense (307.2 ypg) last year and helped propel the Bisons to the national semi-finals. HU has had impressive back-to-back playoff runs the past two seasons. Last year’s run was particularly impressive considering Harding started the season 0-3 and then ripped off eleven straight wins, including three road victories in the playoffs to win SR3. If the Bisons offense can field their normal run-game ability and have success throwing the ball independent of run-game success, there is a good chance Harding will run the table in the conference and make another deep run in the playoffs.

    Henderson State
    2017 record: 6-5
    Offensive starters returning: 5
    Defensive starters returning: 6

    Both offensive coordinator Jeremiah Fiscus and defensive coordinator Tony Tademy left to take high school head coaching jobs. Good news for the Henderson offense, wide receiver Ben Johnson returns to lead their receiving corps. The bad news for the Reddies offense, they lost their quarterbacks, running back, and most of the offensive line. Defensively, HSU returns a nucleus of the third best total defense (355.5 ypg) in the GAC last year that is led by linebacker Cameron Sonnier and safety Malik Brown. Defensive line coach Greg Holsworth was promoted to defensive coordinator; the question is will Henderson stick with the 4-2-5 defense or go to another scheme? The last few years the Reddies have come on strong defensively, usually being one of the top tier defenses in the GAC. Even with the switch from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5 defense last year they were still one of the better defenses. There is no reason to think that trend will change anytime soon. Offense, however, is another matter. The past few seasons Henderson’s offense has struggled, many times looking like a wing-and-a-prayer. If the Reddies are going to challenge for playoff spots and conference titles they need to develop an offensive identity that is capable of consistency week-in and week-out.

    Northwestern Oklahoma
    2017 record: 5-6
    Offensive starters returning: 10
    Defensive starters returning: 8

    The Rangers offense will be led by returning dual threat quarterback Isaiah Weed. He will have his entire offensive line, along with wide receiver Horatio Smith and running back Jacob Peyton returning. Defensively, Northwestern Oklahoma returns most of an improved defense that will be led by linebackers Dakota Driskill and Maurice Wright. Last year the Rangers started the season 3-3, then lost three straight before they regrouped and won their final two games. A big issue for NWOSU offensively is going to be the offensive line. Yes, they return intact, and they helped pave the way for a 227.2 ypg rushing average (third in the GAC), but that same offensive line gave up twenty-seven sacks last year (tenth in sacks allowed in the GAC). While the defense improved, they struggled to get opposing offenses off the field. Even with those issues the Rangers still finished the season 5-6 and four of those losses were by one possession. For Northwestern Oklahoma to get past the five-to-six-win barrier the offense will have to improve their pass protection and the defense will have to do better in getting opposing offenses off the field.

    Oklahoma Baptist
    2017 record: 2-9
    Offensive starters returning: 7
    Defensive starters returning: 9

    Oklahoma Baptist’s quarterback Preston Haire returns to lead the Bison offense. Also returning are four starting offensive linemen, running back Isaiah Mallory, and wide receivers Cagney Roberson and Josh Pettijohn. The defense returns mostly intact and led by their top tacklers linebacker Josh Arnold and safety Myles Russell. Offensively, the Bison struggled to have any kind of run game, beyond rushes by Mallory or scrambles by Haire, that allowed for sustained drives. They also struggled to punch it in when they did put together a drive. The defense struggled, period. Brandon Morris was promoted to defensive coordinator and has made some changes to the defensive staff. If Oklahoma Baptist is to realize their potential and move out of the bottom tier of the GAC, they will need to do the following. On offense, the Bison need to be able to sustain drives, get to the red zone and score touchdowns. On defense, they need to get opposing offenses to third down and then off the field.

    Ouachita Baptist
    2017 record: 9-3
    Offensive starters returning: 10
    Defensive starters returning: 6

    Ouachita’s offense returns practically intact. The one missing element is quarterback Austin Warford. Redshirt Freshman quarterback Brayden Brazeal will look to lead the offense. The good news for OBU fans is that running back Kris Oliver, and wide receivers Allie Freeman and Drew Harris are back, and they should help take some pressure off of Brazeal. Defensively, the Tigers lost five key playmakers—defensive end John Rachal, linebackers Elijah Jones and Luke Holt, and cornerbacks Zach Miller and Shaquille Hunter. Linebackers coach Roy Thompson was promoted to sole defensive coordinator and has brought in a new secondary coach and defensive line coach. It will be interesting to see if Thompson changes the defensive scheme. If so, expect a 3-4. The loss of quarterback Austin Warford is a big blow to Ouachita’s offense, given how great Warford was as a playmaker who was also good at decision-making on the fly. While the Tigers have the offensive pieces in place, a lot will still depend on Brazeal’s ability to run the offensive, or at the very least manage it. The Tigers lost five key defensive playmakers from an already suspect defense. If Ouachita wants to do more than contend for conference titles, they are going to have to improve defensively.

    Southeastern Oklahoma
    2017 record: 7-4
    Offensive starters returning: 9
    Defensive starters returning: 8

    Southeastern Oklahoma returns most of their offense and defense. The offense will likely be led by quarterback Austin Skinner who took over the starting job halfway during the season after CB Cantwell went down with a season ending injury against Oklahoma Baptist followed by a few weeks of musical chairs at the quarterback position. The defense returns four of their top five tacklers from last year—defensive ends Seu Luafatasaga and Christian Banasiak, linebacker Powell Hunter, and safety Troy Parker. Last year the Savage Storm started out 6-0 before they lost four straight and eventually ended the season 7-4. A big reason they lost four straight to start the second half of the season had to do with all the injuries they sustained in the first half of the season on both sides of the ball, but particularly on the offense. In many spots, they were playing second or even third stringers against the likes of Henderson, Southern Arkansas, Harding and Arkansas Tech. Having said that, SE has struggled to get past the seven-win barrier in the regular season the past few years. If Southeastern Oklahoma is going to be a true dark horse, they need to find a way to win consistently in big games over the course of an entire season.

    Southern Arkansas
    2017 record: 7-4
    Offensive starters returning: 6
    Defensive starters returning: 8

    Quarterback Barrett Renner returns to lead the Muleriders offense. He has four members of one of the GAC’s best offensive lines from last year (six sacks yielded) and his top target from last year, wide receiver Karonce Higgins. However, the loss of running back Michael Nunnery, wide receiver Jonathan Weisheit, and tight end Tanner Hudson does raise concerns about what kind of support Renner will have this year. Southern Arkansas returns one of the best defenses in the GAC that was second in total defense (346.5 ypg). However, there could be changes in the defensive scheme this year as defensive coordinator Trent Figg left to take a job at Missouri State. New defensive coordinator Chad Adams has previous GAC experience having held the same position at Ouachita where he ran 4-3 schemes. The Muleriders are one of those teams that seem to defy expectations. When predicted to do well, they seem to crash; when predicted to not do well they seem to catch fire. If SAU is going to break through to get a playoff spot and win a conference title, they will need to learn to be consistent in closing out big games.

    Southern Nazarene
    2017 record: 4-7
    Offensive starters returning: 7
    Defensive starters returning: 7

    The Crimson Storm offense will be led by returning quarterback Jacob Spady who ran for 907 yards and ten touchdowns and passed for another 922 yards and eleven touchdowns. The returning defense is led by safety Josh Jordan and linebacker Myles Roll. The past two years Southern Nazarene has steadily increased their win totals. From one win in 2015, to two wins in 2016 and four wins last year. Statistically they are not a very impressive team, but they are a scrappy team. They knocked off Harding and Henderson on the road last year and had chances to get the win in three of their seven losses. If SNU can be more consistent in execution and closing out games, they will finally have a chance at a winning season since joining the D2 ranks.

    Southwestern Oklahoma
    2017 record: 3-8
    Offensive starters returning: 7
    Defensive starters returning: 5

    The Southwestern Oklahoma offense will presumably be led by returning quarterback Casey Freeman, who will have wide receiver J.R. Omigie back, along with three of his offensive lineman. The offensive line will need to improve from their performance last year where they gave up thirty-two sacks (tied for last in the GAC). The biggest loss on offense is running back Karltrell Henderson. Defensively, the Bulldogs lost their two leading tacklers in linebackers Austin Loomis and Dominic Blue. They also lost their two cornerbacks, B.J. Kellogg and Antoine Albert, from the GAC’s top passing defense last year (179.5 ypg). Halfway through the season head coach Dan Cocannouer announced he would retire at the end of the 2017 season. A couple of weeks after the season, SWOSU hired Missouri Western offensive coordinator Chet Pobolish. At his introductory press conference, Pobolish mentioned that SWOSU would run their offense based upon personnel available at the quarterback position. Defensively, the Bulldogs are going to be a 3-4 base defense and focused on stopping the run. Any way it’s shaped, the Bulldogs will need to be more consistent in execution, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, than they have been the past two seasons.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: 2018 GAC Preseason Thoughts

    Fieldhouse has got lots of activity today. Our physiques have changed. Of course I thought that at the Spring game. Drago’s Conditioning is apparent. I wonder if they think an old man standing behind a tree with binoculars is odd?

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    Default Re: 2018 GAC Preseason Thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by Weevil Watcher View Post
    Fieldhouse has got lots of activity today. Our physiques have changed. Of course I thought that at the Spring game. Drago’s Conditioning is apparent. I wonder if they think an old man standing behind a tree with binoculars is odd?
    Dang. You guys have been working out this off season? Huh

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    Default Re: 2018 GAC Preseason Thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by Divisiontwo View Post
    Dang. You guys have been working out this off season? Huh
    There has been a noticeable change in approach, so I would say working out differently.
    As you well know, it takes time to make those kind of changes and see results. So that makes me happy

  5. #5

    Default Re: 2018 GAC Preseason Thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by Weevil Watcher View Post
    There has been a noticeable change in approach, so I would say working out differently.
    As you well know, it takes time to make those kind of changes and see results. So that makes me happy
    So you thinking six wins?

  6. #6
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    Default Re: 2018 GAC Preseason Thoughts

    Thanks Armo for the review. I always appreciate the effort you put into this work.


  7. #7

    Default Re: 2018 GAC Preseason Thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by Redready View Post
    Thanks Armo for the review. I always appreciate the effort you put into this work.

    Yes he does pretty good work.

  8. Default Re: 2018 GAC Preseason Thoughts

    Armo, thanks for the thoughts and the stats! This has definitely given some food for thought. I feel like your analysis of Harding is pretty spot-on. I was generally impressed with QB Preston Paden in the Commerce game last year. He was a little rough around the edges and was put in a tough situation; hopefully they've been working to smooth out those edges in the off season.

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