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Top 10 Stories of the 2016 Season

The 2016 season was filled with surprises.  Big named teams both overachieved and underachieved, the top candidate for the player of the year award was able to play well enough to fulfill expectations.  We have seen some of the best coaches in Division II history coach for the last time while one program reigned supreme as the top program in the country.

Here are the top 10 stories of 2016, from #10 to #1.

10. Dvorak Wins the Harlon Hill

For the second time in school history, a Colorado Mines quarterback captured the Harlon Hill Trophy. Justin Dvorak led the country by averaging 352 passing yards per game and 53 touchdown passes. He finished third in passing efficiency.

9. West Florida Finds Success in Season Number One

A 5-6 record is usually not something to celebrate. But when a first-year program finishes with that record, it is pretty impressive. When a first-year program competing in the Gulf South Conference finishes 5-6, it should get the attention of the rest of the country. The Argos played tough against Valdosta State and beat Florida Tech before facing a gauntlet to end the season. The program from Pensacola could quickly become a force in Division II.

8. Ferris State Breaks Through

In spite of back to back Harlon Hill Trophy wins by quarterback Jason Vander Laan, the Bulldogs were only able to win a single playoff game in two years. Ferris broke through in 2016, winning three playoff games, including avenging a regular season loss to Grand Valley, before falling one game short of Kansas City. A strong returning nucleus gives the program a lot to look forward to in 2017.

7. Edinboro Rebounds

After finishing 0-11 in 2015, the Fighting Scots accomplished the biggest turnaround in NCAA history. Edinboro finished 9-2 and only missed the playoffs because of the earned-access rule. Under the leadership of first year coach Justin Lustig, quarterback Jake Sisson was responsible for 46 touchdowns on the way to becoming a candidate for the Harlon Hill Trophy.

6. West Georgia Disappoints

Before Will Hall arrived in Carrollton, a 7-4 record would have been considered a good season. But expectations have changed at West Georgia. After back-to-back semifinal appearances, the Wolves failed to live up to pre-season expectations largely because of inconsistent quarterback play. West Georgia went from national champion favorite to essentially being eliminated from the playoffs in week seven.

5. Adam Dorrel Joins Elite Coaches

At the age of 42, Adam Dorrel joined Division II Hall of Famers Mel Tjeerdsma and Bobby Wallace as the only coaches to win three championships in Division II. Dorrel*s teams won 90.5 percent of the games they played and he won championships in 50% of the seasons he coached. He is currently owns the top winning percentage in NCAA football.

4. North Alabama Returns to the Championship

After near misses in 2003 and 2005, the Lions returned to the championship game after a 21 year absence. While conference foe West Georgia received all the pre-season attention, the expectations in Florence were not as high. But the Lions won their fourth straight Gulf South Conference championship before manhandling Super Region 2 on the way to Kansas City.

3. Legendary Coaches Retire

The 2016 season was the last on the sideline for two of the best in D2 history. Carson-Newman*s Ken Sparks reached the championship game three times and won the South Atlantic Conference 13 times as an NCAA member. North Alabama*s Bobby Wallace went out on a high note, reaching Kansas City. Both are members of the Division II Hall of Fame.

2. Coaching Movement

Some of the most prominent programs in Division II will have new coaches in 2017. Adam Dorrel left Northwest Missouri to start the rebuilding process at FCS Abilene Christian while IUP*s Curt Cignetti will take the reigns at Elon. WT looks to return to the upper echelon of D2 with the hiring of former CSU-Pueblo defensive coordinator Hunter Hughes. Jed Stugart left Sioux Falls to take over at Lindenwood while Matt Williamson takes over Jerry Partridge*s old job at Missouri Western. Harding*s Ron Huckeba joined Ken Sparks and Bobby Wallace in retirement.

1. Northwest Repeats in Dominating Fashion

For the second year in a row, Northwest Missouri ran the table and finished with a 15-0 record and a national championship trophy. The Bearcats were one of the most dominating teams in Division II history. Battling through injuries to key personnel, the narrowest margin of victory all season was a 14 point win in the semifinals. The Bearcats averaged a 33-point margin of victory throughout the season, rivaling North Dakota State*s 1986 dominating campaign.

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