September 4th, 2019 1:00am
Football is officially back.
The annual MIAA tradition of the first two weeks of the season being on Thursday night continues (besides the Washburn at Northwest Missouri and Pittsburg State at Emporia State games in week two).
I believe five teams have a realistic shot of winning the conference championship in 2019. Four of those teams will face off against each other this Thursday, while the remaining one plays a rival on the road. Talk about starting the season off with a bang.
That being said, I miss the days when the MIAA played non-conference games the first couple weeks of the season. It does not look like that is going to happen anytime soon though.
I will do power rankings after week three. I want to see these teams play so I can more accurately rank them.
Game of the Week: #24 Pittsburg State at Central Oklahoma
All-time: Pittsburg State leads 10-4-1
Last year: Pittsburg State 21-7
Central Oklahoma proved they could play with the big boys in the MIAA last year when they upset Northwest Missouri 31-21 in week four. Central Oklahoma is coming off back-to-back 8-4 seasons that both ended in bowl victories.
However, the Bronchos have not defeated the Gorillas since the 2015 season finale. The Bronchos got a big boost to their running game when Oregon transfer Taj Griffin was granted a fifth year of eligibility from the NCAA. All three quarterbacks that started games for Central Oklahoma are back this year in Will Collins, Keats Calhoon and Chandler Garrett. Garrett and Calhoon both played well last year but were injured, leading Collins to get an opportunity to star in the final seven games of the season. Collins get the start against the Gorillas but don’t be surprised if Garrett or Calhoon get an opportunity if Collins struggles early.
The Gorillas finished 8-3 last year, third in the MIAA. While Pittsburg State will have to replace quarterback John Roderique with sophomores BJ Bradbury or Matt Harman. The passing game was not the strength of the Gorillas last year, it was a physical running game. Good news for Pittsburg State is that the top rushers from last year are back in Tyler Adkins, Tucker Horak, Kiah Kintchen and Keynan Scheurich. The four combined for 1,942 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2018. In 2018, the Gorillas average time of possession was 33 minutes and 42 seconds, by far the best in the MIAA. Expect the same formula this year: run the ball, control the clock, play solid defense, grind out wins.
I am taking Central Oklahoma to win this game, just too much firepower on offense.
Central Oklahoma 34 Pittsburg State 31
#8 Fort Hays at Central Missouri
All-Time: Central Missouri leads 9-6
Last year: Fort Hays 20-16
The second biggest game of the week in the MIAA. Some could argue that this is the game of the week. Brook Bolles is back for the Mules at quarterback after missing most of the 2018 season due to injury. Last year the Mules were up 10-6 in the 3rd quarter before the Bolles injury. Central Missouri would go up 16-6 before Fort Hays scored 14 points in the fourth quarter and escape with the win. The Tigers will start sophomore Chance Fuller at quarterback. Fuller has big shoes to fill as last year’s starter Jacob Mezera graduated. Fuller did appear in 10 games and started two games last year. Fuller went 1-1 as a starter, a win at Northwest Missouri and the playoff loss at Indianapolis. The Tigers return nine of its 11 starters on offense from a year ago, but only four starters return on defense. That could be a problem when the first opponent of the year is Brook Bolles and the dynamic Mules offense. Central Missouri on the other hand struggled in close games last year, 1-3 in games decided by seven points or less, and have a new defensive coordinator this year.
I am going with a shootout in this game. I do not like picking against the best player on the field, but I am taking Fort Hays to win this game.
Fort Hays 38 Central Missouri 35
#6 Northwest Missouri at Missouri Western
All-Time: Northwest Missouri leads 27-13
Last year: Northwest Missouri 28-6
It’s a shame this rivalry game is played in week one. This game should be the season finale every year, no exceptions. I have seen the intensity of this game for season openers and season finales, it is just better later in the year.
The Bearcats have won eight straight season openers and they have not been competitive games. Northwest Missouri has won the last eight openers by an average score of 38-7.The Griffons have not lost a home season opener since 2011, including an impressive 23-13 win against Fort Hays in last years home opener. An average score for the Griffon home openers is 36-14.
The Bearcats bring back the MIAA Freshman of the Year in dual threat quarterback Braden Wright. Expect the Bearcats to lean on the running game early. Isaiah Strayhorn is back and is joined by Kent State transfer Justin Rankin. Rankin ran for 1,575 yards (4.5 yards/carry) and 9 touchdowns in three seasons for the Flash. Rankin was also effective catching the ball out of the backfield by catching 84 passes for 773 yards and 4 touchdowns. Strayhorn and Rankin are the only two seniors starting on the Bearcat offense. Lots of youth, but tons of talent and potential. Keep an eye on LaTroy Harper, the true sophomore wide receiver is a dynamic athlete and the coaching staff needs to get Harper the ball in space as much as possible. The Griffons offense is a different story. Missouri Western is starting five senior offensive lineman as well as three other seniors in quarterback Wyatt Steigerwald, running back Shamar Griffith and tight end Luke Vang. That experience makes the Griffon offense dangerous.
The real separation between these teams is on defense. Northwest Missouri State head coach Rich Wright will always have the Bearcat defense ready to roll. Despite having only three senior starters in defensive tackle Spencer Phillips, cornerback Chama Pierre and safety Jacob Gassman, this defense will still be elite. The stars to watch are linebacker Andy Hessler and defensive ends Mike Ehlke and Sam Roberts.
In the end, Northwest Missouri should win this game. Despite the game being at Missouri Western, there will be a green invasion at Spratt Memorial Stadium.
Northwest Missouri 31 Missouri Western 13.
Nebraska-Kearney at Missouri Southern
All-Time: Missouri Southern leads 3-2
Last year: Nebraska-Kearney 45-0
The Lopers ran all over the Lions last year, 474 yards on 8.5 yards per carry. Nebraska-Kearney will attempt to rekindle that performance this year in Joplin. Led by quarterback Alex McGinnis and senior running back Darrius Webb, the Lopers spread running attack should run wild Thursday night. The Lopers defense is led by linebacker Sal Silvio and safety Dallas Vaughn. Third year head coach Josh Lynn has the program going in the right direction and looks to lead this 23-member senior class to their first-ever winning season as an MIAA member.
The Lions struggled mightily in 2018 going 1-10. The Lions were shutout five teams and scored over 20 points just twice. The Lions have not scored in a game since their 24-19 win against Northeastern State on October 20th.
The Lions should be improved this year, but the Lopers running game will be too much for the Lions.
Nebraksa-Kearney 41 Missouri Southern 3
Lincoln at Washburn
All-Time: Washburn leads 6-0
Last time: Washburn 58-7 in 2013
Lincoln rejoins the MIAA as a full member for the 2019 season after playing football in the GLVC over the past five seasons. The Tigers went 3-8 last year, including a 2-5 record in the GLVC. Unfortunately for Lincoln, the MIAA is a much stronger conference than the GLVC. I do not expect Lincoln to win a single game this year. The quarterback for the Tigers is the Albany State transfer Chancellor Johnson.
Washburn is going to be well coached and fundamentally sound, like every Washburn team under 18 year head coach Craig Schurig. The Ichabod offense is led by the coach’s son Mitch Schurig. Washburn will have three seniors starting on the offensive line and a couple senior tight ends. The Ichabods were picked to finish eighth in the MIAA, but I am optimistic that Washburn will outperform that prediction.
Washburn runs away with this one.
Washburn 45 Lincoln 10
Northeastern State at Emporia State
All-Time: Emporia State leads 8-5
Last year: Emporia State 34-7
The Hornets are 9-3 in their 12 season openers under Garin Higgins. Two of those losses were to then #1 ranked Northwest Missouri. Emporia brings back 15 starters from last year’s squad, but only four on offense. The biggest loss on offense will be the 2018 MIAA Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Braxton Marstall. Marstall’s replacement is sophomore Dalton Cowan. Cowan did not see a lot of action last year, but did throw a 54 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Hornets 28-24 upset win over Fort Hays. Unfortunately for Cowan, the Hornets also lost 90 percent of its receiving corp production from last year. Emporia State will rely heavily on Cole Schumacher and a bunch of unknowns to pick up the slack and give Cowan reliable options in the passing game. Sixth year senior Kai Callins will replace four year starter Landon Nault at running back. Some good news for the Hornets is that four of the five offensive line starters are back and well as almost the entire defense. I expect the Hornets to rely on their defense, especially early in the season to grind out wins. Once Cowan gets confident in the offense and with the receivers, the Hornets could upset a few of the better teams in MIAA.
The Riverhawks went winless in 2018 and have a new head coach in JJ Eckert. Eckert played quarterback for Northeastern State from 1994-97. Jake Pruitt is the projected starter for the Riverhawks. Pruitt started the last four games of the 2018 season. The starting running back for the Riverhawks is Boo McKinight (awesome name). The Riverhawks were shoutout twice last year, both occurred in the last two games against Central Oklahoma and Fort Hays by a combined score of 120-0. Northeastern State has lost 13 straight games. The last win was October 28, 2017, a 32-29 victory against Missouri Southern.
The Riverhawks losing streak will continue.
Emporia State 38 Northeastern State 10