August 30th, 2019 12:00am
2019 PSAC West Preview:
This year here on D2football.com the PSAC will have two weekly columns, I will be covering the PSAC West and Ray will be covering the PSAC East. I would like to welcome Ray to the league as he comes over along with his alma mater the Shepherd Rams. I’m not sure what the bigger news story is, Shepherd joining the PSAC or D2football.com splitting the PSAC into two weekly columns and bringing such a professional voice into the league.
As kickoff quickly approaches the PSAC has one overwhelming story that everyone is talking about. It comes from Shepherdstown West Virginia, the Shepherd University Rams joining the PSAC. The perennial powerhouse of the now defunct WVIAC and most recently Mountain East, the Rams bring with them a .679 all time winning percentage, 517 wins and eleven NCAA playoff appearances.
We will focus on the eight schools in the Western division of the PSAC and this has been by most accounts a relatively quite off season, only one program on our side of the conference welcomes a new head coach. Dan Day will try and turn around the football program at Seton Hill. The Griffins have struggled to gain footing in the PSAC since joining the league. We welcome Coach Day and wish him the best of luck this fall. The other school in the PSAC with a new head coach is East Stroudsburg as Jimmy Terwilliger takes over for Denny Douds who stepped away late last season.
A quick recap of the2018 season in the PSAC west saw Slippery Rock go a perfect 7-0 in division play.Make a playoff run that was three straight games on the road, first ending LIU Posts season and another long trip to New Haven Connecticut as they defeated the top two schools from the NE10. The run ended in heartbreak as they fell 21-17 against Notre Dame of Ohio. An 11-3 campaign was a great season for the Rock football program.
The programs who finished second and third both failed to reach expectations; IUP and CalU tied for second both going 5-2 in division play. Cal struggled out of the gate starting 2018 0-2 before rebounding, but an upset at home against Gannon spelled doom for the Vulcans season. IUP entered the season as the prohibitive favorite and entered week 5 against California 4-0. After back to back defeats against Cal U and Slippery Rock - IUP rebounded until a week eleven upset against Shippensburg to finish 8-3.
The only other team in the PSAC west to finish over .500 were the Fighting Scots of Edinboro, after a quick 3-0 start the Scots finish 3-5 in their final eight games. One possession games with Cal U, IUP and Kutztown give reason for optimism coming out of 2018.
The bottom half of the league saw a few upsets and solid play from all of the other programs. Mercyhurst won the series against the other Erie county schools and lost two heartbreaks to open the season. The Lakers ended 2018 with momentum for 2019. Clarion, Gannon and Seton Hill will all be looking to turn things around in 2019 after tough seasons in 2018.
The PSAC released the 2019 coaches poll in early August and the defending champions Slippery Rock was the favorite receiving six first place votes, Cal U and IUP second and third both with one first place vote. The Erie schools went 4 -6, Mercyhurst, Edinboro and Gannon in that order with Clarion and Seton Hill rounding out the poll.
Slippery Rock finished 2018 with an 11-3 record and a run to the regional championship. The Rocks opens 2019 with a trip to Wayne State in Michigan. Wayne State ended 2018 2-9 and were picked to finish 5th in the GLIAC in 2019. Slippery Rock then hosts Shippensburg and Millersville in crossover games before the PSACwest schedule begins. The Rock returns all conference QB Rolland Rivers and will look to build on a second ranked offense in the PSAC in 2018. All eleven starters are slated to return from the fifth ranked unit in the PSAC in 2018. Slippery Rock held teams to 21.2 ppg last season and they should be one of the top units again this season. With questions of other contenders on offense the defense at Slippery Rock could dominate the West in 2019. The Rock also plays both IUP and Cal U at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium in 2019; home field advantage will definitely be on the side of the Rock this fall. Head coach Shawn Lutz has Slippery Rock positioned for another stellar campaign in 2019. The big question for the Rock will be can they handle the high expectations as they transition from the hunters to the hunted?
The Vulcan football program finished 2018 with a 7-4 record and had many highlights with a few very disappointing days. Freshman Quarterback Noah Mitchell was a major bright spot for the program. After starting off slow the Vulcans rebounded to end the season 7-2 in the final 9 games. Gary Dunn enters his 4th season as the Vulcan head coach this season, his 27-8 record in his first three seasons shows the level of expectation for the program. Cal U looks to lean of the offensive line again in 2019. The Vulcan’s lead the PSAC in sacks allowed last season only giving up 7 sacks in eleven games. The Vulcans must improve their rushing attack in 2019 as they ranked 10th in yards per game in 2018. Eight projected starters returning on the defensive side of the ball give the Vulcans optimism to improve on the tenth ranked scoring defense. Cal U will open up 2019 traveling to New Hampshire to play NE-10 bottom feeder Saint Anselm. The Vulcans will then return to Adamson Stadium to play Kutztown and Shippensburg, before road trips to Edinboro and IUP to open west play. Cal U has won at least seven games each year since 2005 and if they can start the first five weeks without too many stumbles this streak should continue in 2019.
IUP was hands down the favorite going into last season. The 2018 season was a large disappointment for the Crimson Hawks coming off of a regional title in 2017 and starting the season with so many returning players. Opening up with a win over nationally ranked Ashland had the Crimson Hawks flying high. After a tough game with Cal U another defeat at Slippery Rock all but ended the playoff hopes of the Crimson Hawks. Another upset at the hands of Shippensburg and IUP ended 2018 with an 8-3 mark. Many programs would have been happy with an eight win season, but as one of the top programs in the region anything but a playoff run is a disappointment. This season the Crimson Hawks will not look to rebuild but reload. A pair of Division 1 transfer quarterbacks is #11 Quinton Maxwell a three year player with the Ohio Bobcats with 8 starts, and #13 Jalen Reese from Toledo has seen very sparse playing time. Both will look to run an offense that was in the top half of the league last season. The key player for IUP could be Sr. running back Samir Bullock; IUP averaged 185.8 ppg on the ground in 2018. While these new quarterbacks get their feet under them, the rushing attack at IUP will be the key to a strong start. IUP opens with a home test against NE10 power New Haven. If the Crimson Hawks can win they have two crossovers with the bottom of the PSAC East as they battle Millersville and Lock Haven. The season for the Crimson Hawks will turn once again in early October, as they host CalU and travel to Slippery Rock. IUP will once again be a power in the PSAC and will be a tough test for all eleven teams on their schedule.
The 18 year head coach Marty Schaetzle will look to return the Lakers to a winning record. Last season the Lakers won Erie County with wins over Edinboro and city rival Gannon, but the Lakers still finished 5-6 overall.With the second ranked scoring defense the Lakers were very stout on defense but struggled to score as they had the 12th ranked scoring offense. With eight returning starters on defense, led by linebackers Jake Terasovitch and Corbin Kessler, the pair led Mercyhurst with a combined 152 tackles. Mercyhurst will look to start quickly as they host Lake Erie College in week one. Week two will be a huge test for the Lakers and a big day for the PSAC as the Shepherd Rams will visit Erie for their first PSAC game. Mercyhurst welcomes IUP and Slippery Rock in back to back weeks to open PSAC west play and will look to make a statement. A schedule that features four of their first five games at home will give Mercyhurst a chance to start fast. Look for an improved winning percentage overall but a hard climb in the PSAC west standings.
Third year head coach Wayne Bradford is in rare company at Edinboro as he is tied for the most wins (13) by an Edinboro head coach in his first two seasons. Bradford and the Fighting Scots will be looking to take the next step in 2019. Edinboro will need to lean on Andrew Tomko as they will need to break in a new running back. Edinboro goes on the road to visit national contender Grand Valley State in week one, before welcoming Bloomsburg week two. The Huskies are a very tough matchup for the Scots, and both teams are looking to improve on last season’s 6-5 record.If Edinboro stumbles back to back weeks out of the gate the fall could be a long one in southern Erie County. Bradford has struggled to win the big game his first two seasons as head coach. Roster turnover will make any improvements on the record difficult.
The Golden Knights are the ultimate underachiever in the PSAC West, a program that is rich in talent but cannot seem to put it all together on Saturdays in the fall. An upset over California last season was the lone bright spot of a 2-9 season for the Golden Knights. Could this be the seasonthat head coach Brad Rzyczcki and the Golden Knights return to the top of the PSAC? Replacing my personal favorite PSAC player the last few seasons, Marcus Jones will not be easy. Jones was a strong powerful running back that controlled the game. With two returning quarterbacks the Knights need to improve on a 13th ranked passing attack. A long road trip to Southern Connecticut State and two extremely tough crossover games make the start of the season very tough for the Knights.
The Clarion football team has always been a blue collar hard noised football program. A program that has to outwork teams as they struggle to bring in the top notch athletes, they bring in hardworking students who have a love of competition. Coach Chris Weible gets the most out of his kids. Last season Clarion was very strong on the defensive side of the ball but struggled to control games on offense. With only one returning offensive line starter returning the Golden Eagles will need to open up things in the passing game early on. Last season the Golden Eagles ended 4-7. With Shepherd in crossover play instead of Lincoln out of the CIAA the hill gets much tougher to climb to get back to a winning record. Clarion will play tough and put a scare into a few teams in 2019 but fail to improve in the win column.
The Griffins are the largest unknown as we enter 2019. After a 1-10 season in 2018 the Griffins hired a new head coach. Dan Day will look to turn the Griffins into a contender; the mountain will be very steep in 2019. The Griffins will need to take small steps in 2019 with goals such as improving points per game and yards per game to be successful this season.
2018 PSAC West Attendance:
School / games/ total/ average
With the snow and cold temperatures week 11 of last year the attendance numbers overall took a hit at the end of the season. Slippery Rock once again led the PSAC west with over 5,000 fans per game. I have always found this to be an interesting look at how performance at the small college level so directly affects the attendance. With so many early season home games this year these numbers should improve for 2019.
2019 PSAC Projected Finishing Order:
As we have seen the Coaches of the 8 schools in the PSAC pick the defending champions to repeat in 2019, I agree with that but the rest of the rundown I expect to be different from the coach’s projections.
The 2019 season is less than two weeks away and this season is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in years as the PSAC West is getting deeper and the teams are so evenly matched. Check back next week as we will preview Week 1 - the only true week of out of conference games in the PSAC. We have some great match ups that will carry weight late in November during the selection process.