August 21st, 2023 10:00pm
In the words of the infamous Bruce Buffer, "It's time!". We've all been patiently waiting and the season is finally upon us!
Following one of the most successful and nationally prominent for the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in recent memory, the sky seems to be the limit heading into the 2023 season.
Check out previews for each team below.
1) Colorado School of Mines
It shouldn't be a surprise to anybody that the national runner up and team returning the best player in the land is favored to win the conference heading into the season.
John Matocha is box office worthy every time he steps on to the field and brings the competitive flair that makes every Orediggers outing winnable.
Losing the trio of Michael Zeman in the backfield, Josh Johnston on the outside, and Matt armendariz upfront are major losses no doubt.
Max McLeod returns and figures to be arguably the best wideout in the nation with an anticipated increase in targets following the departure of Johnston. The backfield will have a more shared workload approach but I don't anticipate a major dropoff in production. Dartmouth transfer Noah Roper and redshirt freshman Braelon Tate should infuse the backfield with elusiveness and speed not typically seen in Mines tailbacks.
Defensively, I don't expect the Orediggers to miss a beat.
Although defensive minded head coach Brandon Moore departed to the University of San Diego, defensive coordinator Tripp Thomas stood pat. Over the years Mines has increased their team speed and I think it's paid dividends the most on the defensive side of the ball.
All in all Mines is a fine tuned machine that doesn't look to be slowing down anytime soon. With Matocha still leading the way I wouldn't bet against them.
There's something brewing down in southern Colorado.
First year head coach Phillip Vigil has energized a program that has long stood as one the premier in Division 2. Having inherited a roster full of talent I'm expecting big things from the Thunderwolves.
MIAA All-Conference transfer quarterback Chance Fuller takes the reins under center and will be looking to get over the figurative hump in Mines. His experience should make the transition pretty seamless.
He'll have some explosive targets to sling it to in returner Andrew Cook and transfer Reggie Retzlaff.
Where I'm most excited to see Pueblo this year is on the defensive side of the ball. The team lost some serious playmaking upfront as Trey Botts eligibility expired but have arguably the best secondary in the country on the backend.
The playmaking and ability to be in the right spot at the right time is uncanny for All-American safety Daniel Bone. His partner in crime Cory McLellan is no slouch either.
Banking on a coach to take an already prestigious program to the next level in his first season is a risky proposition but I believe Coach Vigil has the chops to do it.
Now the question becomes, is that next level enough to offset Matocha? That remains to be seen.
3) Western Colorado
The Mountaineers have won a lot of ball games over the course of the last two years. None so without Connor Desch under center and Josh Cummings in the backfield.
Those aren't the only losses either.
Up front, all-conference guys Clayton Martin and Mathyus Su'a moved on in the transfer portal.
So why do I still have faith in the Mountaineers? Two words, Drew Nash.
Word out of Gunnison is the redshirt sophomore has been lighting things up through the air all throughout the spring and fall so far. I believe that if Western can be more balanced and less predictable offensively they maintain their place in the upper echelon of the conference.
I never worry about a Todd Auer coached defense, they're gonna be tough and they're gonna disrupt quarterbacks. How the Mountaineers replace stalwarts at key positions that lead the recent rise for Western football will determine their season.
My guess is that they're a notch below Mines and Pueblo but a step above the rest of the pack.
4). Black Hills
The Yellow Jackets are returning an experienced ball club that is riding a lot of momentum heading into the 2023 season.
In 2022, the Yellow Jackets turned the proverbial corner forcinging their way into the upper half of the conference. They accomplished this behind a blazing 5-0 start before fizzling out to end the season. They'll look to start fast again but avoid fading as the season goes on.
The big question is who is the quarterback? Assuming whoever that is can take care of the ball I expect the Yellow Jackets to build upon last year. Nolan Susel is entering his final year and should help ease things for whoever is under center as you can count on him to get a healthy dose of carries.
Black Hills has always played opportunistic defense and I don't expect that to change.
5) South Dakota School of Mines
Similar to Black Hills, SD Mines took that step into the upper echelon of the conference last year. Featuring one of the most explosive passing games in the country the Hardrockers are looking to keep climbing.
They'll have a good shot too with star quarterback Jayden Johannsen returning to lead the way. He'll be without his two all-conference receivers in Jeremiah Bridges and Isaiah Eastman. That withstanding I don't expect the offense to take too much of a step back. Johannsen is just too good.
Where I am expecting a major slip is on the defensive side replacing all-conference linebackers Kyante Christian and Gavin Chaddock. Not only were both guys extremely productive pass rushers but they were the heart and soul of the defense and had been for years. replacing them won't be easy.
6) Colorado Mesa
The Mavericks are looking to reassert themselves with the conference's elite but face some major challenges heading into the 2023 season.
The most glaring being the loss of quarterback Karst Hunter to the transfer portal. After going 2-0 in his two starts last season Gavin Herberg looks to assume the role. He has a lot of similar traits to Hunter as both are big play threats in the running game as well as through the air.
He'll have big experienced wideouts on the outside in Keenan Brown and David O'Connell and has shown to have chemistry with both based on the end of last season.
Defensively, the Mavericks strength will be its linebacking core.
Even with the loss of all-conference linebacker Kaden Stewart, CMU returns a slew of guys with experience and play making ability.
Where the Mavs will need to make major strides is in the backend. All-conference safety Liban Shongolo will look to turn around a secondary that failed to register an interception last season.
7) Adams State
Heading into year three Coach Harrison is aiming for the Grizzlies to take a big jump.
It will all start on the defensive end for Adam's. The Grizzlies surrendered 37 points per game last season.
Offensively they'll need to get back to having explosive offenses like they've been known for over the years. Marckell Grayson is returning at quarterback and the continuity at the position should help.
8) Chadron State
We know Chadron will be tough and play defense but can they do enough offensively?
Hunter O'Connor will look to build one his 16 sack breakout year and could be the best defensive player in the land come season's end. That'll be something to keep and eye on.
9) New Mexico Highlands
The Cowboys have come a long way in wiping the bad stigma attached to the program and head coach Ron Hudson should be commended for that.
In addition to that, the defense is returning some pieces up front that can wreak havoc.
Where I think the Cowboys will struggle is replacing other world speedster CJ Sims on the outside. Defenses had to account for him every play opening things for everybody else. Without that threat I see the offense taking a major step back.
10) Fort Lewis
The Skyhawks still have a long way to even be competitive but I think they're heading in the right direction.
Braden Wingle returns under center and the team is a year older and stronger. Those may seem like mundane things but for a team that played upwards of twenty true freshmen throughout the course last season the experience is invaluable.
Antonio Clark is a former All-RMAC defensive back at Colorado Mesa. The Denver native now resides in Colorado Springs.