College Sports Journal 2019 Division I Football Conference Preview: Pioneer League

Pioneer League Predicted Order of Finish

Championship Tier
These teams are high caliber teams who will be in contention for PFL crown and the league’s automatic playoff bid.  

1. San Diego
The Toreros have earned PFL titles in seven of the last eight seasons, and they would have earned a share in 2013 had they not been declared ineligible for improperly awarding financial aid.  USD looks somewhat vulnerable this year, but this team still has the most talent of any PFL roster despite the lack of experience.  The 29-game PFL win streak could possibly end this year, but USD should still be the kings of the PFL.  

Read our full USD team preview here.

WR Michael Bandy

2. Drake
Drake’s momentum may have thought it would be lessened after former head coach Rick Fox stepping down in December. Howerver, Todd Stepsis takes the reins after serving as Drake’s defensive coordinator the previous five seasons.  The Bulldogs offense is what needs to improve this year but eight starters are back.  The defense, which has been one of the strongest squads in the PFL for the past few seasons, only returns four starters but under Stepsis, the new starters should gel and again be in the running for the PFL title.

Read our Drake team preview here.

S Will Warner

3. Dayton
The Flyers return seven starters on an explosive offense and six starters are back on defense.  The key for Dayton will be to turn close losses into wins as the Flyers had three such losses and two against PFL champion San Diego and NEC champion Duquesne.  With the experience back, the Flyers should turn around their 6-5 record from last year and be right in the mix for the PFL crown.  

Read our Dayton team preview here.

TE Adam Trautman

The Swing Tier
These teams are headed towards the top side of the standings and if all goes well could suprise the top tier teams.

4. Butler
The Bulldogs held one of the league’s tp upsets last year with a 23-21 win over the MVFC’s Youngstown State.  The squad was hit with a number of injuries and fell to just 4-7 overall.  If Butler can stay healthy, this team will be on the verge of PFL contention.  

Read our Butler team preview here.

DE Mickey Kane

5. Stetson
The Hatters went 8-2 last season and were in contention for the PFL crown late into the season.   Coach Roger Hughes was tabbed as the PFL’s Coach of the Year last year  as Stetson was 5-1 in close games.  This team, howover needs to get over the hump of the top squads in the league and just might have enough in what might be a rebuilding year for many other top squads.

Read our Stetson team preview here.

LB Colby Duncan

6. Davidson
The Wildcat rushing attack ranked first in all the FCS with 428.5 yards per game.   RB Wesley Dugger ran for 1,241 yards and 16 scores last year is the leader of the running game.  If this team wants to compete for a conference title though the defense needs to get much better.

Read our Davidson team preview here.

RB Wesley Dugger

7. Marist
The Red Foxes improved their conference record from 3-5 in 2017 to 5-3 last year and two of those losses came by a touchdown or less..  The offense should be solid with eight starters back but the defense will be the biggest question mark with just four starters returning.  If the new starters on defense can mesh, Marist could be a suprise team in the PFL. 

Read our Marist team preview here.

TE Jon Kanda

The Bottom Looking Up Tier
No one wants to be the bottom teams, but these teams have more than a few significant hurdles to get where they want to be.

8. Morehead State
Replacing QB Lawson Page will be this team’s biggest question as Page led MSU with 920 yards rushing and eight touchdowns last year while also throwing for 2,240 yards and 16 scores. But the Eagles can still have a strong rushing attack with their top RB Jovan Smith returning.  The defense will be the biggest reason for concern as this unit allowed 43.2 points per game last year.

Read our full Morehead State team preview here.

RB Jovan Smith

9. Valparaiso
Valpo went 6-5 in 2017 before dipping back down to 2-9 last year. Landon Fox is the Crusaders new head coach and he has great familiarity with the PFL. Fox was Dayton’s defensive coordinator and secondary coach these last 11 years.  He should turnaround Valpo eventually but it will take some time for the turnaround to turn into wins.

Read our full Valparaiso team preview here.

Head Coach Landon Fox

 

10. Jacksonville
The Dolphins used to be near the top of the rankings but have fallen on hard times last year where they fell to 2-8 overall.  Coach Ian Shields defense will be the key to a turnaround.  Last year, only once did JU hold an opponent to 20 points or less.  Look for this team to be much like last year and finish at the bottom of the PFL.

Read our Jacksonville team preview here.

QB Calvin Turner, Jr.

 

5 Big Conference Games to Watch

1. San Diego at Dayton 10/26
2. Dayton at Drake 11/16
3. Drake at San Diego 11/2
4. Butler at Dayton 11/23
5. San Diego at Stetson 11/9

Ten Players to Watch from the Pioneer Football League

Offensive Players to Watch

1. WR – Michael Bandy, senior, San Diego
2. TE – Adam Trautman, senior, Dayton
3. RB – Wesley Dugger, senior, Davidson
4. QB – Calvin Turner, Jr., junior, Jacksonville

Defensive Players to Watch
1. S – Will Warner, senior, Drake
2. DL – Bryce Perry-Martin, senior, Davidson
3. LB – Colby Duncan, senior, Stetson
4. CB – David Tolbert, senior, San Diego
Special Teams Players to Watch
1. KR – Michael Armstead, senior, San Diego
2. K – Jonny Messina, junior, Stetson

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