’09 Great West Conference Football Preview

It’s only Aug. 18, and here I am, talking about football. Strange, right?

But guess what? Teams have already started fall camp, which means the season is right around the corner.

For the last week, I’ve been doing some research into each of the 5 football teams in the Great West Conference, with the end goal being this preseason glance. Originally, I didn’t plan to get this detailed into the teams, as I planned to simply reveal my own preseason poll. Yet, I figured that you might want some reason WHY I chose which school where.

Here is my look at each school, in the order of where I think they’ll finish in the 5-team league. For the record, Cal Poly was picked to win the conference title again, according to the coaches poll which was released Monday.

— — — —

1. UC Davis

2008 RECORD: 5-7 (2-1 in GWC, second place)

RETURNING STARTERS: 22 (9 on offense, 7 on defense)

ASSESSMENT: Although this pick might not be a “surprise,” it does go against the preseason coaches poll. But for me, the determining factor was experience.

Last season, the Aggies didn’t have a spectacular-looking record at 5-7, but keep in mind, three of those losses were by 5 points or less. And down the stretch, UC Davis lost 4 of 5, including a loss to eventual FCS national runner-up Montana and a loss to FBS San Jose State.

But in 2009, the Aggies return a ton of talent.

The offense will again be led by quarterback Greg Denham, who will be only a sophomore this season. As a freshman in 2008, Denham passed for 3,478 yards and 27 touchdowns, with a troubling 16 interceptions. But look for him to have a breakout year, especially considering the Aggies return 3 starters on the offensive line. Also back on offense is leading rusher Joe Trombetta (Jr.) and top receiver Chris Carter (Sr.).

On defense, UC Davis is senior-laden, especially on the line (3 seniors). The Aggies do lose the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in John Faletoese.

A look at the league schedule also favors UC Davis, in my opinion. The Aggies host defending GWC champion Cal Poly on Nov. 7, followed by a Nov. 14 home game with North Dakota. UC Davis travels to South Dakota and Southern Utah, which could potentially give them 3 (possibly) 4 league victories. But out of conference, UC Davis faces FBS foes Fresno State and Boise State.

— — — —

2. Cal Poly

2008 RECORD: 8-3 (3-0 in GWC, first place)

RETURNING STARTERS: 17 (5 on offense, 8 on defense)

ASSESSMENT: For me, there’s been too much change for Cal Poly to surpass UC Davis in 2009.

The Cal Poly Mustangs put together a season for the ages last year, with the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense (in both points per game and total offense). Quarterback Jonathan Dally and monster wide receiver Ramses Barden lit up the scoreboards, leading the Mustangs into the FCS playoffs and a season-ending ranking of No. 8.

But gone are both Dally and Barden, along with coach Rich Ellerson, who left for Army. The Mustangs lose seven starters on offense, including their top 3 rushers and top 3 receivers.

Replacing Ellerson as head coach is Tim Walsh, who comes from Army. The Mustangs still have not decided on a No. 1 quarterback (in fact, they had 8 quarterbacks take snaps on Monday’s first day of practice). And on defense, Cal Poly is switching from a 3-4 format to a 4-3.

Still though, I think Cal Poly has the talent to continue to win league contests. The focus in 2009 will be on a defense that returns its entire secondary.

Looking at Cal Poly’s schedule, I still see a possibility for 6, maybe 7 wins. The Mustangs do have road contests at Ohio University, San Jose State, Montana, North Dakota, UC Davis and Weber State. Not exactly an easy stretch.

— — — —

3. South Dakota

2008 RECORD: 6-5 (1-2 in GWC, tie for third place)

RETURNING STARTERS: 15 (10 on offense, 5 on defense)

ASSESSMENT: When the preseason coaches poll came out on Monday and USD was picked third, I nodded my head. Because, to me, that makes the most sense.

Make no mistake, the Coyotes will have one of the nation’s top offenses. But it’ll be on defense where USD makes the biggest impression in 2009.

USD boasts one of the country’s top offensive weapons in quarterback Noah Shepard (Sr.). The fifth-year player passed for 2000 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, to go along with 755 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. In addition, the Coyotes return their top 4 rushers from a year ago, as well as their top 6 receivers. Former quarterback Wes Beschorner was also promoted to offensive coordinator, giving USD yet another weapon, albeit from an off-the-field influence.

On defense, USD will have a unique coaching format. There is no official defensive coordinator, but head coach Ed Meierkort and his staff will work together on the defense. The Coyotes return 5 starters, including three on the defensive line (Ko Quaye, Abe Booker IV and Wayne Curry).

The Coyotes will also play a much more competitive schedule in 2009. USD will have road games at Northern Iowa, North Dakota, Montana State, Northern Colorado and Cal Poly. At home in league play, USD will face UC Davis and Southern Utah.

In all, USD will play 10 games this season. So, I’d say a fair prediction would be six wins, which essentially means that the Coyotes will have to win 1-2 games in which they’re not favored.

— — — —

4. Southern Utah

2008 RECORD: 4-7 (1-3 in GWC, last place)

RETURNING STARTERS: 15 (7 on offense, 7 on defense)

ASSESSMENT: Here again, I’m going against the preseason coaches poll. The league coaches voted Southern Utah to finish last, but I see differently.

Last season, the Thunderbirds finished 4-7 under first-year head coach Ed Lamb. Not exactly eye-popping, right? But remember, Southern Utah was 0-11 the year before.

OK, in full disclosure, I didn’t pick SUU ahead of North Dakota because of anything special the Thunderbirds will bring in 2009, mainly because of UND’s many issues. (I’ll get into that later).

When you look at Southern Utah’s offense, there really isn’t anything special. The T-BIrds will have a new quarterback in senior transfer Cade Cooper. But they do bring back 4 starters on the offensive line, which will ease Cooper’s learning curve. Also back is junior wide receiver Tysson Poots, a first-team All-GWC and a Honorable Mention All-American from 2008.

Defense is where I think Southern Utah presents the most issues for an opponent. Senior linebacker Robert Takeno is a serious ball hawk. And in a league featuring a number of strong-armed quarterbacks, SUU was No. 2 against the pass in 2008.

Although I don’t see a winning record for the T-Birds this season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an improvement from last year. So, possibly 5 wins?

— — — —

5. North Dakota

2008 RECORD: 6-4 (1-2 in GWC, tie for third place)

RETURNING STARTERS: 9 (2 on offense, 6 on defense)

ASSESSMENT: Here’s how one ratings Web site thought of North Dakota’s 2009 season: 1-10. That’s ONE win.

Now, to be fair, the Sioux will win at least 3 games. But from there, it doesn’t look pretty in Grand Forks, at least in my opinion.

UND loses 9 starters on offense and 94 percent of its total offense from last year. In addition, the Sioux do not have any returning starters at their offensive skill positions.

Not only that, the Sioux will be without leading rusher Josh Murray (academic issues) and senior defensive lineman Nathan Wayne (injury). So, needless to say, it’ll be the defense that will have to lead the way for UND in 2009.

Plus, UND’s schedule is brutal early. The Sioux open with three straight road games, Texas Tech, Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin. And then, they host South Dakota. So, the way I see it, the Sioux could possibly (POSSIBLY) be looking at a 0-4 start. However, UND does host Stony Brook, U of Sioux Falls and Southern Oregon.

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