The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Pittsburg State Sports

August 25, 2012

2012 MIAA outlook

MIAA football membership has jumped to 15 teams this season, five more than a year ago.

Southwest Baptist returns to the league race after playing an independent schedule the previous four years, and there are four new teams — Lindenwood in St. Charles, Mo., Nebraska-Kearney, Northeastern State in Tahlequah, Okla., and Central Oklahoma in Edmond.

Representatives of the new teams say they are excited to become MIAA members.

“It’s the best conference in Division II,” Lindenwood wide receiver Andrew Helmick said. “They call it the SEC of Division II, and I’m excited for it.

“We’re coming here to play. A lot of people are looking down like we’re a team that’s not really ready for this conference ... maybe in four or five years we will be. But we’re here to play this year. No one scares us, and we’re excited to play.”

“One thing our team does not lack is confidence,” Lindenwood coach Patrick Ross said with a laugh. “It’s a good thing though. It’s a good confidence, not cockiness.

“We’re lucky to be playing in this conference against teams that have all that tradition. Depth is going to be a question mark. I think our top 30 will be as good as anybody’s, but from 31 to 60, are we going to be able to hang in there and keep battling.”

Northeastern State coach Kenny Evans is preparing for his second stint in the league.

“It’s been since 1997, the last game I coached in the MIAA,” said Evans, former defensive coordinator at Missouri Southern. “It’s kind of like jumping out of a frying pan, but we’re jumping right into the fire.”

The RiverHawks and Central Oklahoma are former members of the Lone Star Conference.

“The MIAA is a more physical league,” Evans said. “Basically the MIAA always beats the Lone Star in the playoffs, and at that point (of the season) toughness has a whole lot to do with it.

“You want to take a team in and play against good competition. Well, we’re going to do that every week. Our first seven games, I think five of them were ranked in the top 20 last year and four of them made the playoffs. Hopefully we’ve moved our program forward enough where we can be competitive.”

With the addition of Nebraska-Kearney, all of the teams from the former Central States Intercollegiate Conference are in the league except Wayne State.

“I think our community is excited about those old relationships,” said UNK coach Darrell Morris, who was an assistant at Kearney State late in those CSIC days. “They identify with those schools, and they understand who they are and where they are at. They can actually pick them out on a map.

“I am excited because you get credited with the pack that you run with, and there is no better pack in Division II football than the MIAA. It’s the SEC of Division II football, and that’s not even debatable. It’s a big-time step up from the RMAC. We’re not naive. We understand exactly what we’re getting into and we understand we’re probably going to take some lumps. And we understand we have some things we have to do in our program to get competitive on a week-to-week basis.”

Pittsburg State scissored Northwest Missouri State’s five-year reign as conference champion and the Bearcats’ 48-game conference winning streak. The Gorillas went on to capture the Division II national championship, and their playoff run began with victories over Washburn and Northwest Missouri.

The Gorillas are ranked first in preseason polls in votes by both the coaches and media. A team-by-team preview, in order of the coaches’ poll:

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