By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
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:
1. Pittsburg State
Coach: Tim Beck, 3rd year (19-7).
2011 record: 13-1, 8-1 MIAA (1st).
2011 team averages: 40.2 points and 448.5 yards on offense, 20.1 points and 308.9 yards allowed on defense.
Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense,
Returning all-MIAA: LB Nate Dreiling, WR-KR John Brown, DE Gus Toca, OT Cody Holland, OL Nick Pugh, RB Briceton Wilson, DB Chas Smith.
Gorilla notes: LB Nate Dreiling (139 tackles, 17 TFL, seven interceptions) was a consensus All-American and named national defensive player of the year by Don Hansen Football Committee. ... All-America DE Gus Toca led the team with 19 TFL and 11 sacks. ... WR-KR John Brown developed into a big-play threat with61 receptions for 1,216 yards and 12 TDs plus 369 yards on punt returns and 616 yards on kickoff returns. ... Top RBs are Briceton Wilson (857 yards), Jason Spradling (527) and Solomon Watkins (223 yards in six games before a season-ending knee injury). ... Tim Beck won conference, regional and national coach of the year honors. ... The national championship in 2011 was fourth in school history (1957 NAIA, 1961 NAIA, 1991 NCAA D-II). ... In the unbalanced league schedule, PSU does not play any Kansas schools this season.
2. Northwest Missouri
Coach: Adam Dorrel, 2nd year (11-3).
2011 record: 11-3, 7-2 MIAA (tie 2nd).
2011 team averages: 48.6 points and 495.1 yards on offense, 23.1 points and 353.6 yards allowed on defense.
Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense
Returning all-MIAA: RB James Franklin, OL Rod Williams, K Todd Adolf, RB-KR Jordan Simmons, WR Tyler Shaw.
Bearcat notes: The Bearcats’ 681 points last season was second in all of college football behind the University of Houston’s 690 points. ... RB James Franklin rushed for 1,247 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. ... RB Jordan Simmons totaled 2,134 all-purpose yards in 2011 — 957 rushing, 456 receiving, 167 punt returns and 554 kickoff returns. ... QB Trevor Adams passed for 2,202 yards and 21 TDs. ... OL Rod Williams was named to four All-America teams in 2011. ... LB D.J. Gnauder logged 100 tackles, second on the team behind Chad Kilgore, who led the team for the four years. ... The Bearcats must replace four All-Americans, including OL Cody Johnson from Webb City. ... The Bearcats have won at least 10 games the last seven seasons, the longest current streak in Division II, and they have advanced to the playoffs the last eight years, also the longest active D-II streak.
3. Missouri Western
Coach: Jerry Partridge, 16th year (112-62).
2011 record: 9-3, 7-2 MIAA (tie 2nd).
2011 team averages: 35.5 points and 391.2 yards on offense, 20.9 points and 353.8 yards allowed on defense.
Returning starters: 10 offense, 7 defense.
Returning all-MIAA: RB Michael Hill, OL Macon Allan, DL David Bass, DB Shane Simpson, DL Ben Pister, DB Bryce Enyard, QB Travis Partridge, WR-KR Tarrell Downing, OL Colt Schulte, OL Brian Chiles, DL Austi Baska, DB Jeremy Weston, DB Ben Jackson, P Scott Groner.
Griffon notes: All-American DE David Bass led the MIAA with 14.5 sacks last season and set a school record with 20 TFL. He has 28.5 career sacks, 1.5 shy of the school record. ... OL Macon Allan has started all 36 games during the previous three seasons. ... P Scott Groner set school record with 43.9 average. Of his 50 punts, 13 went at least 50 yards — one an 80-yarder — and 17 were inside the 20-yard line. ... RB Michael Hill ran for 1,305 yards and eight TDs and caught 31 passes for 257 yards and four TDs. ... QB Travis Partridge was the No. 2 runner with 520 yards and eight TDs while throwing for 1,697 yards and 17 scores. ... Griffons tied school records last year with nine victories for the season and a seven-game winning streak.
Coach: Craig Schurig, 11th year (72-44).
2011 record: 10-3, 7-2 MIAA (tie 2nd).
2011 team averages: 38.6 points and 481.5 yards on offense, 25.2 points and 379.7 yards allowed on defense.
Returning starters: 6 offense, 8 defense, 4 specialists.
Returning all-MIAA: Wr DeJuan Beard, LB Bryce Atagi, LB Jahmil Taylor, TE Tore’ Hurst, OL Kyle Duncan, DL Jayveri Kelly, OL Steve Dieckhaus.
Ichabod notes: Washburn must replace record-setting QB Dane Simoneau, a Harlon Hill Award finalist and now a graduate assistant coach with the ‘Bods.. ... LBs Jahmil Taylor and Bryce Atagi made 112 and 101 tackles, respectively. ... All-American WR DaJuan Beard caught 62 passes for 1,029 yards and 15 touchdowns. ... RB Sean McPherson had 736 yards and six TDs as a reserve but will miss this season with a knee injury. ... Ichabods set school records for wins (10), total offense (481.5 yards per game), passing offense (331.2) and points (38.6) in 2011. They also notched their first playoff victory, a 52-49 decision over Abilene Christian.
5. Central Missouri
Coach: Jim Svoboda, 3rd year (19-7).
2011 record: 8-4, 6-3 MIAA (5th).
2011 team averages: 33.6 points and 445.2 yards on offense, 24.6 points and 412.2 yards allowed on defense.
Returning starters: 5 offense, 8 defense, 5 specialists.
Returning all-MIAA: TE David Cannon, OL Logan Freeman, DL David Bax, DB Patrick Lewis, K Aaron Jamieson, P Matt Jordan.
Mule notes: K Aaron Jamieson from Cassville converted 7-of-12 field goals (the longest a 53-yarder) and 44-of-46 extra points last season. ... WR David Cannon (60 receptions for 810 yards and nine TDs) is back, but QB Tommy Corwin graduated. ... LaVance Taylor rushed for 630 yards and seven scores. ... FS Patrick Lewis had 104 tackles, and LB Evan Knight had 72.
Coach: Darrell Morris, 13th year (92-39).
2011 record: 10-2, 8-1 RMAC
2011 team averages: 39.5 points and 518.9 yards on offense, 16.8 points and 302.0 yards allowed on defense.
Returning starters: 5 offense, 8 defense
Returning key players: WR-KR Matt Berry, WR-PR Tommy Flanagan, OT Cole Manhart, OT Pete Trausch, FS Sam Kuck, LB Justin Swedburg, DL Justin Thiel, LB Kellen Werner.
Loper notes: WR Tommy Flanagan, a preseason All-American, had 1,193 all-purpose yards in eight games last year and 854 receiving yards in two seasoins at South Dakota. ... DL Justin Thiel (94 career tackles, two-time all-RMAC) and FS Sam Kuck (164 career tackles) also received preseason All-America laurels. WR Matt Berry had 1,034 all-purpose yards. ... Lopers have won or shared 32 conference titles and made nine playoff appearances (five NAIA, four NCAA D-II, most recently last season).
7. Emporia State
Coach: Garin Higgins, 6th year (19-35).
2011 record: 5-6, 3-6 MIAA (tie 6th).
2011 team averages: 30.5 points and 436.5 yards on offense, 29.5 points and 412.4 yards allowed on defense.
Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense.
Returning all-MIAA: DB Derek Lohmann, OL Lance Uhles, WR Shjuan Richardson, TE Adam Schiltz, LB Ben Carlson, QB Tyler Eckenrode.
Hornet notes: Tyler Eckenrode, a four-year starter, is the leading returning passer in the MIAA after throwing for 2,580 yards. ... Top WRs returning include Ray Ray Davis (50 catches for 540 yards, four TDs), Shjuan Richardson (37 for 644, nine TDs) along with TE Adam Schiltz (33 for 425). Richardson was an All-American in track. ... ESU was second in the country in turnover margin, forcing 37 turnovers (22 interceptions, 15 fumbles). ... FS Derek Lohmann led the country with eight interceptions and tied the school record with 14 career picks. LB Ben Carlson, a transfer from Missouri State and former Major League Baseball draft pick, led the team with 85 tackles.
Coach: Patrick Ross, 9th year (74-22).
2011 record: 8-3
2011 team averages: 40.3 points and 367.9 yards on offense, 23.6 points and 352.8 yards allowed on defense.
Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense, 1 specialist.
Returning key players: OL Matt Atley, WR Andrew Helmick, OL Jacob Heneisen, CB Donald Collier, DE Joe Day, DB Cody Fogle, NG Malach Radigan, LB Brock Reed.
Lion notes: QB Ben Gomez was California Community College offensive player of the year in 2011 when he threw for 3,651 yards and 33 TDs at Saddleback College. ... WR Andrew Helmick had 56 catches for 901 yards and 12 TDs last season. ... LB Brock Reed made 69 tacklkes, including 7.5 for loss and 4.0 quarterback sacks, and DB Cody Fogle had 65 tackles. ... DB Pierre Desir was an all-MIAA selection at Washburn in 2009-10. ... Football program started in 1990 and made six NAIA playoff appearances, most recently in 2010. Home field of Hunter Stadium was built in 1976 by the St. Louis football Cardinals as a place to hold training camp.
9. Northeastern State
Coach: Kenny Evans, 5th year (16-29).
2011 record: 7-5.
2011 team averages: 33.8 points and 440.8 yards on offense, 29.0 points and 399.9 yards allowed on defense.
Returning starters: 6 offense, 8 defense, 3 specialists.
Returning key players: QB Johnny Deaton, WR Jermaine Sherman, WR Jahmai Coleman, LB Langston Jones, SS Cayle Shambaugh, LB Jack Gray, DL Blake Dirteater.
RiverHawk notes: QB Johnny Deaton became the starter after NSU’s 1-3 start and directed a six-game winning streak before the RiverHawks lost to No. 3 Midwestern State 37-34 in the regular-season finale and Minnesota State 28-14 in the Mineral Water Bowl. Deaton threw for 2,520 yards and 26 TDS, and his primary targets included Jermaine Sherman (36 for 541 yards, five TDs) and Jahmai Coleman (29 for 524, three TDs). ... RBs Terrance Dixon and Joel Rockmore had 488 and 479 rushing yards, respectively. ... LB Langston Jones had 93 tackles, 10 for loss. ... Evans, 1982 graduate of NSU, began his coaching career in 1981 at Miami (Okla.) High School and later served as defensive coordinator under Jon Lantz for 12 years at Southeastern Oklahoma State and Missouri Southern.
10. Missouri Southern
Coach: Daryl Daye, 1st year.
2011 record: 3-7, 2-7 MIAA (tie 8th).
2011 team averages: 29.6 points and 413.9 yards on offense, 32.9 points and 362.1 yards allowed on defense.
Returning starters: 6 offense, 8 defense, 3 specialists.
Returning all-MIAA: DT Brandon Williams, WR Landon Zerkel, WR Ne’Ronte Threatt, LB Alex Wong, TE Austin Lepper, DB Brian Rodgers, DE Ryon Phillips.
Lion notes: DT Brandon Williams made 35 tackles in 2011, including 16 for loss and 8 QB sacks while earning All-American honors for the second straight year. ... The Lions return their top two tacklers — DB Brian Rodgers (87 tackles) and LB Alex Wong (70). WR Landon Zerkel caught 77 passes for 1,047 yards and six TDs, and WR Ne’Ronte threatt had 52 for 557 yards and nine scores. Junior Kyle Webster and senior Kellen Cox are the top two QB candidates. Cox played WR in his first three years with the Lions. ... First-year players fill more than half of the roster. ... Daye was defensive coordinator at MSSU from 2006-2009 before spending the last two years as an assistant with the Buffalo Bills.
11. Fort Hays State
Coach: Chris Brown, 2nd year (4-7).
2011 record: 407, 3-6 MIAA (tie 6th).
2011 team averages: 23.2 points and 343.8 yards on offense, 34.7 points and 472.5 yards allowed defense.
Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense, 1 specialist.
Returning all-MIAA: OL John “Hawk” Rose, RB Andre Smith, DL Kyle Perry, DB Kedron Paul.
Tiger notes: RB Andre Smith ran for 963 yards and five TDs and caught 14 passes for 134 yards. ... QB Anthony Sheppard threw for 889 yards and six TDs while sharing time with Blake McAhren. LB Layton Hickel had 74 tackles, DL Kyle Perry 58, DB Zach Nash 56 and LB A.J. Woodall 53.
12. Central Oklahoma
Coach: Nick Bobeck, 1st year.
2011 record: 2-9
2011 team averages: 17.6 points and 359.5 yards on ofense, 32.6 points and 431.4 yards allowed on defense.
Returning starters: 5 offense, 6 defense, 2 specialists.
Returning key players: C Nick Garitano, WR Christian Hood, RB Joshua Birmingham, DT Sam Moses, LB Turner Troup, DB Devoris Dozier.
Broncho notes: RB Joshua Birmingham had 882 yards and seven TDs rushing and 50 receptions for 334 yards and another TD. ... Senior QB Ethan Sharp has thrown for 4,524 yards and 31 TDs during the last two seasons, but junior Adrian Nelson, who threw for 3,754 yards and 33 TDs last year at Navarro, won the job during spring drills. ... DB Devoris Dozier had five interceptions and 68 tackles last season. ... Bobeck directed Navarro to a 42-5 record and four playoff appearances in four years, winning the NJCAA title in 2010. ... UCO ranks fourth in Division II history with 595 victories, but the Bronchos have had one winning season (7-4 in 2008) in the last seven years.
13. Southwest Baptist
Coach: Keith Allen, 6th year (24-31).
2011 record: 6-5.
2011 team averages: 25.5 points and 376.7 yards on offense, 26.1 points and 400.9 yards allowed on defense.
Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense
Returning key players: QB Dan Connors, WR Derwyn Lauderdale, LB Andrew Hicks, LB Zach Moore
Bearcat notes: SBU is playing an MIAA football schedule for the first time since 2007. After a 4-5 league mark 2001, SBU was 7-46 in league play from 2002-07. Bearcats went 24-20 during four seasons as an independent. ... QB Dan Connors passed for 2,179 yards and 14 TDs and was the No. 2 rusher with 399 yards and five TDs. ... WR Derwyn Lauderdale caught 45 passes for 503 yards and one score. ... LBs Zach Moore and Andrew Hicks recorded 96 and 58 tackles, respectively.
14. Truman State
Coach: Greg Nesbitt, 3rd year (8-14).
2011 record: 4-7, 2-7 MIAA (tie 8th).
2011 team averages: 23.0 points and 346.5 yards on offense, 32.5 points and 444.6 yards allowed on defense.
Returning starters: 5 offense, 10 defense, 3 specialists.
Returning all-MIAA: DB Richie Schumacher, P Eric Phillips, OL Blake Holland, DL Patrick Blackwell, LB Wade Pelc, K Derek Koon, WR Dallas Grier, DB Richie Schumacher
Bulldog notes: DB Richie Schumacher’s 130 tackles ranked third in D-II and fifth in school history. He had 114 total tackles in the previous two seasons combined. ... DB Michael Elliott, who earned first team all-MIAA and honorable mention All-America honors in 2010, returns after missing last season as a medical redshirt. ... LB Ja’Cobe Britt, a senior from Joplin, has 57 tackles in 27 career games for the Bulldogs. ... Eric Phillips ranked seventh nationally in net punting (37.26 yards). ... Truman State is leaving the MIAA and joining the Great Lakes Valley Conference after this school year.
Coach: Mike Jones, 2nd year (1-10).
2011 record: 1-10, 0-9 MIAA (10th).
2011 team averages: 15.6 points and 290.4 yards on offense, 54.1 points and 505.4 yards allowed on defense.
Returning starters: 6 offense, 8 defense.
Returning all-MIAA: OL Justin Campbell, DL Vonques Knoz, KR Fred Fuller.
Blue Tiger notes: RB Deon Brock ran for 509 yards and six TDs. ... Defensive veterans include FS Herman Hopson (75 tackles, two interceptions), LB Kendrick Causey 70 tackles, three TFL) and LB Johnny Beautelus (47 tackles, five TFL). ... Players lost include QB Robert Redmond (1,278 yards, six TDs) and DL Vonques Knox (14 TFL). ... Lincoln’s victory was 35-3 over Avila in the season opener. ... On Sept. 14, 2013, Lincoln will play Grambling State in the Kansas City Classic at Arrowhead Stadium.