Tony Adame looks at the teams in the KCAC, in his predicted order of finish.
Coach: Kent Kessinger, 10th season, 58-38
2012: 10-1, 8-1 KCAC
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Outlook: The Braves have been the dominant team in the KCAC over the last five seasons, and the only team in the league that has shown the ability to compete on the national level. With that in mind, Kessinger has pushed the envelope with No. 18 Ottawa’s scheduling, opening the season with back-to-back games against No. 15 Baker and No. 3 Missouri Valley. The Braves return six starters on offense, led by one of the best receivers in the nation in senior Jon Hilliger, a preseason All-American. Hillger led the KCAC in receptions (93) and receiving yards (1,115) and receiving touchdowns (14) last season. The Braves have another All-KCAC returner on the offensive line with 6-2, 320-pound junior Austin Britt.
Senior defensive back Weston Coomes was third on the team in tackles last season with 64 and six pass break-ups, and is one of three returning starters on defense. Special teams should be a strength for Ottawa, with returner Dexter Hayes and kicker Jeff Stamp both preseason All-KCAC selections. Hayes led the Braves in kick returns with 437 yards on 19 returns in 2012.
|Sept. 7||at Baker||6 p.m.|
|Sept. 14||Missouri Valley||6 p.m.|
|Sept. 21||at Bethany||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 28||Bethel||6 p.m.|
|Oct. 5||at McPherson||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 12||Saint Mary||6 p.m.|
|Oct. 19||at Sterling||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 26||Southwestern||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 2||Kansas Wesleyan||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 9||at Friends||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 16||Tabor||1:30 p.m.|
Coach: Mike Gardner, fourth season, 15-15
2012: 8-2, 7-1
Outlook: Gardner led the Bluejays to a surprising 8-2 mark and just shy of the NAIA playoffs last season. Tabor is ranked No. 16 in the NAIA preseason poll and was picked to win the KCAC by both the coaches and the media. Quarterback Simon McKee, a Halstead product, is the All-KCAC preseason pick at his position after putting up 1,859 yards of total offense (955 rushing, 904 passing) in 2012. McKee also ran for 13 touchdowns and threw for eight more. Senior running back James Monroe was third in the KCAC in rushing last season with 1,074 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Senior linebacker Nik France is the top returner on defense for the Bluejays coming off an All-KCAC season in 2012. Defensive lineman Terach Antoine is only 5-11 and 195 pounds, but was second in the KCAC last season with 8.5 sacks. Tabor gets a marquee matchup in the second game and home opener against No. 10 MidAmerica Nazarene as part of the newly-minted KCAC-HAAC series. If things go right for Tabor, a possible showdown for the KCAC title awaits on Nov. 16 in their regular-season finale at Ottawa.
|Sept. 7||at Nebraska Wesleyan||1 p.m.|
|Sept. 14||MidAmerica Nazarene||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 21||Saint Mary||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 28||at Sterling||6 p.m.|
|Oct. 5||Southwestern||2 p.m.|
|Oct. 12||Kansas Wesleyan||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 19||at Friends||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 26||at McPherson||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 2||Bethany||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 9||Bethel||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 16||at Ottawa||1:30 p.m.|
Coach: Monty Lewis, 10th season, 64-28
2012: 6-5, 5-4
Outlook: The KCAC is a vastly different league than when Friends last won a league title, in 2008, thanks to revamped rules and the addition of a game to the schedules of the 10 teams. The Falcons have been a little behind the curve but this might be the year they catch up, with eight starters back on offense and eight starters back on defense. The biggest question will be at quarterback, where Andover product Aaron Hansen and James Bauer will compete for the starting spot after Derek Racette, the starter on and off for the last two years, moved to safety in the offseason.
Senior linebacker Marcus Carter (6-2, 245 pounds) led the KCAC with 149 tackles last season and Lewis already thinks he’s one of the greatest linebackers in the program’s history. The Dallas Cowboys have already been in twice to scout Carter. The Falcons grabbed nine spots on the All-KCAC preseason team, including four on defense: Carter, LB Casey Baliel, DL Josh Hicks and DB Cody Lenhart.
|Sept. 7||Doane||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 14||Benedictine||6 p.m.|
|Sept. 21||at Sterling||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 28||Southwestern||7 p.m.|
|Oct. 5||at Kansas Wesleyan||7 p.m.|
|Oct. 12||McPherson||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 19||Tabor||3 p.m.|
|Oct. 26||at Bethany||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 2||at Bethel||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 9||Ottawa||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 16||at Saint Mary||1:30 p.m.|
Coach: Manny Matsakis, first season
2012: 4-7, 2-7
Outlook: Bethany made the most talked-about move of the offseason when it replaced Jamie Cruce with former Texas State and Emporia State coach Manny Matsakis, who spent the last three years as the coach at Enka (N.C.) High. Matsakis ran afoul of the NCAA after his one season at Texas State in 2003 when he was hit with 12 NCAA violations — almost all in regards to excess practice time — then was fired as a result and given a show-cause notice from the NCAA. Matsakis runs a unique, uptempo offense called the Triple Shoot and he’ll have All-KCAC running back Tevis Linnebur (1,175 rushing yards, eight touchdowns) back to help him implement it.
The Swedes’ defense wil be led by junior linebacker Steven Williams (6-1, 220 pounds), who had 70 tackles last season and was an honorable mention All-KCAC pick. Senior defensive lineman Rocky Castro had four sacks last season and also returns. Bethany should be the favorite in six of its first seven games, excluding a home game against defending KCAC champion Ottawa on Sept. 21. The Swedes have a new defensive coordinator in Jarrod Wirt, who was a part of four national championships in nine seasons as an assistant at Carroll College.
|Sept. 7||at SW Assemblies of God||Noon|
|Sept. 14||Avila||4 p.m.|
|Sept. 21||Ottawa||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 28||at Saint Mary||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 5||Sterling||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 12||at Southwestern||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 19||Kansas Wesleyan||6 p.m.|
|Oct. 26||Friends||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 2||at Tabor||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 9||McPherson||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 16||at Bethel||1:30 p.m.|
5. Saint Mary
Coach: Lance Hinson, ninth season, 33-46
2012: 6-5, 6-3
Outlook: It’s going to be difficult to replace quarterback Mike Keese, last season’s KCAC offensive player of the year and a three-year starter, but whoever gets the job will have one of the best receivers in the nation to throw to in All-KCAC selection Jerrell Young (971 yards, nine touchdowns). According to Saint Mary coach Lance Hinson, Young has the best hands of any player he’s coached. Senior WR Ronnie Cooper, a second-team All-KCAC pick, also returns, along with second-team RB Will Ryan, a junior. Both Young and Cooper, along with offensive lineman Alan Gudka, were all preseason All-KCAC selections.
Junior defensive back Eli Amadaor, second-team All-KCAC last season, leads the defense. There are two defensive seniors, lineman Sisco Garcia and DB Ukpono Udi. Saint Mary enters the season on a four-game winning streak and has finished in the top three in the KCAC the last two seasons — a feat made even more impressive considering the Spires dropped their first four games in 2012.
|Sept. 7||at Oklahoma Baptist||2 p.m.|
|Sept. 14||Baker||1:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 21||at Tabor||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 28||at Bethany||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 5||at Bethel||7 p.m.|
|Oct. 12||at Ottawa||6 p.m.|
|Oct. 19||McPherson||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 26||Sterling||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 2||at Southwestern||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 9||at Kansas Wesleyan||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 16||Friends||1:30 p.m.|
Coach: Pete Sterbick, second season, 4-5
2012: 4-5, 4-4
Outlook: Sterbick led the Bulldogs to a 4-4 record in the KCAC last season and brings back a considerable amount of returning starters, led on offense by 6-4, 240-pound senior tight end Paul Rotering, an All-KCAC pick last season who was second on the team with 27 catches for 448 yards and six touchdowns.
Senior defensive lineman Chris Ellison is a load in the middle and was a second-team All-KCAC selection last year and a preseason pick this season. Ellison was third on the Bulldogs in tackles (53) last season and led the team in tackles for loss (12) and sacks (6). McPherson has a favorable schedule to open, with three straight night home games against Bacone, Graceland and Bethel ... but that’s followed by games at Kansas Wesleyan, hosting No. 18 Ottawa and at Friends.
|Aug. 31||Bacone (Okla.)||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 14||Graceland (Iowa)||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 21||Bethel||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 28||at Kansas Wesleyan||6 p.m.|
|Oct. 5||Ottawa||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 12||at Friends||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 19||at Saint Mary||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 26||Tabor||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 2||Sterling||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 9||at Bethany||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 16||at Southwestern||1:30 p.m.|
7. Kansas Wesleyan
Coach: Dave Dallas, 17th season, 90-72
2012: 6-5, 6-3
Outlook: Senior Trey Dallas, son of the coach, returns at quarterback and needs less than 1,300 yards to become KWU’s career total offense leader and less than 600 yards and 11 completions to become the career passing leader. Trey, a two-time honorable mention All-KCAC pick, has his best receiver back in senior Zach McClain, a first-team All-KCAC pick last year. McClain is already the school’s career leader in receiving yardage and needs eight catches and five touchdowns to become No. 1 in those categories. On the offensive line, senior Sean Grove was All-KCAC last season and leads a group of five returners with starting experience. First-year offensive coordinator Bob Saunders is the son of former Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders.
Senior linebacker Brady Harwell (6-2, 240 pounds) led the Coyotes with 125 tackles last season on the way to All-KCAC honors, but only had five tackles for loss and no sacks. Dallas has built his team largely around out-of-state recruits — there are more players from Texas (37) and California (23) than Kansas (22).
|Sept. 7||at Hastings||6 p.m.|
|Sept. 14||Evangel||6 p.m.|
|Sept. 21||at Southwestern||6 p.m.|
|Sept. 28||McPherson||6 p.m.|
|Oct. 5||Friends||7 p.m.|
|Oct. 12||at Tabor||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 19||at Bethany||6 p.m.|
|Oct. 26||Bethel||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 2||at Ottawa||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 9||Saint Mary||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 16||Sterling||1:30 p.m.|
Coach: Ken Crandall, seventh season, 19-43
2012: 4-7, 3-6
Outlook: Defensive back/returner Lorenzo Fouts is an All-America candidate and the school’s greatest kick returner. Fouts already holds school records for single-season (764) and career (1,570) kick-return yardage. The Moundbuilders have a dominant player on the defensive front in 6-3, 270-pound Winfield native Garrett Mangrum, a junior defensive lineman. Mangrum, a second team All-KCAC pick last season, registered 43 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and tied for the team lead with three sacks last season. In all, seven starters return on defense.
Crandall says he’s adding offensive coordinator duties and could start Brady May or his son, sophomore Tyler Crandall, at quarterback. Crandall’s best season came in 2011, when the Moundbuilders went 5-6, but he’s never had a winning record and Southwestern hasn’t gone .500 since posting a 5-5 mark in 2004.
|Aug. 31||at Oklahoma Baptist||1:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 14||Peru State||6 p.m.|
|Sept. 21||Kansas Wesleyan||6 p.m.|
|Sept. 28||at Friends||7 p.m.|
|Oct. 5||at Tabor||2 p.m.|
|Oct. 12||Bethany||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 19||Bethel||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 26||at Ottawa||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 2||Saint Mary||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 9||at Sterling||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 16||McPherson||1:30 p.m.|
Coach: Andy Lambert, 10th season, 79-85
2012: 3-7, 3-6
Outlook: The Warriors have been under .500 the last two seasons, going 1-11 in 2011 and 3-7 last season. They have a chance to turn things around with nine starters back on offense, led by RB-WR Denton Hudspeth, a 5-10, 175-pound sophomore who led Sterling with 1,152 yards of total offense (911 rushing, 241 receiving) last season on the way to second team All-KCAC honors. Just as important is the offensive line, which returns all five starters, and all five are seniors: Gabe Dierksen, Kyle Finder, T. Mike Walker, Kyle Croak and Zach Beims. QB John Cardona is back after starting seven games before sustaining a season-ending injury against Ottawa. Cardona threw for 902 yards and rushed for 412 yards.
Senior linebackers James Morley and Kris Lehman were both All-KCAC honorable mention last season and are part of a group of four returning starters on the defensive side of the ball. Junior defensive back Chris Williams and sophomore defenisve lineman Adam Guthmiller are the other two returning starters. One intriguing addition to the defense is senior cornerback Cedrique Smith, the 2012 NAIA 110-meter hurdles champion.
|Sept. 7||at Panhandle State||6 p.m.|
|Sept. 14||Culver-Stockton||1 p.m.|
|Sept. 21||Friends||6 p.m.|
|Sept. 28||Tabor||6 p.m.|
|Oct. 5||at Bethany||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 12||at Bethel||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 19||Ottawa||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 26||at Saint Mary||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 2||at McPherson||1:30 p.m|
|Nov. 9||Southwestern||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 16||at Kansas Wesleyan||1:30 p.m.|
Coach: Marty Mathis, first season
2012: 0-10, 0-9
Outlook: Mathis takes over a daunting rebuilding task — the Threshers have been as bad as any team in the NAIA lately. Bethel hasn’t had a winnning season since going 6-4 in 2008 and the Threshers are 5-36 over the last four seasons, including winless 2010 and 2012 seasons. This is Mathis’ first head-coaching job and he was an assistant at NAIA national champion Marian last year and played linebacker at Minnesota. His father, Michael, was an NBA referee and his brother, Monty, is an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks. Junior DJ Bronson will start at quarterback in the Threshers’ new spread offense, and will have three returning starters on the offensive line in Edward Davila, Seth Tarrant and Ethan Knight.
Bethel has seven starters back on defense, led by senior linebacker Garrett Garcia, a two-time honorable mention All-KCAC selection at both defensive end and linebacker. DB Shakee Bellamy, a Bowling Green transfer, should also figure heavy into the Threshers’ return game. Bethel did not have anyone on the All-KCAC preseason team.
|Aug. 31||Haskell||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 14||Central Methodist||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 21||at McPherson||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 28||at Ottawa||6 p.m.|
|Oct. 5||Saint Mary||7 p.m.|
|Oct. 12||Sterling||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 19||at Southwestern||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 26||at Kansas Wesleyan||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 2||Friends||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 9||at Tabor||1:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 16||Bethany||1:30 p.m.|