Tony Adame looks at Kansas teams in the MIAA.
Predicted order of finish
1. Northwest Missouri
2. Emporia State
3. Missouri Western
4. Pittsburg State
6. Central Missouri
7. Missouri Southern
10. Fort Hays State
11. Central Oklahoma
12. Northeastern State
No. 9 Pittsburg State
Coach: Tim Beck, fifth season, 36-12
2013: 10-2, 7-2
Outlook: After two seasons as Pittsburg State’s starting quarterback, it’s hard to characterize Anthony Abenoja’s career as more than a disappointment. Abenoja was handed the keys to a defending national championship team with all of its key components back in 2012 (and most of them, again, in 2013) and has failed to lead the Gorillas back to the NCAA playoffs in the two seasons since.
Abenoja’s record isn’t bad — he’s 17-5 as a starter — but he’s been at his worst in the Gorillas’ biggest games. In back-to-back losses to Northwest Missouri, he’s thrown two interceptions each time and been sacked a total of nine times. In both of Pittsburg State’s losses last season, he failed to throw for more than 200 yards.
The Gorillas’ game against Northwest Missouri moves out of Arrowhead Stadium for the first time in a decade, with Pittsburg State traveling to Maryville, Mo., to face the defending NCAA Division II national champion Oct. 18.
Schedule: Sept. 6, Northeastern St., 7 p.m.; Sept. 11, at Lindenwood, 6 p.m.; Sept. 20, at Washburn, 2 p.m.; Sept. 27, Fort Hays St., 2 p.m.; Oct. 4, at Missouri Western, 6 p.m.; Oct. 11, Emporia St., 2 p.m.; Oct. 18, at Northwest Missouri, 2 p.m.; Oct. 25, Neb.-Kearney, 2 p.m.; Nov. 1, at Missouri Southern, 7 p.m.; Nov. 8, Central Missouri, 2 p.m.; Nov. 15, at Central Oklahoma, 1 p.m.
No. 22 Emporia State
Coach: Garin Higgins, eighth season, 38-40
2013: 9-2, 9-1 MIAA, lost in first round of NCAA Division II playoffs
Outlook: This is Higgins’ most experienced and proven team entering a season, and they’re coming off their first NCAA playoff appearance since 2003.
The returners are led by second-team All-MIAA quarterback Brent Wilson. Wilson has the benefit of having weapons all around him, starting with receiver Austin Willis, a Topeka native who put up huge numbers last season. Willis had 45 catches for 911 yards and 10 touchdowns last season while missing two games because of injury.
Linebacker DeShawn Dinwiddie, a Hutchinson High product, was second on the team last season with 70 tackles and is one of seven starters back on defense although both of the Hornets’ All-MIAA picks on that side of the ball — linebacker Jordan Sanders and safety Chris Poston — were both lost to graduation.
The Hornets’ first two games — Sept. 4 against Central Missouri and Sept. 11 at Central Missouri — are on Thursdays.
Schedule: Sept. 4, Missouri Southern, 7 p.m.; Sept. 11, at Central Missouri, 7 p.m.; Sept. 20, Central Oklahoma, 2 p.m.; Sept. 27, at Northeastern St., 6 p.m.; Oct. 4, Lindenwood, 2 p.m.; Oct. 11, at Pittsburg St., 2 p.m.; Oct. 18, Fort Hays St., 2 p.m.; Oct. 25, at Missouri Western, 2 p.m.; Nov. 1, at Washburn, 1 p.m.; Nov. 8, Northwest Missouri, 2 p.m.; Nov. 15, at Neb.-Kearney, 1 p.m.
Fort Hays State
Coach: Chris Brown, fourth season, 15-18
2013: 6-5, 4-5
Outlook: The Tigers put the kibosh on any postseason hopes last season by opening 0-4, but somehow bounced back and won six of their last seven games to give Brown his first winning season since coming to Fort Hays in 2011.
The Tigers have two preseason All-American candidates on the defensive side of the ball in senior cornerback Micheal Jordan (70 tackles, 5 interceptions) and defensive tackle Jesse Trent, a Dodge City native. Junior quarterback Treveon Albert became the first Fort Hays State quarterback to throw for 2,000 yards and run for 500 yards in a season in 2013 — and he only started the final seven games.
In an odd scheduling quirk, Fort Hays State will play all three of the other MIAA schools in Kansas on the road and over the course of one month, starting at Pittsburg State on Sept. 27, at Washburn on Oct. 4 and at Emporia State on Oct. 18.
Schedule: Sept. 4, Central Oklahoma, 7 p.m.; Sept. 13, at Northeastern State, 2 p.m.; Sept. 20, Lindenwood, 7 p.m.; Sept. 27, at Pittsburg St., 2 p.m.; Oct. 4, at Washburn, 1 p.m.; Oct. 11, Missouri Western, 7 p.m.; Oct. 18, at Emporia St., 2 p.m.; Oct. 25, Northwest Missouri, 2 p.m.; Nov. 1, at Neb.-Kearney, TBA; Nov. 8, Missouri Southern, 2 p.m.; Nov. 15, at Central Missouri, 1:30 p.m.
Coach: Craig Schurig, 13th season, 87-51
2013: 8-3, 7-3
Outlook: Washburn will have to rely on its offense early, with an inexperienced defense sure to take some lumps early. The Ichabods return seven starters on offense, including senior quarterback Mitch Buhler, who could get pushed for playing time by Carroll product Zeke Palmer, who spent his freshman season at Butler Community College. Whoever ends up taking the snaps will have four offensive line starters protecting him, led by honorable mention All-MIAA pick Michael Miller.
If Washburn has a strength on defense, it’s in the defensive backfield, with three returning starters in safety Calvin Kenney, cornerback Dwayne Joseph and cornerback Jordan Nelson. The only other returning starter on defense is senior defensive tackle Tyler Ewy.
The Ichabods take Pittsburg State’s spot in a matchup against Northwest Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium, taking on the Bearcats on Nov. 15 in their season finale.
Schedule: Sept. 4, Lindenwood, 6 p.m.; Sept. 11, at Neb.-Kearney, 7 p.m. ; Sept. 20, Pittsburg State, 2 p.m.; Sept. 27, at Missouri Southern, 6:30 p.m.; Oct. 4, Fort Hays St., 1 p.m.; Oct. 11, at Central Missouri, 1:30 p.m.; Oct. 18, Missouri Western, 1 p.m.; Oct. 25, at Central Oklahoma, 1 p.m.; Nov. 1, Emporia St., 1 p.m.; Nov. 8, Northeastern St., 1 p.m.; Nov. 15, Northwest Missouri (at Arrowhead Stadium), 2 p.m.