State Colleges

Football 2015: A look at the MIAA

Pittsburg State is picked to finish second in the MIAA in 2015.
Pittsburg State is picked to finish second in the MIAA in 2015. Courtesy Pittsburg State

Tony Adame looks at Kansas teams in the MIAA.

Predicted order of finish

1. Northwest Missouri

2. Pittsburg State

3. Central Oklahoma

4. Emporia State

5. Washburn

6. Missouri Western

7. Central Missouri

8. Fort Hays State

9. Nebraska-Kearney

10. Missouri Southern

11. Lindenwood

12. Northeastern State

Pittsburg State

Coach: Tim Beck, sixth season, 47-14

2014: 11-2, 10-1

Outlook: After missing the NCAA Division II playoffs the previous two seasons, the Gorillas came back in a big way last season. Pittsburg State, behind Harlon Hill finalist and senior quarterback Anthony Abenoja, won a share of the MIAA title and advanced to the second round, where it lost to eventual national runner-up Minnesota State-Mankato in overtime.

Beck has enough talent back to contend for the MIAA crown once again, including returning All-Americans on both sides of the ball. On offense, senior wide receiver Marquise Cushon was one of the best players in the nation last season — he led the MIAA with 70 catches for 1,301 receiving yards and was second in the league with 2,127 receiving yards. Junior defensive end Heath Wilson (6-3, 255) led the Gorillas with six sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 2014.

Schedule: Thursday, at Northeastern St., 6 p.m.; Sept. 12, Lindenwood, 7 p.m.; Sept. 19, Washburn, 7 p.m.; Sept. 26, at Fort Hays St., 7 p.m.; Oct. 3, Missouri Western, 2 p.m.; Oct. 10, at Emporia St., 2 p.m.; Oct. 17, Northwest Missouri, 2:30 p.m.; Oct. 24, at Neb.-Kearney, 1 p.m.; Oct. 31, Missouri Southern, 2 p.m.; Nov. 7, at Central Missouri, 2:30 p.m.; Nov. 14, Central Oklahoma, 2 p.m.

Emporia State

Coach: Garin Higgins, ninth season, 42-47

2014: 4-7, 4-7

Outlook: After back-to-back MIAA runner-up finishes in 2012 and 2013, the Hornets took a big step back in 2014 by finishing seventh despite being ranked in the Top 25 in the preseason. The biggest reason for that dropoff was the loss of quarterback Brent Wilson after just four games. His season ended with a broken collarbone for the second year in a row.

Wilson, when healthy, is one of the nation’s elite QBs. A second-team All-MIAA pick as a sophomore, Wilson set the school record for single-season touchdown passes (33) in 2013, along with the MIAA single-game records for passing yardage (522), total offense (571) and touchdown passes (seven) in a win over Central Oklahoma. With two starters back on the offensive line in two-time All-MIAA pick Jarrett Statsny and Eric Pruitt, the onus up front will be trying to get Wilson to complete a full season.

Schedule: Sept. 3, at Missouri Southern, 7 p.m.; Sept. 10, Central Missouri, 7 p.m.; Sept. 19, at Central Oklahoma, 2 p.m.; Sept. 26, Northeastern State, 2 p.m.; Oct. 3, at Lindenwood, 2:30 p.m.; Oct. 10, Pittsburg State, 2 p.m.; Oct. 17, at Fort Hays State, 2 p.m.; Oct. 24, Missouri Western, 2 p.m.; Oct. 31, Washburn, 2 p.m.; Nov. 7, at Northwest Missouri, 1 p.m.; Nov. 14, Neb.-Kearney, 2 p.m.

Washburn

Coach: Craig Schurig, 14th season, 91-58

2014: 4-7, 4-7

Outlook: Don’t expect Washburn to fall in line with where being picked to finish toward the bottom of the MIAA — or last season’s 4-7 record, which was the first losing season for the Ichabods since 2003. The reason for the turnaround? Washburn has seven starters back on both sides of the ball and some high-profile transfers.

On offense, Washburn brings back All-MIAA offensive lineman Michael Miller and two other starters. The skill positions will be dictated by transfers — North Dakota State quarterback Derek McGinnis takes over for Carroll product Zeke Palmer, who unexpectedly transferred in the spring. Former Kansas running back Brandon Bourbon enters camp as the starter after an injury-plagued career with the Jayhawks and one season of eligibility left. On defense, all four members of the secondary return, as well as honorable mention All-MIAA lineman Trey Parker.

Schedule: Thursday, at Lindenwood, 7 p.m.; Sept. 10, Neb.-Kearney, 6 p.m.; Sept. 19, at Pittsburg State, 2 p.m.; Sept. 26, Missouri Southern, 1 p.m.; Oct. 3, at Fort Hays State, 7 p.m.; Oct. 10, Central Missouri, 2:30 p.m.; Oct. 17, at Missouri Western, 2 p.m.; Oct. 24, Central Oklahoma, 2 p.m.; Oct. 31, at Emporia State, 2 p.m.; Nov. 7, at Northeastern State, 1 p.m.; Nov. 14, Northwest Missouri, 1 p.m.

Fort Hays State

Coach: Chris Brown, fifth season, 22-22

2014: 7-4, 7-4

Outlook: The Tigers have increased their win total in each season under former Washburn defensive coordinator Brown, and last year’s 7-4 mark was the school’s best record since 1996. What’s more remarkable is that Fort Hays State played its toughest schedule under Brown in 2014, with all 11 games against MIAA foes — the same as this season’s schedule.

Fort Hays State has talent back on both sides of the ball, but its biggest strength comes with the return of four offensive linemen who started all 11 games last year — second-team All-MIAA pick Matt Erbert, Luke Edney, Colby Hamel and Mason Dickey. Those four will be counted on to protect dual-threat quarterback Treveon Albert, who averaged 182.1 yards of offense per game last season. On defense, all three linebackers return, led by Justin McPhail, who led the Tigers with 108 tackles, Brock Long (93 tackles) and Alex Schmidtberger (69 tackles, three interceptions).

Schedule: Thursday, at Central Oklahoma, 7 p.m.; Sept. 10, Northeastern State, 7 p.m.; Sept. 19, at Lindenwood, 6 p.m.; Sept. 26, Pittsburg State, 7 p.m.; Oct. 3, Washburn, 7 p.m.; Oct. 10, at Missouri Western, 1 p.m.; Oct. 17, Emporia State, 2 p.m.; Oct. 24, at Northwest Missouri, 2 p.m.; Oct. 31, Neb.-Kearney, 2:30 p.m.; Nov. 7, at Missouri Southern, 3 p.m.; Nov. 14, Central Missouri, 2 p.m.

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