Tabor College was picked by the coaches and the media to finish first for the 2017 season.

WICHITA — The Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference held its annual football media day Thursday in Wichita at the Hotel in Old Town. Members of the media, as well as, head coaches from each team voted in the preseason polls, with Bethany College being chosen to finish eighth in each, while McPherson College was picked to finish ninth.

Tabor College was picked by the coaches and the media to finish first for the 2017 season. The coaches picked Sterling College to finish second followed by Kansas Wesleyan, Saint Mary, Ottawa, Bethel, and Friends. Southwestern College was voted to finish last in each poll, just behind McPherson.

The media's poll was slightly different in the No. 2 through No. 7 spots, with Kansas Wesleyan picked to finish second followed by Sterling, Saint Mary, Ottawa, Friends and Bethel. Twenty-two members of the media from throughout Kansas were present and voted in the preseason poll.

As always, this time of year brings great optimism for all teams. For McPherson fans the hope is the third year is the charm for the Bulldogs under coach Paul Mierkiewicz, who takes a 1-20 record into his third season at the helm. Mac will return 50 players from last season, 35 of them letter winners. Nine starters return on the offensive side of the ball while seven return on defense. With 45 to 50 players coming in from the recruiting process, Mierkiewicz expects to be right at 100 players when the team reports next week.

One player notably absent when the team reports will be Braden Bush, who passed away over the summer from complications of asthma. Before looking ahead to the 2017 season, Mierkiewicz spent several minutes talking about Bush, how he affected him as a coach, what he meant to the McPherson program and how he will miss having him there once he graduates to transition from being a player to a friend, as many of his former athletes are today.

"It's been a tough summer for our football program," noted Mierkiewicz. "It really forces you to look at what you're doing, how you're doing things and why. Outside of being a great football player Braden was an unbelievable leader, teammate, great kid. We're going to report next Thursday and for the first time as a family we're going to have a team meeting and he's not going to be with us and that is going to be a difficult thing to go through."

Mierkiewicz continued talking about the relationships that are created when coaching and the significance of wins and losses as compared to helping good young men become great young men. He then turned his attention to how excited he was about the upcoming season and the great group of players who will be on the field for the Bulldogs.

"When you look at us offensively I think we go as our quarterback goes and Ed Crouch will be back," Mierkiewicz said. "Tyrone Campbell will be back, senior tailback. He had a great season and we're really excited about the young running backs we brought in as well. I think Tyrone got tired as the year went on as we asked him in the run game and the passing game to carry a lot of the load and he did a great job of it."

According to Mierkiewicz, Mac returns all of their starters on the offensive line plus one. Defensively he felt good with the seven starters the Bulldogs have returning as well.

"Chandler Tisby at nose guard played all 11 games for us a a true-freshman," Mierkiewicz stated. "Joey Hale and Dom (Dominic) DeLuca, those guys are very solid players and we're looking for them to have a solid year as well. As you go through some of things we've gone through on the field, it prepares you for some of the things off the field and I really feel strongly about our family and the way that we go about doing things. Now is just the time for us to figure out how to go out and win games."

McPherson opens the 2017 season against Texas Wesleyan University at home. Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m. at McPherson Stadium on Sept. 2. After a bye week, McPherson will open KCAC play against cross-county rival Bethany with a 7 p.m. kickoff at Anderson Stadium in Lindsborg.

The Swedes and coach Paul Hubbard are equally optimistic as they enter the 2017 campaign. Hubbard enters his third season at Bethany sporting a 4-18 record in his first two seasons, including going 1-10 overall and 1-8 in the KCAC in 2016. Their lone win came in the final Saturday of the season against McPherson as they left McPherson Stadium with the 18-15 upset victory.

Bethany returns 50 lettering-players from last season including nine on offense and eight on defense. Three of the Swedes four quarterbacks from 2016 will return and battle for the starting spot this year. Hubbard will also return five starters on the offensive line but on the defensive side of the ball it will be more of a rebuilding year with just one lineman, two linebackers and three defensive backs as the foundation to build around. But more than players and schemes, Hubbard talked about the intangibles that will factor into his team's success or failure.

"I'm really excited about this season, the season is really promising for me," Hubbard said. "The number one reason is the players I have on my roster and the coaches I have on my current roster are finally learning what loyalty and commitment is. And I talk about that because ultimately speaking if you want to talk about a true, successful program, one that's going to last through the decades, you got to have that loyalty, you got to have that commitment to see it through. If you're not willing to deal with the adversity, if you're not willing to go with the losses and continue to push forward and get the wins your team is always going to be in the same boat."

The Swedes boat sails at home to begin the season, as they host Briar Cliff University of Sioux City, Iowa on Sept. 2 at 3 p.m. at Anderson Stadium in Lindsborg. This game, like McPherson's opener, is part of the annual KCAC/GPAC (Great Plains Athletic Conference) Challenge before both head into conference play against each other two weeks later.

Contact Matt Cole by email at mcole@mcphersonsentinel.com and follow him on Twitter @MacSentinel.