The Bulldogs will play their first game without Braden Bush but he will be honored and remembered.

The Paul Mierkiewicz era at McPherson College enters year number three with high hopes of not just competing this year but winning some football games. As the Bulldogs football team prepares to open its season Saturday, with collective heavy hearts from the loss of senior defensive back Braden Bush, hopes are otherwise high for a break out season.

On the offensive side of the ball Mac returns nine starters from a year ago, including All-Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference preseason team running back Tyrone Campbell, who rushed for 943 yards and four touchdowns last season. Also returning is standout quarterback Ed Crouch, a true double threat, who ranked second in the KCAC in total offense in 2016 with 277 yards per game, after throwing for 2,198 yards and 20 touchdowns in the air and adding 849 yards and eight scores on the ground.

Four of Crouch's top receiving targets are back including tight end Brandt Wolters, who caught a team-high 40 passes for 531 yards and four touchdowns last season. Jackson Goodmiller, Eman McNeal and Campbell also combined for 70 catches for 850 yards, as they all return for another season in red and white.

Upfront the Bulldogs return all five starting lineman, anchored by David Deramee at center and All-KCAC honorable mention pick Jaelon Barnes at right guard.

"We return quite a bit on an offense that played better last year than the first year,"said Mierkiewicz. "We need to take the next step from being good to great and we need more consistency when this group is on the field."

Defensively the Bulldogs return six starters and will need to account for the loss of five of their top six tacklers from last season, including the top four. In the trenches Chandler Tisby will be joined by his older brother Charles Tisby to bring a pair of 300 pounders to the defensive line. Joey Hale and Mason Baugh will also be key components upfront.

Dominic DeLuca is the lone returning starter at linebacker and is the top returning tackler, accounting for 54, including 30 solo and had an interception, playing in nine games. The loss of Travis Stinson and Dalton Whitfield, who each surpassed 100 tackles last year, will be felt early.

In the defensive backfield Mac must replace not only Bush but Michael Rabara and Kavodrick McIntyre as well. The three accounted for seven of the team's 12 interceptions. Returning and having an immediate impact will be Ashton Serpas, who comes back from a season-ending injury in week four last year. He'll be joined by Isaac Murphy, Cole Calkins and Ben Padilla.

A lot of productivity from last year is missing from our defense," Mierkiewicz commented. "We are more athletic in some areas and are hoping that will make up for the inexperience. We want our guys excited about making plays and not worried about making mistakes. You can't play defense second-guessing. You read, react and make plays."

On special teams Goodmiller returns as the return man, R.J. Garza is back to punt and incoming freshman Jack Reid will be counted on as the place kicker.

McPherson opens their season Saturday at home against Texas Wesleyan University. Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m. at McPherson Stadium. Bulldogs sports will not be heard on KBBE radio this year, as Mac instead will stream all their games online at www.macbulldogs.com, with McPherson Sentinel Sports Editor Matt Cole returning for his second season as the play-by-play voice for the Bulldogs.

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