KCAC media day took place in Wichita on Thursday, with all 10 head coaches across the KCAC in attendance.
WICHITA — McPherson College football head coach Paul Mierkiewicz stepped up to the podium at KCAC football media day, and boldly predicted his team would not finish 0-10 like the year before.
That’s because the Bulldogs have 11 games scheduled this year, although Mierkiewicz definitely feels his team has come a long way since last season.
“I don’t know what the wins and loses are going to come down to this year, but you’re going to see McPherson College have a football team that will compete with hard nose and physical football.” Mierkiewicz said. “I’m proud of the direction we took in the spring, and our guys know now how we want them to practice and prepare.”
Mierkiewicz is heading into his second season in McPherson, after an 0-10 season that saw 30 point loses weekly. The Bulldogs were one of the youngest teams in the KCAC last season and are still relatively young.
It’s impossible to cast all the blame onto one specific side of the ball. The Bulldogs averaged 7.1 points per game, while giving up over 45 per game. The Bulldogs started true freshman Chris Linnin at quarterback for the latter part of the schedule, who also doubled as a pretty good punter. Mierkiewicz says however, that the quarterback job is still wide open.
“We’ve got a couple young quarterbacks that we’ve brought in,” Mierkiewicz said. “RJ Garza also returns as a freshman. We’ll go into camp, and it’ll be a wide open event like it always is. We’ll go with the guy who puts us in the best position to be successful.”
Although the offense failed to score more than seven points in 80 percent of last years games, it was the defense that may have been the bigger weakness; more specifically the rush defense.
The Bulldogs rush defense gave up 293.8 yards per game, including 517 in the final game of the season to Bethany. Look for senior Michael Rabara to lead the defense from either the secondary or a linebacker position.
“We list him as a defensive back, but he rolls into the box more as a linebacker.” Mierkiewicz said. “He has the ability to play man-to-man defense with slot receivers; he’s a special football player.”
The Bulldogs open up with a winnable road game on September 3, against Nebraska Wesleyan.
Bethany head coach Paul Hubbard is in a similar position to Mierkiewicz, as he begins his second year leading the Swedes. Hubbard expressed both optimism and realism during his time at the podium, but believes Bethany can make the next step coming off a 3-8 season.
“Nobody wants to go 3-8 overall,” Hubbard said. “There wasn’t a lot of light at the end of the tunnel, but the players and coaches handled it well and we’ll be better for it.”
Perhaps the biggest question mark for Bethany is who will start under center on Sep 3, in their first game of the season. Dual threat quarterbacks Virgil Bridges and Bo Savage are both gone after graduation, which leads the quarterback position wide open. Hubbard said the Swedes do not have a starting quarterback at this point, but has narrowed it down to a few athletes.
Kyle After would be the safe pick, as the junior has more experience in the program than any other quarterback on the roster. But keep an eye out for Isiah Salazar, who enters his sophomore season with a good chance of nabbing the job.
“We have two guys out of spring that have really separated themselves,” Hubbard said regarding the quarterback situation. “I hope that one of those two guys does it, but we have some younger guys who can compete.”
Hubbard is very excited about other skill positions, like the depth at running back and wide receiver. Peter Garza and Anthony Jackson are two receivers to keep an eye out for, while running backs Ricky Smith and Justin Dankert are both primed for stellar junior seasons.
Hubbard did say Bethany was going to stick with the same offensive scheme as last year, despite losing a lot of experience on the offensive line.
“It all starts with the offensive line,” Hubbard said. “Any time you graduate that many guys, there are going to be question marks.”
If the Swedes are to be competitive in the conference this year, the defense will play a major role. Bethany returns six starters on defense, while Hubbard raved about sophomore defensive back Javan Moore who missed over half the season with an injury. Other players on defense to watch out for is senior linebacker Bobby O’Neill and sophomore defensive back Rhett Mizer.
Bethany is going to have to find ways to win on the road, as seven road games loom on the schedule in 2016.
“It doesn’t matter where we play, we have to make it a game we can control,” Hubbard said. “I wouldn’t say one game is bigger than another, the guys are going to be jacked up and ready to go. No matter what our record is, I know we’re going to go out and fight every down.”
McPherson finished in last place in both the coaches and media polls, while Bethany was picked eighth by the media, and tied for seventh in the coaches poll. Tabor was picked to win the KCAC for the second consecutive year by both the media and the coaches, while Kansas Wesleyan and Ottawa also received first place votes.
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