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VSN Preseason Preview and Top 25 by B. Lynn Fouts

B. Lynn Fouts Selects 2015 NAIA Football Preseason Top 25 Poll (August 20)

Four first-time champions in the last four seasons and the end might not be in sight yet. Several teams are positioned to make title runs that have either never been to the chipper or haven’t won when they arrived. The 2015 season promises to be a wide open affair as nearly a dozen schools have a mixture of talent, coaching and experience to give them more than a puncher’s chance at getting to Daytona. But who builds the chemistry, gets great QB play and performs at a peak level in November and December? Aye, that’s the rub.

1 – Carroll , MT – The Saints were within a few points of derailing SOU’s title run in 2014 and possibly taking the crown back for the first time since 2010. Coach Mike Van Diest has almost everyone but career rushing leader Dustin Rinker back. There should be no holding CC out of the chipper this December as the Frontier Conference looks for a second straight title. QB Mac Roche was second only to Austin Dodge (NAIA’s 2014 POY) in the Frontier.

2 – Morningside, IA – Coach Steve Ryan’s crew had a 21-7 lead midway through the 2nd quarter of their semi-final with Marian last season when the turnovers hit, 3 inside the red-zone and 5 overall. The Mustangs return 16 starters, including QB Ryan Kasdorf. While a September date with D-III power Whitewater is intriguing, Morningside should make the post season for a 12th consecutive year, grab a lot of home field advantage and be a contender into December once again.

3 – Marian, IN – Though Marian had run roughshod through the first three rounds last fall, winning 34-3, 34-6 & 41-21, they also experienced a loss of connection with the football at the most inappropriate time; in the chipper. The Knights had 6 turnovers and although they closed the gap on SOU, they dropped the game 55-31. Coach Mark Henniger’s third edition should be in the hunt for their third trip to the title game in the last four years with QB Hayden Northern leading the charge.

4 – Mid American Nazarene, KS – The Pioneers went out early in last fall’s post season, but only because they drew champion Southern Oregon in the first round, losing 44-26 on the road. Coach Brian Willmer heads into his second year at the helm with an excellent defense and top skill people in RB Javon Taylor and QB Trent Hedlund. The HAAC has improved with Grandview and William Penn moving in, but MANU should be up to the task of repeating.

5 – Grandview, IA – The Vikings were ambushed by Marian’s run last fall, but return preseason All American candidate Derek Fulton at QB. Coach Mike Woodley will need to rebuild some after losing 7 first team all-conference seniors, including A-A WR Brady Roland. The timing of their move to the HAAC might help some, although they head to MANU October 3rd for a night game that will have a huge impact on the post season.

6 – St Xavier, IL – The Cougars may have the top offense east of the Mississippi this fall as they return QB John Rohde, leading rusher Mike Ivlow and wide outs Randall Wells and Stephen Simms. Coach Mike Feminis will need to have the defense step up though as they allowed 28 points and 4.4 yards per rushing attempt last fall. The answers to most of the defensive questions will be answered in week one when ST X hosts #3 Marian in a MSFA crossover game

7 – Southern Oregon, OR – The Raiders do lose POY Austin Dodge but return 13 starters from a squad that has been there and won that. Coach Craig Howard is an Oregon guy, playing at Grant’s Pass and nearby Linfield (D-III power). He’s a great coach, but as we’ve seen lately, the championships have been won by teams with great quarterbacks. Has coach Howard got another one in Ashland waiting for a break out fall?

8 – Georgetown, KY – The Tigers just never seem to go away, although they’ve tried over the past 5 years, (NCAA humor there). They are picked to win their division in the Mid-South in a cake walk and if undefeated in the regular season, (something that is getting more difficult to do in the MSC), will get a chance for home cooking. Coach Bill Cronin enters his 18th season at G’town with a record of 162-40 and two titles. The Tigers are a legitimate threat again.

9 – Northwestern, IA – Coach Kyle Achterhof’s Red Raiders have been dabbling in the postseason three years in a row and last fall almost kicked in the first round door, dropping a 2O.T. game at Mo Val. This year the defense, (number 1 in the NAIA last year) could easily be as strong, but the key will be improved QB play and both players who split time last year return a year older.

10 – Eastern Oregon, OR – Coach Tim Camp’s Mountaineers had the world’s quietest 8-3 record in 2014, missing the post season by a 6 point loss at Montana Western. EOU split a pair of four point games with champion SOU last fall and return top WR Jace Billingsley. Also, when nearly all the Montana schools vote you that high, you’re pretty good.

11 – Faulkner, AL

12 – Missouri Valley, MO

13 – Robert Morris, IL

14 – Baker, KS

15 – Ottawa, KS

16 – Campbellsville, KY

17 – Tabor, KS

18 – Doane, NE

19 – St Francis, IN

20 – William Penn, IA

21 - Lindsey Wilson, KY

22 – Friends, KS

23 – Benedictine, KS

24 – Rocky Mountain, MT

25 – Southeastern, FL

Post season teams in bold

5 Teams to watch in 2015 -- Langston, OK - Siena Heights, MI - Montana Western, MT - St Ambrose, IA - Concordia, NE