District college football preview: Division II
IUP looks for a repeat
Opponents tormented by IUP's dominant defense shouldn't expect to find much of a reprieve this fall.
The Crimson Hawks, 2012 Division II leaders in fewest yards and points allowed (257.8 and 12.5, respectively), retained many of the standouts who fueled the team to its first Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship since 1987. Because of the returning talent on offense and defense — eight returning starters on offense, seven on defense — IUP enters this season ranked in Lindy's (No. 7) and the Sporting News' (No. 22) preseason polls.
Seniors Carl Fleming and Alex Berdahl anchor the linebacker corps. Fleming earned honorable mention All-American distinction after a season in which he made 88 tackles, returned two interceptions for touchdowns and was the PSAC championship MVP. Berdahl finished with a team-high 103 tackles and had six sacks and 10 tackles for a loss.
Also back are All-PSAC second-team selections Jerell McFadden, a redshirt junior defensive back, and senior defensive lineman Akeem Smith.
Offensively, senior De'Antwan Williams will lead the running game after a season in which he gained 1,325 yards on 238 rushes and earned second-team All-PSAC West honors. Quarterback Mike Box returns after throwing for 1,747 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Teams to watch
A perennial PSAC West power, Cal will challenge for a title again. The Vulcans, who dealt IUP its only regular-season loss, must avoid a letdown like the one they had in 2012, when they lost to Slippery Rock and Mercyhurst in back-to-back weeks. Consensus All-American defensive lineman B.J. Stevens will provide the highlights on defense, and first-team All-PSAC West wide receiver Mike Williams will handle the thrills offensively.
Solid defense and a steady run game sufficed last season, and not much should change. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Brown-Dukes earned PSAC West Freshman of the Year honors by gaining 1,295 yards and scoring 16 TDs. Senior Allen Jones II, an All-PSAC second-teamer, will complement Brown-Dukes in the backfield. Junior linebacker Aaron McGee, a Montour grad, looks to earn first-team all-PSAC West honors for a second consecutive year.
Second-team All-PSAC selections Derek Walker (DL), Quindell Dean (LB) and Anthony Saunders (CB) should solidify a defense that struggled with youth in 2012. All three are fifth-year seniors.
The PSAC West's new addition, Seton Hill hopes to fare better than in its final few seasons in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, where it won just two games from 2009 through 2012.
Who to watch
Clarion, senior, QB
The Indiana H.S. product earned first-team All-PSAC West honors after a season in which he had 200 of 383 pass attempts for 2,480 yards and 15 touchdowns. Fiscus also rushed for a team-high 678 yards. He ranks in the top 10 in career passing and rushing yards.
Slippery Rock, senior, DB
Saunders, a third-team preseason All-American, led the PSAC in passes defended per game (1.7). The Valley grad had three INTs and, despite missing two games, finished fourth on the team with 62 tackles.
California (Pa.), senior, DL
A consensus first-team All-American last season, Stevens, a Gateway grad, set single-season school records and led Division II in sacks per game (1.32). He also topped the PSAC in tackles for a loss (22 1⁄2) and sacks (14 1⁄2).
Best on the schedule
Mercyhurst at Clarion
Clarion QB Ben Fiscus can show whether he's ready to repeat as a PSAC West first-teamer in the conference opener. Mercyhurst allowed the second-fewest passing yards per game (175.5) in the PSAC last season.
CALIFORNIA (Pa.) at IUP
Cal dealt IUP its only regular-season loss last season as the Vulcans kicked a field goal with 3.5 seconds left. The Crimson Hawks and Vulcans are expected to contend for PSAC supremacy, so the stakes are high.
IUP at Slippery Rock
The past two PSAC West champs expect to remain in the division's upper echelon. Don't anticipate a high-scoring affair — both teams return all-conference selections on defense.