IUP favored in PSAC West preseason poll
College Football Videos
A Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division poll pegged Indiana (Pa.) as the preseason favorite Monday, but many of the players and coaches in the conference room at Slippery Rock's Robert Smith Student Center indicated they suspect very little separates the underdogs and the leaders of the pack this season.
With swarms of returning starters at Mercyhurst, Gannon, Edinboro, Clarion and Seton Hill — which finished fourth through eighth in the coaches' poll — no game is a gimmie. IUP, which received five of the eight first-place votes, retained just 10 starters, including only two on offense. Defending division champ Slippery Rock took third in the poll even with the return of most of the starters who propelled the team's prolific offense in 2013. And California (Pa.) came in second despite several defensive holes.
“I think that we, since coach (Curt Cignetti) has been here, we've built up the reputation that we're going to put 11 guys on the field that are pretty good, regardless of how much they previously played or what their history is,” said senior offensive lineman and Fox Chapel grad Matthew Sasson, one of IUP's two returning starters on that side of the ball. “These are just predictions, but it's not really a surprise. It's kind of our expectation to be at the top with a target on our back. That's fine, and we welcome it.”
IUP, which finished 9-2 a season ago and won the PSAC in 2012, again will count on a defense that annually ranks among the best in the country. Fortunately for the Crimson Hawks, who allowed PSAC-lows in points (15.4 per game) and yards (307.5), their linebacker corps welcomes back redshirt senior Alex Berdahl, who made 103 tackles to earn all-conference honors in 2012 but missed almost the entire 2013 season with a left-thumb injury.
“We had great leadership (in 2012), and that was the main thing,” Berdahl said. “Last year, when we fell behind, we didn't have the leadership that we had before. So this year, we have to have that great leadership and build that great camaraderie.”
The graduation of quarterback Nigel Barksdale, the 2013 PSAC leader in total offense (349.9 yards per game), creates a void at Slippery Rock, but with eight starters back on that side of the ball, The Rock isn't likely to suffer too greatly.
“Look out for us because we're going to keep doing what we're doing,” said junior offensive lineman Cory Tucker, a 2013 All-PSAC first-teamer. “The thing I've been stressing during spring ball and summer is that we can't live off of last year.”
In an effort to balance the amount of talent present on each side of the ball, Cal moved senior Jeff Knox Jr., the team's leading rusher in 2013, to linebacker; he played safety as a sophomore. Ball-carrying responsibilities will go to sophomore Nick Grissom and junior Derrick Fiore, a Ringgold product — both will benefit from an offensive line that has four starters and a tight end back. Knox will enhance a defense that includes just four returning starters, none of whom are seniors.
“I've always been defense-first all my life,” Knox said. “It feels real good to be back.”
The top spot in the PSAC West has belonged to Slippery Rock, IUP, Cal, Mercyhurst or some combination of them each season since 2006 — Edinboro and Cal each finished 5-1 in 2005. Perhaps no team believes it's more poised to crash the four-team party this season than Gannon, which joined the PSAC in 2008 and went 6-5 in 2013 to finish with its best winning percentage since 2010. The Golden Knights have nine starters back on each side of the ball and two more among specialists.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- District Game of the Week: Assumption at Slippery Rock
- Alle-Kiski Campus Clippings: Huska takes double honor from PSAC
- Plum's Ellis, Kondis fare well for Mercyhurst football team
- W&J’s Toohey named PAC women’s soccer player of year
- Sports injury discussion set for Cal U
- Cal U women have ‘banner’ weekend
- Buleca off to strong start in 2nd season with Point Park women’s basketball team
- District college notebook: Pair of Pitt wrestlers win titles at Keystone Classic
- District college notebook: St. Vincent, Grove City cross country teams keep streaks alive
- Campus clippings: Kiski Area grad Frye top PAC punter at Bethany
- District college roundup: Slippery Rock wins 1st NCAA playoff game since 1998