GLIAC preview: Ferris State and Grand Valley battle for supremacy

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The pinnacle of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference will likely come in a battle between two powerhouses and longtime rivals, with the defense Div. National champion II Ferris State and four-time national champion Grand Valley State were named the best teams in the league by its coaches during the offseason.

Based on coaching opinions, the league is split into three tiers of teams coming in 2022: Ferris State and Grand Valley at the top; Michigan Tech and Saginaw Valley in the middle; and the trio of Northern Michigan, Wayne State and Davenport battling down below.

Ferris State is considered the title favorite, taking 35 points and five of seven first-place votes, while Grand Valley was close behind with 32 points and the two remaining first-place selections.

The GLIAC has seen a change in membership this offseason, with longtime league member Northwood University leaving in all sports for the Great Midwest Athletic Conference. Northwood had been a member of the GLIAC since 1972. Their departure leaves the league at seven teams for the 2022 football season.

Here’s a look at each of the league’s seven teams heading into the 2022 season, in order from the GLIAC pre-season poll.

Ferris State Bulldogs

Last season: 14-0, national champions

Head Coach: Tony Annese, 10th season

The defending national champions hold the top spot in league polls and national polls. Lindy’s and College Football America rank the Bulldogs first in the preseason, and for good reason.

Ferris State is the winningest Division II team in the nation for the past seven seasons, has gone undefeated in the GLIAC for the past three years, reached the national quarterfinals five times in a row, and has a record of 41-2 over the past three seasons.

The Bulldogs are returning a pair of preseason All-Americans in defensive end Caleb Murphy and punt returner Marcus Taylor. Taylor averaged nearly 17 yards per return last season, including a score, while Murphy dominated up front with 14.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss. Taylor is also the top returning receiver after catching 64 passes for 863 yards and six touchdowns.

Junior quarterback Mylik Mitchell returns after splitting time with Jared Bernhardt, who graduated with over 2,700 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns. Mitchell has completed nearly 65% ​​of his passes to go with 12 scores and just two interceptions.

Ferris State opens its season Sept. 1 as the Bulldogs host Central Washington.

Grand Valley State Lakers

Last season: 10-2, second round loss

Head Coach: Matt Mitchell, 12th season

If there’s a team that could end Ferris State’s dominance in the GLIAC, the Lakers are ready to do it. Grand Valley returns 18 starters from last season’s team, including eight All-GLIAC winners from a roster that reached the 2nd round of the NCAA playoffs and went 6-1 in the league. Grand Valley also played undefeated Ferris State by less than a single scoreline, the most competitive game in the defending champion’s role.

Expectations are high, as the Lakers are ranked No. 4 in Lindy’s Preseason Top 25 and No. 8 in the College Football America rankings. It’s easy to see why.

Grand Valley will feature a preseason honors nominee at each position on the roster, including quarterback. Cade Peterson returns after having 26 touchdowns last season while totaling more than 2,800 offensive yards. His top three targets from last season in Hunter Rison, Cody Tierney and Jacob Miller all return, as does the main rusher outside of Peterson, Tariq Reid.

Linebacker Abe Swanson and his 104 tackles from a season ago are also back.

The Lakers open the 2022 campaign Sept. 1 when they host the No. 3-ranked Colorado School of Mines.

Michigan Tech Huskies

Last season: 6-4

Head Coach: Steve Olson, 5th season

After struggling for the first three seasons under Steve Olson, the Huskies broke through in 2021. While going from 5-5 to 6-4 overall wasn’t a massive leap, it was in the league that Tech did. the jump. After winning eight GLIAC games in Olson’s first three seasons, the Huskies went 5-2 last season in the league, losing only to Ferris State and Grand Valley, their most conference wins since. the 2015 season.

Quarterback Will Ark returns after passing for over 1,700 yards and 14 scores, paired with top receivers Jordan Janssen, who carried 44 balls, and Darius WIllis, who had five touchdowns as a freshman.

Defense is where Tech shone a season ago. Even when facing the best offenses, the Huskies held their opponents to less than 19 points per game and forced 22 turnovers. Braxton Blackwell leads the defense and is the best returning tackle from a season ago. Austin Schlict burst onto the scene last year with a team-high eight sacks in his debut campaign, while fellow freshman Josh Cribben added four. Michael Bates Jr. anchors the secondary for his junior season after having four interceptions last season.

Tech opens the season Sept. 1 with a home game against Wisconsin-Platteville.

Saginaw Valley State Cardinals

Last season: 7-4

Head Coach: Ryan Brady, 3rd season

The Cardinals went from 5-6 in Brady’s freshman year to 7-4 last year, including a two-game league improvement.

Saginaw Valley has its work cut out to repeat that performance this year, All-GLIAC graduate running back Tommy Scott, who had over 1,000 yards last season, and 12 of 31 offensive touchdowns.

Matt Considine returns to QB for the Cardinals after passing for nearly 1,000 yards in five games last season. Considine struggled at times, completing less than 50% of his passes and giving up 10 interceptions. He will be pushed by second Colby Newburg, who in eight games of action has completed 54% of his shots with five scores and just one interception.

Defensively, Trevor Nowaske is the best back tackle, with 84 running backs last year. He along with junior DB Michael Woolridge and senior DL ​​Nathan Talakai combined for 14.5 sacks a season ago.

The Cardinals host West Virginia Wesleyan on Sept. 1 in their season opener.

Northern Michigan Wildcats

Last season: 4-7

Head Coach: Kyle Nystrom, 4th season

The Wildcats will be looking to break through after climbing to four wins last season, down from a 1-9 mark the year before COVID hit. Northern will attempt its first winning season since 2010 when the Wildcats went 6-4.

The big improvement for Northern will have to come from defense, where he gave up more than 26 points per game and gave up more than 2,000 rushing yards.

Quarterback Drake Davis returns after leading Northern in rushing with 505 yards to go with five scores, while completing 60% of his passes for just under 1,600 yards and 11 touchdowns. Running backs DJ Stewart and Tyshon King also return after teaming for over 700 yards and four scores, while the two averaged over five yards per carry. Wyatt Davis led Northern in receiving yards and touchdowns in his first season.

Will Borchert shone in his first season with the Wildcats, racking up 112 tackles, while John McMullen is returning for his senior year after recording a team-best eight sacks last season.

Northern Michigan opens its season Sept. 1 at home against McKendree University.

Wayne State Warriors

Last season: 2-9

Head Coach: Paul Winters, 19th season

While they went just 2-9 last season, there were positives for the Warriors, especially on offense where a strong rushing offense was third in the league, averaging over 180 yards per game while seeing a pair of All-GLIAC running backs in Myren Harris. and Kendall Williams.

Both running backs return, with Harris passing for 1,000 yards and scoring nine touchdowns a year ago.

The Warriors will usher in a new QB this season, with Josh Kulka the presumptive favorite to start after rushing for more than 500 yards in just two games last season while passing for a scoring trio.

Senior Julius Wilkerson anchors the defense that will look to improve after giving up nearly 33 points and 390 yards per game last season.

Wilkerson had 104 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season.

One area that Wayne State will look to improve is revenue margin. The Warriors forced just 13 last season and had an overall margin of minus nine, in part due to losing 13 fumbles.

Wayne State heads to Slippery Rock on Sept. 3 to start his season.

Davenport Panthers

Last season: 3-8

Head Coach: Sparky McEwen, 5th season

Chosen last by all but one coach in the league, the Panthers face a daunting challenge if they want to fight back in 2022. Offensive improvement is the biggest hurdle.

The Panthers struggled to move the ball and score last season, to put it mildly, averaging just 9.5 points per game and scoring just 12 touchdowns in 11 games. In the 2021 season, the Panthers have used five different quarterbacks and only exceeded 20 points once. Jaier Harden led the team with 348 yards last season, while Kyshawn Richards contributed with 231. Roy Livingstone is the only returning receiver to catch double-digits.

While the offense faces many questions, the defense is where Davenport has held firm, ranking in the top half of the league for three straight seasons. Senior DB Jalen Robinson returns after posting 101 tackles. The Panthers are firing their top five tacklers from a season ago.

The Panthers open the 2022 season Sept. 3 with a road trip to Truman State.

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