GLIAC FOOTBALL SEASON PREVIEW
By Tony Nicolette, GLIAC Contributor
The football landscape of the GLIAC might be described as “wind swept” entering the 2017 season, as the winds of change have blown relentlessly in recent months. A condensed alignment without divisions remains, but hints of growth and resurgence are already present...perhaps best signified by the addition of Davenport University to the league’s roster. The bedrocks of the conference endure almost entirely intact, and will no doubt provide a sturdy foundation for new additions to a decidedly rich football history. The league may be a bit smaller, but there is nary an argument against it being tougher than ever.
While much may have changed within the league, the expectations levied against some remain unaltered. This is most notably so for teams like Grand Valley, Ferris State, and Ashland. These three clubs have figured in all but one of the last five GLIAC Championships, and have become regulars in the playoff chase each November. While the league’s coaches have tabbed the defending Conference Champion Lakers as the favorite for 2017, they did so by a scant two points over the Regional Champion Bulldogs. Only eight points back from there is Ashland, indicating that the pollsters saw these three outfits as likely to all field great teams. Polling that close also tells us that the coaches believe that any one team separating itself as dominant will prove very difficult…if not highly unlikely.
One of the hallmarks of teams that succeed is quality, experienced play at quarterback. Grand Valley (Bart Williams) and Ashland (Travis Tarnowski) both return starters that possess multiple years at their respective helms, and Ferris also has a seasoned veteran (Reggie Bell) at the position. Wayne State is another team looking to cash in on a multi-year starting quarterback (DJ Zezula), and they earned the fourth spot in our poll as they return both a tenured signal-caller and one of the league’s most physical ground attacks.
Another cluster of teams (four) separated by a small number of polling points (nine, to be exact) starts with Saginaw Valley in the fifth spot. The Cardinals look to capitalize on recent seasons that saw many young players gain valuable experience. Michigan Tech slots in next, and the Huskies have also felt the impact of the “winds of change” with the retirement of head coach Tom Kearly along with the graduation of several team leaders. A single point behind Tech is Tiffin, and while the Dragons won more games last year than in any season since joining the league, they must replace a multi-year starting quarterback (Antonio Pipkin) who earned past GLIAC Player-of-the-Year plaudits. Northwood rounds out this group as the eighth team in our poll, and the Timberwolves feature an offense that should be improved after starting nearly all underclassmen (including six freshmen) last season.
The final two teams in our poll may be the GLIAC members who saw the most change since last season. The ninth spot is held by Northern Michigan, who like their Upper Peninsula counterparts must find a new quarterback in addition to having had to appoint a new coaching staff. Rounding out our list is Davenport, who transitioned to a new head coach this past offseason, is heading into the school’s first year of play in both the NCAA and the GLIAC, and is embarking on only its second full season of varsity football. Anticipation of the unknown abounds for both the Wildcats and Panthers, to be sure.
While the GLIAC may look a bit different this year, this new configuration may present the biggest weekly challenge members have seen in many seasons. “Everyone plays everyone” for the first time since 1997, so every rivalry will be renewed and each week promises to offer someone who can “knock you off”.
Did things change so we have fewer teams? In number, yes. Will it be less exciting? Ha! No way…