Football season offers diverse lineup
The region’s college football landscape is taking on a slightly different shape, even though the usual cast of schools remain a part of the national rankings.
And the changes, subtle as they may be, are good, especially when it comes to measuring the level of interest in the district’s 24 small-college programs, because not all seasons take on as intriguing a look as this one.
Just last weekend, Pitt was upset by Toledo, and West Virginia and Penn State, as well as Division I-AA Youngstown State, labor in mediocrity early on after enjoying extended success at various recent times, and a handful of smaller usually successful programs also are faced with uphill battles.
Slippery Rock and Clarion are off to slow starts in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, West Liberty State in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Allegheny in the North Coast Athletic Conference and Westminster (Pa.) in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference.
But one school which hasn’t missed a step since being badly beaten by eventual Division II champion Grand Valley State in last season’s playoffs is perennial power Indiana (Pa.).
The Indians are ranked No. 4 in the coaches’ poll and could be headed for a No. 1 spot when the Northeast Region playoff rankings are released next month.
They can point to the presence of running back Mike Jemison, the Pitt transfer who has rushed for at least 100 yards in his first three games with IUP, as a big reason for their success. Quarterback Kevin Weidl, a question mark when the year began, is finding his niche in the Indians’ high-powered offense, while the defense nearly recorded its second consecutive shutout for the first time since 1991 in a 28-7 victory over New Haven.
There is near-unbearable heat coming from Shippensburg, which has scored impressive victories over Shepherd and Bloomsburg — both nationally ranked at the time — and is trying to match IUP’s prowess by climbing to No. 14.
Running back John Kuhn gained at least 100 yards rushing in his 11th consecutive game dating to last season in Shippensburg’s 35-12 victory over Kutztown.
The teams won’t meet until Nov. 1 in Indiana in what could have a huge bearing on the Northeast Region playoff picture.
Washington & Jefferson, in its first season since the departure of former coach John Banaszak, is at No. 16 in the Division III poll. The Presidents, who have won 17 of the past 18 Presidents’ Athletic Conference crowns and have been to the national playoffs in 15 of the past 18 years, have won their first two games under first-year coach Mike Sirianni.
At an uncharacteristic 1-2, Duquesne remains one of the top threats in the nation among Division I-AA mid-majors. The Dukes’ two losses have come to schools from stronger conferences than the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, of which Duquesne has won four consecutive titles.
They dropped a seven-point decision at Bucknell, of the Patriot League, in their opener, and were beaten badly by Penn, the defending Ivy League champion, over the weekend.
But because the majority of Duquesne’s remaining games are against weaker MAAC opponents, it is likely that its final record will wind up respectable, at worst.
Mercyhurst is beginning to show signs of resurgence under second-year coach Marty Schaetzle. The D-II Lakers won their first two games by decisive margins and gave an impressive effort in a 26-3 loss to No. 6 Saginaw Valley State last weekend.
Edinboro also could experience a breakthrough under fourth-year coach Lou Tepper. Victories the past two weeks followed a respectable 35-11 loss to Youngstown State in the opener. Stability at quarterback — finally — has been a key to Edinboro’s season thusfar, as sophomore Justin Bouch is 38 of 65 (58.5 percent) passing.
Gannon, in its final season of D-II independence before joining the GLIAC next year, has rolled to a 3-1 record behind the running and passing of quarterback Darmel Whitfield.
Allegheny’s situation is much like Duquesne’s. The D-III Gators, past national champions, are 0-2 but have been beaten by No. 19 Baldwin-Wallace and by W&J.
Thiel, at 1-1, is an unlikely darkhorse in the PAC, and Carnegie Mellon, of the University Athletic Association, is off to a 3-0 start.