2015 NCAA Division II Football: Bloomsburg And Gannon Are The Favorites To Win PSAC

Daniel Benjamin

The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference recently released their 2015 preseason coaches football poll, with Bloomsburg University and Gannon University, selected to win their respective divisions.

The PSAC is one of the best football conferences in Division II. The conference consists of 18 full-time members, though only 16 members have football programs -- Mansfield University has a sprint football program, while Pitt-Johnstown doesn't have a gridiron program.

The PSAC had three teams participate in the NCAA playoffs last year, and the conference has made 76 total NCAA playoff appearances. Overall, the PSAC is 66-76 in those appearances, which includes three teams reaching the Division II title game -- the conference is 0-3 in those games. The PSAC also has had 42 players drafted by NFL teams, and several others have played in the league.

Bloomsburg, West Chester, and Slippery Rock were the three teams to earn a spot in the NCAA playoffs. Bloomsburg reached the quarterfinals for the sixth time in school history though the conference and finished the postseason with a 2-3 record. Slippery Rock is the defending conference champion.

Bloomsburg is seeking their third straight Eastern Division crown, while this year marks the first time Gannon has been chosen as a preseason favorite.

"We've shown the last two years that it's not where you're picked, but where you finish," Huskies head coach Pat Darragh said. "This year being picked No. 1 is great from the standpoint that it shows respect for our kids and our program."

East Division

Bloomsburg (11-2 overall, 9-0 PSAC in 2014). The Huskies have recorded 16 straight winning seasons and have compiled a 40-8 record over the past four years, according to News Item. Bloomsburg has also posted a Super One Region-best 142 victories since 2000.

Senior quarterback Tim Kelly, who has won 30 games as a starter in his first three years at the helm of the offense, leads the return of nine starters. The Huskies also return all five starting offensive line, four of which were all-conference selections, and their top-three wide receivers. Bloomsburg rushed for over 2,900 yards last year.

Defensively, the Huskies return just four starters from a team that limited opponents to slightly more than 15 points a game. Senior defensive tackle Jeremiah Lowry (30 tackles, 1.5 sacks last season) along with defensive backs Gary Postell and Donovan Morris (five interceptions) lead the returnees.

West Chester (11-2, 8-1). The Golden Rams were picked to finish second in the East division. West Chester has gone 24-4 the past two seasons and has reached the NCAA playoffs both years.

The Golden Rams have four players named to College Football D-II Preseason All-American list -- RB Brandon Monk, TE Tim Brown, DE Andrew Cohen and RB Eddie Elliott. Monk led the Golden Rams in rushing last season with a career-high 1,296 yards to go along with nine touchdowns. Brown led the squad with 53 receptions and had 1,059 receiving yards to go, along with 17 touchdowns. Cohen registered 65 tackles, 20 of which came behind the line of scrimmage and included 10.5 sacks.

ESU returns 14 starters, including redshirt senior quarterback Matt Soltes, a two-time Harlon Hill candidate. Soltes, who was injured late in the season last year against Kutztown, ranks No. 8 in PSAC history, with 9,928 total yards in his career. Tailback Robert Healy and Wide Receiver Jon Schnaars are also players to watch.

Shippensburg has produced four straight winning seasons. The Raiders return 34 letters but only 12 starters -- eight of which play on the defensive end.

Kutztown (6-5, 5-4) was selected by the coaches to finish fifth, while Millersville (1-10, 1-8) and Lock Haven (2-9, 2-7) were picked to tie for sixth.

Cheyney (0-11, 0-9). The Wolves were picked to finish eighth in the division. Cheyney has gone winless the past two seasons and are currently on a 32-game losing streak that dates back to 2012.

Gannon (9-2, 7-3). The Knights were co-champions of the West division last year, along with Slippery Rock. Gannon's nine wins tied a school record.

Gannon returns 38 letter winners with 18 of players having started at least five games. Offense will be where it is at for the Knights, who return a pair of record setters in senior quarterback Liam Nadler and senior running back Brock Jones. Nadler holds six school-records that includes most completions (655), passing yards (8, 519), passing touchdowns (58), and total offense (9, 126). Jones, the 2014 PSAC West Offensive Athlete of the Year, ran for 1,656 yards and had 18 touchdowns, including 16 rushing.

Gannon also returns nine starters on defense.

Slippery Rock (9-3, 7-2). The Rock, who was picked to finish second in the division, has won or shared the West Division title in three of the past four years and has produced six consecutive winning seasons. Slippery Rock returns 21 starters -- including DE Marcus Martin, OL Cory Tucker, RB Shamar Greene, OL Joe LoSchiavo, DT Joe Phillips, and DB Derrick Fulmore.

The Rock also added D-I transfers QB Dante Nania, LB Teven Williams (Youngstown State), CB Titus Howard (Pitt), and OL/DL Austin Fields (West Virginia).

Mercyhurst (7-4, 6-3). Mercyhurst is slated to finish third in the West. Last season, the Lakers ran off seven straight wins to close last season and finish the season with a winning record for a third straight year. Mercyhurst is led by redshirt senior quarterback Brendan Boyle, who passed for 2,952 yards and a school-record 29 touchdowns.

California (8-3, 6-3) returns eight players on offense. Senior quarterback James Harris completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,055 yards to go along with 24 touchdowns. Harris will have wide receivers Garry Brown and Kowan Scott to throw to once again this year -- those two combined for 106 receptions and 18 touchdowns.

Defensively, the Vulcans will rely on DE Jawan Turner to cause havoc. Turner registered a team-high 14 sacks last season.

IUP (6-5, 5-4). The Crimson Hawks were picked to finish fifth in the division. IUP had the second best defensive squad last season, and returns 10 starters. Senior defensive lineman Karon Gibson and linebacker Kevin Clarke lead the way.

Offensively, graduate student Chase Haslett, son of Jim Haslett, and Temple transfer Lenny Williams will battle for the starting quarterback, along with a few freshman.

Seton Hill (3-8, 2-7) was predicted to finish sixth, Edinboro (3-8,2-7) was tabbed for seventh, and Clarion (2-9, 2-7) was slated last.

[Photo via PSAC Sports]