2019 Pioneer Football League spring outlook
By CRAIG HALEY
(STATS) - San Diego, join the crowd.
Well, it's the Pioneer Football League, so that may not happen. The Toreros have blitzed through league opponents for 29 straight wins since 2015.
However, after four outstanding seasons out of quarterback Anthony Lawrence, USD will have a new offensive leader in 2019.
It's a familiar story across the league as five of the top six in passing yards last season are gone, with Butler, Drake, Stetson and Morehead State joining the Toreros in the search.
Following is a look across the PFL with spring practices underway in college football:
HEAD COACH: Jeff Voris (74-72, 13 seasons; 89-106 overall)
2018 RECORDS: 4-7 overall, 2-6 PFL (Tie/7th)
SPRING PRACTICES: TBA (spring game is April 19)
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 10 (4 offense/6 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITIES: Butler was the lowest-scoring offense in the PFL and has to replace quarterback Willy Marty and wide receiver Pace Temple (3,364 career receiving yards) as well as retool on the offensive line. Among the linemen lost was Tommy Kennedy, a grad transfer to Miami (Fla).
NOTABLE: The Bulldogs opened with a 3-1 record, including a rousing win at Youngstown State, yet fell apart despite avoiding significant injuries. The defense will have to carry the team at least early, with safety Luke Sennett's coming off the program's first 100-tackle season since 2012 and pass rusher Mickey Kane earning PFL co-freshman defensive player of the year.
HEAD COACH: Scott Abell (6-5, one season; 45-29 overall)
2018 RECORDS: 6-5 overall, 3-5 PFL (6th)
SPRING PRACTICES: March 12-April 13
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITY: After posting their first winning season since 2007, Abell and the Wildcats are hoping to create more competition and depth position-wise. They led the FCS in rushing, making improvement in the passing game a focal point.
NOTABLE: The Wildcats usually played in high-scoring games, including the memorizing, 91-61 win over Division III Guilford. Six players rushed for over 250 yards and none was a senior. Wesley Dugger has been over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons.
HEAD COACH: Rick Chamberlin (85-38, 11 seasons)
2018 RECORDS: 6-5 overall, 5-3 PFL (Tie/4th)
SPRING PRACTICES: March 22-April 14
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 16 (9 offense/7 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITES: Four-time all-league first-team punter Sean Smith is gone, making the position a glaring need of interest. The Flyers also have to improve their pass rush and with a deep passing game.
NOTABLE: The program with the most PFL titles has gone 11-11 the last two years after winning 27 games in the three previous seasons. The building block is quarterback Jack Cook, the league's offensive freshman of the year. The Flyers were the last PFL team to beat San Diego (Oct. 10, 2015) and host the Toreros on Oct. 26.
HEAD COACH: Todd Stepsis (first season)
2018 RECORDS: 7-4 overall, 6-2 PFL (Tie/2nd)
SPRING PRACTICES: March 12-April 20
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 12 (8 offense/4 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITIES: There are questions on both side of the ball. The Bulldogs have to replace three-year quarterback Grant Kraemer (senior Alex Bray could take over) and some key fifth-year seniors on defense.
NOTABLE: Stepsis was elevated from defensive coordinator following Rick Fox's resignation. The Bulldogs' new QB will have two excellent fifth-year seniors at wide receiver, Steven Doran and Devin Cates. The road schedule is tough, but Drake will host South Dakota State, an FCS semifinalist the last two years, on Sept. 14.
HEAD COACH: Ian Shields (14-17, three seasons; 30-23 overall)
2018 RECORDS: 2-8 overall, 1-7 PFL (10th)
SPRING PRACTICES: Feb. 23-April 2 (spring game is March 30)
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 17 (8 offense/9 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITY: The Dolphins had an uncharacteristically poor season last year, allowing nearly 39 points per game and beating only Butler in the PFL in a last-place finish. They need to shore up the defense. Linebacker Trevor Tufano, a 2017 standout, is not returning to the program.
NOTABLE: All of the key rushers were underclassmen. In converting from safety, Calvin Turner Jr. led FCS quarterbacks in rushing yards (1,431) last season and is expected to make a full recovery from a broken leg suffered in the final game. Shields utilized a bunch of freshmen, including standout running back Garnett Nicolas.
HEAD COACH: Jim Parady (138-145-1, 27 seasons)
2018 RECORDS: 5-6 overall, 5-3 (Tie/4th)
SPRING PRACTICES: March 27-April 27
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 13 (9 offense/4 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITIES: There's no replacing Juston Christian, the best wide receiver in program history, but the Red Foxes were fairly young in the offensive skills positions last year. They lost all three starters on the defensive line plus standout linebacker Willie Barrett and cornerback Brandon Miller.
NOTABLE: The Red Foxes are usually competitive in the PFL, but their senior losses were substantial. A successful comeback from right guard Luke Butera (knee injury) will bolster the offense, which needs more punch.
HEAD COACH: Rob Tenyer (25-43, six seasons)
2018 RECORDS: 3-8 overall, 2-6 PFL (Tie/7th)
SPRING PRACTICES: TBA (spring game is April 20)
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Having ranked last in the PFL in scoring defense the last three seasons, the Eagles will implement a new defensive scheme, likely with an even-man front.
NOTABLE: The Eagles still seek the level of Tenyer's one winning season - 7-4 overall and 6-2 in the league in 2015. They have to replace quarterback Lawson Page - a position of strength in recent seasons. Two key players who could have returned departed early, defensive end Chrinovic Mukulu and wide receiver Sugar Ray Wyche.
HEAD COACH: Dale Lindsey (55-16, six seasons)
2018 RECORDS: 9-3 overall, 8-0 PFL (1st)
SPRING PRACTICES: Feb. 5-March 1 (spring game was Feb. 23)
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Senior quarterback Reid Sinnett backed up four-year starter Anthony Lawrence the last three seasons and is the favorite to replace him, but the PFL kingpin has an open competition, including juniors Mason Randall and Alex Farina and sophomores Bryce Fledderman and Derek Kline.
NOTABLE: It doesn't matter what key players are lost, the Toreros are the team to beat, entering the 2019 season with a 29-game PFL winning streak. The new QB will have outstanding weapons, led by wide receiver Michael Bandy and running back Emilio Martinez. The defense will be bolstered by a healthier Marcus Vaivao (middle linebacker) and Kevin Glajchen (defensive end), who were limited to four games each last season.
HEAD COACH: Roger Hughes (24-42, six seasons; 71-94 overall)
2018 RECORDS: 8-2 overall, 6-2 (Tie/2nd)
SPRING PRACTICES: March 12-April 13
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 16 (7 offense/9 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Coming off a breakthrough season, the Hatters have to replace consensus All-America tight end Donald Parham plus some graduated offensive linemen.
NOTABLE: While the loss of quarterback Colin McGovern hurts, senior Gaven DeFelippo - the backup last season - was a part-time starter in 2016. Running back Jareem Westcott is coming off a big freshman campaign and No. 1 wide receiver Steven Burdette caught 10 touchdowns. Better health will go a long way with defensive tackle Shane Parton and linebacker Jamieson Craske, who were captains last season.
HEAD COACH: TBA
2018 RECORDS: 2-9 overall, 2-6 PFL (Tie/7th)
SPRING PRACTICES: March 27-April 22 (spring game is April 13)
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 11 (6 offense/5 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITY: The Crusaders lost coach Dave Cecchini to Bucknell in early February, so they will be in transition this spring (defensive coordinator Ernest Moore has been serving as the interim coach). They'll be helped by a solid senior class.
NOTABLE: Last season was surprising following a winning record in 2017 - the Crusaders' first in 14 years. Quarterback Jimmy Seewald only played in four games, opening playing time for Chris Duncan. Whoever is this year's starter won't have last year's top three wide receivers, who were seniors.
Updated February 26, 2019