McPherson College and Bethany College begin their 2015 football seasons Saturday night under new coaches, but they’ll start miles and miles apart.
The Bulldogs will be home for a 7 p.m. clash with Doane College as part of the KCAC-GPAC Challenge Series. Because Dordt College of the GPAC already had a commitment before the challenge was finalized, Bethany is traveling to Houston to take on Houston Baptist in the only non-KCAC-GPAC game.
Mac will debut under first-year coach Paul Mierkiewicz, who is sending out a starting lineup that will be half freshmen. The Bulldogs had a scant number of returnees after the coaching turnover, so Mierkiewicz hit the recruiting trail hard and brought in a number of top freshmen who are being thrust into the fire from the get-go.
Mac has very few starters returning, but will have one of the best receivers in the KCAC in Ste’fon Walker, as well as Michael Ramos, a reliable possession receiver. The backfield is entirely freshmen, led by quarterback RJ Garza, and backs Zac Boyd and Ryan Lasko.
The offensive line was expected to be the team’s strength, but two expected starters are missing the game.
The defense will be led by linebacker Dalton Whitfield and defensive back Kavoderic McIntyre. Two transfers are expected to provide immediate impact, Joseph Mooney and Michael Rabara.
Doane comes in ranked No. 22 in the country, so the Bulldogs need to come out and keep the game close early or it could get away given the experience factor enjoyed by the Tigers.
Bethany, on the other hand, should fare much better in its game, which also has a 7 p.m. starting time. Houston Baptist was just 2-9 last year, giving up more than 70 points in each of its final three games.
The Swedes are coming off a 7-4 season and return a passel of players, which makes first-year coach Paul Hubbard’s job easier. Hubbard learned his craft while at Bethany under Hall of Fame coach Ted Kessinger and he’s brought a physical toughness to the team.
The strength of the Swedes is their offensive line, a massive group that before the season is over may be the KCAC’s best. That should make it easier for running back Tevis Linnebur, who was a two-time All-KCAC pick, but sat out last year. The Swedes also have beefed up their defense and are expected to make a run at the KCAC leaders this year.