WICHITA — At the conclusion of the 10 orations by the KCAC football coaches at Wednesday’s Media Day, voting ensued for the annual preseason polls.
As usual, the coaches and media could not reach an agreeable conclusion. The top four in both polls were totally different.
The coaches liked Sterling to repeat as champion, followed by Tabor, Friends and Ottawa. We in the media went for Ottawa, followed closely by Friends, Tabor and Sterling.
In the media poll, only one point separated Ottawa and Friends, while Tabor and Sterling were just five and six points out of first place, respectively.
Here’s how I voted:
1. Ottawa — The Braves have been the KCAC’s most consistent team over the past five years and are coached by former Bethany All-American Kent Kessinger, who has proven the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He still has a long way to go to catch his legendary father, the good Doctor Ted, but he’s carving out quite a legacy in Ottawa. The Braves have won eight games or more in each of the last six years.
2. Friends — The Falcons have a conference-leading nine selections on the All-KCAC preseason team and are year-in and year-out the most physical team that takes the field. Monty Lewis also has cobbled together a quality coaching resume, but he said the Falcons are hungry to return to the top of the KCAC after what he considers too long of an absence. I think Friends will have a terrific defense, but pedestrian quarterback play could be its drawback. Lewis also needs for a quality running back to step up and I’m sure he has a new one ready to unleash.
3. Sterling — The Warriors have the KCAC’s most dynamic trio of offensive operatives in flashy quarterback Reggie Langford, running back Antonio Bray and receiver Dentton Hudspeth. They will have the most speed of any team on the offensive side. It's hard to believe that before last season, the Warriors had won only four games the previous two years combined. I don’t say this as disrespect to other coaches, but it seems Andy Lambert gets more out of his team than any coach in the KCAC.
4. Tabor – If I had to question any of my picks, this would be it. It’s hard to imagine the Bluejays coming up with a new running back comparable to the departed James Monroe. Tabor is a team that plays smashmouth football and tries to wear teams down. The other big question is: can quarterback Simon McKee return to his pre-injury form? He’s a quality manager of the game who doesn’t haven’t to throw much. You never know how a player is going to respond after a torn ACL. Coach Mike Gardner may have to rely more on his defense early in the season.
5. Southwestern — There’s a definite drop-off after the first four teams, with Southwestern looking to be the best of the rest. Coach Ken Crandall’s team may go as far as his son, Tyler, takes them as he’s entrenched at quarterback. The good news is the Moundbuilders have one of the best collection of running backs in the league. There’s also some good talent on defense, though stud tackle Garrett Mangrum won’t be playing as he’s had to give up football because of a knee injury. Improvement has come slowly for Crandall at Southwestern (24-49 in seven years), but the Builders might break through for six wins this year.
6. Bethany— Every year, the wonderment is: who is going to be the breakout team? I think Bethany is the answer this year as Manny Matsakis has to be making the college’s administration happy by fielding a squad of nearly 140 players, 68 of them freshmen. Injuries decimated the Swedes last year and Matsakis said his plans went up in smoke in the first game when starting quarterback Justin Bane was lost for the year. But he’s retooled with players who fit his scheme, so watch for a new-look Swede team this year. Whether the Bethany defense can hold up its end of the bargain is questionable, but Matsakis said he’s loaded up on transfers on that side of the ball. This is definitely a sleeper team and one that nobody may be wanting to play by midseason.
7. McPherson College — First-year coach Steve Fox has been as low-key as anyone you’ll ever see. Defensively, I think the Bulldogs are going to be OK if their secondary matches their front seven. It’s offensively where I see some problems, especially at running back where I’m not sure Fox will have enough bodies. If redshirt J.T. Levenseller ever gains his eligibility, the Bulldogs will have a terrific 1-2 punch at quarterback. Jordan Hoffman is back after throwing for more than 2,000 yards, but Levenseller once played at Washington State. Overall depth is another question, as the Bulldogs probably will have one of the smaller squads in the conference.
8. Saint Mary — Longtime coach Lance Hinson shocked the school by departing in the spring for McMurry University. Former Spire star Jay Osborne has assumed the controls on an interim basis. There’s no questioning Osborne’s passion for the school, as he seemed more intense than any coach at the podium. You better pack a lunch when you go to a Spires game, because they’re going to throw, throw and throw some more. Their receivers will be the best in the conference and Josh Ervin will probably launch it 50 times a game. The Spires’ defense probably isn’t on par with the offense, which means look for a lot of 45-35 type of games.
9. Kansas Wesleyan — It was strange not to see the dean of KCAC coaches, Dave Dallas, as he stepped down after last season, replaced by Matt Drinkall. If anything happens to workhorse running back Tyler Sachs, it’s going to be a long year for the Coyotes, who dipped to 4-7 in Dallas’ final year, far below his normal standards. Only five starters return, which means teams might want to take advantage of them early.
10. Bethel — Second-year coach Marty Mathis has a team that was KCAC worthy on offense last year, but fielded one of the worst defenses in conference history, bar none. Since he made his bones as a defensive coach, it pained him to watch his team get flogged week after week as teams regularly put up more than 500 yards a game. Mathis has brought in a slew of new players, so how much better the Threshers are is anybody’s guess.