Top 10 Preview
No. 7 Shippensburg, No. 9 Ashland open against ranked foes
No. 1 Valdosta State at Fort Valley State, 2 p.m. ET Saturday
Valdosta State kicks off its 2013 campaign as it travels to Macon, Ga., to take on Fort Valley State in the season opener for both teams. The game features the 21st time that the two schools have met, with the Blazers holding a 17-3 advantage in the all-time series. VSU has won each of the past nine games.
Valdosta State, which was selected as co-favorites to win the Gulf South Conference by the league coaches, returns a veteran team, highlighted by 12 returning starters. Eight of the returning starters are on the defensive side of the ball while the offense features four returnees.
Quarterback Cayden Cochran, who passed for 2,710 yards and 26 touchdowns while rushing for 350 yards and 11 more scores last year, will have a talented receiving corps to throw to, including returning starters Seantavious Jones (51 receptions, 922 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Regginald Lewis (58 receptions, 736 yards, 4 touchdowns).
On defense, linebackers Jeremy Grable and Chris Pope lead the way. Pope led the team with 127 tackles last season while Grable added 102, including four sacks. The defense also returns three of four starters on the defensive line and three of four starters in the secondary.
Fort Valley State returns a veteran defense, led by All-America linebacker Leron Furr, who counted 32 tackles for loss among his 110 stops a year ago. Overall, six of the projected starters on defense for the Wildcats played in at least eight games. On offense, FVSU will feature a wealth of youth as three freshmen and four sophomores are projected as starters. Running back Seth Hill returns as the unit’s leader after rushing for 523 yards and three touchdowns while also catching 12 passes for 88 yards and another score in 12 games last year.
No. 2 Minnesota State-Mankato at Mary, 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday
2013 marks the second season with interim head coach Aaron Keen patrolling the sidelines for Minnesota State-Mankato. Last season, Keen guided the Mavericks to a 13-1 record en route to an appearance in the national semifinals.
Quarterback Jon Wolf led Minnesota State-Mankato in total offense with 2,450 yards last season.
Mary returns its starting quarterback from a season ago. Craig Bagnell threw for 2,101 yards and 22 touchdowns in eight games. Elby Pope returns after leading Mary with 977 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 11 games last season. Mary returns its leading rusher in Dariouse Gravely, who tallied 536 yards and a team-leading four touchdowns.
On defense, Mary returns its three leading tacklers in Grant Singer, Scott Maldonado and John Oyloe. Singer led the way with 91 tackles, including six sacks. Maldonado tallied 87 tackles, while Oyloe posted a team-high 10 sacks.
No. 3 West Texas A&M at Western State, 3 p.m. ET Saturday
West Texas A&M will be playing at the highest collegiate football stadium in the world when they battle Western State in the season opener. Mountaineer Bowl in Gunnison, Colo. , is 7,750 feet above sea level. For comparison, West Texas A&M plays its home games at 3,650 feet above sea level.
This marks the sixth meeting between the two schools, but just the second since 1941. West Texas A&M leads the all-time series 5-0, including a 57-20 win at home last season.
West Texas is led by quarterback Dustin Vaughan and defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks, who were selected as the Lone Star Conference preseason offensive and defensive players of the year.
The Mountaineers open the 2013 season looking to improve on a 1-10 record a year ago. Western State hasn't finished with more than one win in a season since 2009 when it went 3-8 and is 3-30 during the past three years. The Mountaineers are led this season by preseason Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference selections Rene Haro-Sipes (offensive line) and Lane Stuht (defensive line).
No. 7 Shippensburg at No. 25 Shepherd, noon ET Saturday
No. 7 Shippensburg opens the 2013 season with a matchup against No. 25 Shepherd in the 16th Great Valley Classic at Ram Stadium in Shepherdstown, W.Va. This is the first time in the history of the Great Valley Classic that both teams enter the game with a national ranking in the AFCA Division II poll.
The Great Valley Classic was first instituted in 1998 and is named in recognition of the two schools and their locations in the Great Appalachian Valley. Shippensburg, nestled in the Cumberland Valley, and Shepherd, tucked into the Shenandoah Valley, are approximately one hour apart from one another.
This year's meeting will be the last Great Valley Classic between the two teams for the near future, as Shepherd must commit to conference games with its new Mountain East schedule.
Shippensburg is 2-5 in Great Valley Classic matchups at Ram Stadium and has not won in Shepherdstown since 2003 (four consecutive losses).
Shippensburg has had at least one passing touchdown in 21 consecutive games. The same streak also applies to starting quarterback Zach Zulli.
Shepherd has had at least one rushing touchdown in 18 consecutive games.
No. 8 Colorado State-Pueblo at Northern Colorado, 3:35 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado State-Pueblo will be playing against a Division I team for the first time when it faces Northern Colorado of the FCS in the season opener.
The two schools played annually when Northern Colorado wasn’t a DI school. From 1964-76, Northern Colorado went 11-0-2 vs. CSU-Pueblo. The 13 games without a win is by far the longest losing streak CSU-Pueblo has ever had against any one team.
For the first time since the 2009 season, a quarterback other than Ross Dausin will start behind center for the ThunderWolves. Getting the nod against Northern Colorado is transfer signal-caller Chris Bonner, an alum of Grossmont Junior College in California who passed for 2,450 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2012.
CSU-Pueblo wideout Josh Sandoval needs just one more catch to become the second player in school history to accumulate 100 receptions for his career.
No. 9 Ashland at No. 19 Indianapolis, 6 p.m. ET Saturday
Ashland will open the season against a ranked opponent for the sixth time in head coach Lee Owens' 10-year tenure.
Ashland returns nine starters on offense, but will be breaking in a new quarterback. Austin Bruns is the first true freshman Owens has started at quarterback. The Eagles can turn to a running game that includes Anthony Taylor, who rushed for 1,198 yards -- the fifth-highest single-season total in school history -- and 13 touchdowns last year. He has five 100-yard games in his career, the first coming last year against Indianapolis (104 yards).
Five of Ashland’s top eight tacklers from 2012 return this season. Defensive lineman Jamie Meder has received several preseason honors.
Indianapolis is 11-1, including 6-0 last year, at home the past two seasons but must replace four of five starters on the offensive line and two four-year starters at linebacker.
Indianapolis has two former Harlon Hill candidates on the roster – quarterback Chris Mills and running back Klay Fiechter. No other team in the country can make that claim. Fiechter ran for a school-record 1,475 yards and 19 touchdowns last year.
Defensive lineman Vince Maida led last year’s Greyhounds with 10.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
No. 10 Indiana (Pa.) at Southern Connecticut State, 1 p.m. ET Saturday
For the fourth time in the past five years Indiana (Pa.) will open the season against Southern Connecticut State, having won the previous three meetings. Overall, IUP holds a 7-0 lead against Southern Connecticut in a series that began in 1984.
IUP is sixth is Division II with a .664 all-time winning percentage, racking up a 513-254-23 record.
IUP returns seven starters to a defense that in 2012 finished first in scoring (12.5 points) and total defense (257.9 yards) and was third in rushing defense (80.1 yards). The Crimson Hawks return eight starters on offense.
The centerpiece of the Southern Connecticut offense is running back Vaughn Magee, who averaged 126.8 yards per game by ripping off 5.3 yards a carry last season. Just two of Southern Connecticut's top five tacklers return.