Who won the title last year?
Northwest Missouri State captured its second Division II championship in three years in impressive fashion in 2015, going 15-0 and thumping Shepherd in the championship game 34-7 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Bearcats senior quarterback Brady Bolles finished his college career with a 20-of-27, 233-yard one-touchdown performance while running back Phil Jackson added 109 yards on the ground to capture the easy win.
Meanwhile, the Rams were forced to punt nine times and only mustered one third quarter touchdown to avoid the shutout. NWMSU’s victory marked its fifth DII championship, which is the most out of any active DII program.
Who is No. 1 heading into 2016?Given last year’s success and easy run through the postseason bracket last year, NWMSU enters this upcoming season as the No. 1 team again in the AFCA Coaches preseason poll, garnering 29 of the 30 first-place votes.
While Bolles has graduated, Jackson returns to lead the offense in his senior season after accumulating 951 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in last season’s championship run.
In addition to replacing Bolles, the Bearcats will have to replace three standouts on defense in safety Bryce Enyard, linebacker Brock Sherman and defensive tackle Brandon Yost. The trio of 2015 graduates combined for 200 tackles last year.
Nonetheless, NWMSU will be heavy favorites once it starts its season Sept. 1 on the road at Emporia State.
What other team will be in the hunt?
The only other team to receive a vote in the preseason poll was West Georgia, who fell to NWMSU 38-23 in last year’s semifinals.
The 15-point loss was actually the greatest fight any program put up against NWMSU in last year’s bracket, as the Bearcats won by an average of 28 points over the four playoff games.
West Georgia went 12-2 last season en route to earning one of four No. 1 seeds in last year’s postseason. The team is powered by its offense, which scored 37 points per game in 2015.
West Georgia also loses its quarterback from last season but junior All-conference wide receiver Qa Walker returns after catching 10 touchdowns last year. The Wolves also return a strong base on defense with three preseason All-Conference selections.
West Georgia kicks off its season Sept. 3 at Catawba.