The DII football season opened Thursday night and it was nothing short of exciting. Ferris State clung to a one-point win, Ouachita Baptist got a game-winning field goal to hold off Harding 16-14, and a kickoff return for the ages highlighted opening night.
Reigning champion Valdosta State opened its season with a commanding win over Albany State, but it was the six DII football upsets over FCS programs that made headlines. Due to Hurricane Dorian, we have one more day of DII football this week as Florida Tech and Savannah State were moved to Sunday.
DII vs. FCS UPSETS: We tracked every upset and here's how they happened | Kentucky State's first win since 2017
Week 1 DII football schedule
Here's the complete schedule for the top 25 as well as those receiving votes on Sunday, as well as the results from Thursday's and Friday's opening weekend games.
2019 SEASON PREVIEW: 5 bold predictions for DII football in 2019
DII football season preview: What to expect
1. Can Valdosta State reach the DII football championship tournament?
Every preseason No. 1 since 2014 has two things in common. One is they were all the defending champions, and the second was they all made the DII football championship tournament that same year. The last team to enter a season No. 1 and not make the DII tournament was Valdosta State in 2013. Despite a brand new coach in Gary Goff, the Blazers are stacked with returners and there is little reason to think we won't see them vying for a spot in McKinney, Texas at the national championship game on Dec. 21.
2. What does Notre Dame (OH)'s Jaleel McLaughlin do next?
The Falcons running back set rookie records in DII football in 2018, cruising to 2,421 yards and leading Notre Dame to the semifinals. A bulk of that team returns, including big offensive linemen Jimmy Burchett and Brandon Nicholson. McLaughlin is set up perfectly to make a run at Danny Woodhead's single-season record of 2,756 yards rushing set in 2006 at Chadron State.
FIRST-TIME CHAMPS? NDC, Ferris State amongst 5 teams who can win it all in 2019
3. Does Ferris State take home that elusive title?
There are several teams currently on multiple-season DII football tournament runs but few have been as successful as Ferris State's. The Bulldogs have reached at least the quarterfinals three years running, with a semifinals appearance in 2016 and the national runner-up in 2018. The one thing the program doesn't have is that national championship. With dual-threat quarterback Jayru Campbell back under center, this may be the Bulldogs best chance at a national title.
NFL 2019: DII players of NFL rosters
DII football players to watch in 2019
Ferris State's Jayru Campbell enters the 2019 season as the defending winner of the Harlon Hill Trophy. The Harlon Hill Trophy has been awarded annually since 1986 to the division's national player of the year, making it the Heisman Trophy of DII football. Campbell joins names like Valdosta State's Rogan Wells, Notre Dame (OH)'s Jaleel McLaughlin, and Mars Hill's Craig Rucker. Be sure to see our complete 28-player preseason watchlist by clicking on the link below:
DII football preseason rankings: The top 25
The AFCA preseason poll was released on Aug. 26. The four semifinalists from 2015 all begin the year as the top four teams — No. 1 Valdosta State, No. 2 Ferris State, No. 3 Minnesota State and No. 4 Notre Dame (OH) — while the national quarterfinalists all populate the top 10.
Here's a look at the top 25 and be sure to check out our instant reaction to the AFCA preseason rankings release.
|Rank||School||2018 record||Points||2018 final ranking|
|1||Valdosta State (29)||14-0||792||1|
|2||Ferris State (3)||15-1||768||2|
|4||Notre Dame (Ohio)||13-1||623||4|
|6||Northwest Missouri State||10-3||580||10|
|11||Fort Hays State||9-3||419||22|
|12||Grand Valley State||10-2||418||14|
|17||Colorado School of Mines||10-2||288||18|
DII football Week 1 preview: Top games to watch
The Blazers have the longest current winning streak in DII football at 15 straight games. Albany State, which is receiving votes, is an in-state foe, which brings a little extra to the table. All eyes will be on every Valdosta State game this season, especially in a Gulf South Conference with three top 25 teams, so be sure to watch how it gets the Gary Goff era underway on opening night.
UIndy has been top 25 and DII football tournament regulars the past two seasons. Ashland is back in the top 25 after missing out in 2018. The Eagles are no strangers to the spotlight, however, ending 2017 in the top 25 after a DII football tournament win against Northwest Missouri State.
While Northwest Missouri State is ranked higher in the top 25, the Tigers have given the Bearcats fits the past two seasons, winners of the last two meetings, making them serious contenders for another MIAA title. Central Missouri, no matter its ranking, is always a challenge in the MIAA. This is a good early-season test for both teams and a chance for the Tigers to make a statement right out of the gate.
This checks all the boxes for a great opening night showdown. Great American Conference rivals. Check. A top 20 matchup on opening night. Check. DII football championship regulars. Check. What more do you need? Harding is riding a streak of three-straight seasons in the DII tournament, while Ouachita has gone two years in a row. It may only be Game 1, but there is a whole lot resting on the outcome of this game.