NAIA Ramblings of Jason Dannelly from 9/14/2007: Nothing is Taking Shape, Repeat . . .

By the looks of these two contests one would start to believe that it is a two horse race in the NAIA, but I am not inclined to think that way quite yet even though the evidence is pretty convincing. In the first few weeks of the season I have been thoroughly impressed with several teams and how they have seemingly improved in the off-season.

The first that comes to mind is Saint Xavier. Mike Feminis’ squad was an NAIA semifinalist last season in what proved to be a remarkable and historic run through the NAIA postseason. This year’s team makes me believe they have the same swagger as last year’s squad.

The key will be how they handle the new conference schedule and their move to the Mideast side of the league. Now they have to battle St. Francis (IN) and Walsh (OH) in the regular season as well as face off with Ohio Dominican for the first time this season. Also keep in mind that one of their regular season losses last season came against Mideast opponent Malone, who just got back from California after putting up a great fight against Azusa Pacific.

QB Bill Yeo of SXU is a gamer. He is not going to be an NFL Draft pick but he will be able to put together one of the best seasons ever for Saint Xavier. Yeo reminds me of Chad Cavender from Sioux Falls in about every sense of his play. They just seem to both made good decisions and by the end of the day they will put their team in position to win football games.

But I digress, SXU is just one of many teams in the NAIA that feel have a great opportunity to win a national championship this season. Carroll College, Bethel TN, Ohio Dominican … the list goes on because it is that early in the season and we cannot even begin to see these conference races taking shape.

The Wacky HAACy
If I could explain this conference to you I would probably be in Mensa.

MNU looked like a championship caliber team in week one with a big win over Azusa Pacific then lost the second week to Lindenwood before eking out a victory over Benedictine last week. This week the ‘Neers will play Graceland, who looked average in a week one win over Central Methodist but then turned it on against the nation’s #3 team Missouri Valley. Valley was thought to be one of the best in the country but went to 3OTs with Benedictine in week one to get a win previous to their loss to the Jackets.

Oh yeah, William Jewell is 2-0 facing MoVal Saturday and Baker is 1-1 with undefeated Lindenwood on the schedule. My head is spinning … I’m going to take a nap now.

So if ANYONE tries to say “you can start to see the shape of …” then those people need to be shaken violently because they are not watching the same conference or NAIA division as us. Graceland and Lindenwood hold the keys right now with both having a chance at unbeaten seasons. But the way the conference has gone this season I would not count on any of that.

Seemingly LU and Graceland have remedied any offensive woes that people expected in 2007. They’ve both looked very good through two weeks and will be tested in their games this week.

Just a little side note; If Baker were allowed to go all orange, then the Lindenwood/Baker game this week in St. Charles would not be attended by any fashion experts. I think the new uni’s at LU look good, but the message boards may not think so. You may also go blind if Baker were allowed to play in the orange uniforms from watching them and the gold and black all over the field.

Ever eat a banana and an orange on an upset stomach? Yep … kinda like that.

Helena is here!
Nearly every season that I have covered NAIA football there has been the opportunity presented to attend a football game in Helena, MT. Each season I have absolutely enjoyed my time spent in the Big Sky state.

From eating 2lbs of steak at the Marysville House to getting to know a bunch of the alumni off the first national championship team, I have always enjoyed my visit to Montana’s Capitol City. Heck, while going to these games I’ve also gotten a chance to visit Butte, MT and see the home of the Orediggers. I just made sure I wore my VSN gear and not anything gold while visiting.

There is just something about the state of Montana that I look forward to every year whether it’s seeing the Saints play football or getting to meet huge fans of NAIA sports.

I am not sure what is in store for me on this trip to Helena but I certainly plan on seeing some great football in the Frontier.

It should be a great game because the opponent, Eastern Oregon, needs this win or at least a great performance to begin their climb in the Frontier and NAIA standings. This is a football team that I felt coming into the season showed great promise. They still do but they have to start turning the corner this week because right now it appears to be Montana Tech and the Mountaineers of EOU for third in the Frontier.

Ahh yes, there I go with a “taking shape” comment. I’m sure I’ll be proven wrong!

Rivalry in Sioux Falls
The Cougars play host to the one of the higher rated teams in the NAIA this week, the Northwestern College Red Raiders. This game is always well played, hard fought and often times go down to the wire.

But much to the displeasure of Red Raider backers, I do not see it that way this season. Two things have happened in the last 365 days: Sioux Falls got better and Northwestern’s offense took a step back.

Yes, I know Northwestern just came off a 44 point performance last week over Dakota Wesleyan. But let’s not use that as the measuring stick for the success of the Red Raider “O”. The team I saw week one in Lincoln, Nebraska had big problems moving the football against a decent defense. I do not believe last week’s defense from the Tigers in Mitchell, South Dakota should be compared to the ‘85 Bears either even though they appear to be improved. When tested this season, the Red Raiders “O” did not perform well.

So I firmly stand behind my pick of 42-7. I think Sioux Falls is that good on both sides of the ball. Maybe the 42 is a bit high, but I also calculated in a defensive and special teams score as well. Northwestern’s fate will lie on their first drive of the game. If they can get a score early then they may be able to hang with USF. I just do not see it happening.

Wrapping ‘Em Up and Taking ‘Em Down
AzusaPacific – CA @University of Wisconsin-La Crosse: APU’s tough schedule continues this week on the road. As an “NAIA” guy I want APU to get this win but this is a very good D3 school. APU will need to play at an extremely high level.

Baker – KS @ Lindenwood – MO: If Baker can upset Lindenwood this week on the road they too can throw their name in the HAAC title hunt as nearly everything will be up in the air. Baker needs a breakout game and there is no better set up than this week.

Bethany (Kan.) – KS @ Briar Cliff – IA: GPAC vs. KCAC. Bethany is young and will struggle against Briar Cliff. The Cliffies need this non-conference win as they struggle with where they will land in the conference this season.

Doane – NE @ Nebraska Wesleyan – NE: Rivalry!!!! But … don’t expect much yet. Doane is young and inexperienced. Look for improvement from the Tigers but NWU should handle them.

Haskell Indian Nations – KS @ University of Redlands: Haskell gets a great opportunity from their school leadership to travel across the country to play in what will be one of the more memorable weekends in their recent football history. But do not go looking for Haskell to come back with a “W” as Redlands is a quality D3.

MayvilleState – ND @ South Dakota Mines: Mines could seriously start the season 3-0? Wow. It has been awhile since Mines has had the ability to do this. Mayville State needs a win this week to show they are improved over last season but Mines will not go down easy.

MidAmerica Nazarene – KS @ Graceland – IA: GU can take hold of their destiny this week with a win over MNU but I get the feeling that the HAAC is just going to get crazier and crazier by the week. It’s just so wide open right now that you might as well throw darts to pick the winner.

MinotState – ND @ Jamestown – ND: I think Jamestown proves this week they are one of the top two in the conference with a win. I think BHSU has a lot of improving to do since they started 0-2 but the Jimmies can turn heads with a win this week and a perfect start to their season. Minot State needs a “W” to get the monkey off their back and get the Rudolph era started with a bang. Minot will be good under Rudolph but it is going to take a while.

MissouriValley@ William Jewell – MO: I nearly forgot about this game since there are so many good ones in the HAAC. MoVal needs a strong offensive performance to stay in the upper tier of the conference while Jewell is chomping at the bit for a chance to be considered one of the best in the conference. This might end out being the best game of the week.

Northwestern Oklahoma State – OK @ Southwestern – KS: The KCAC has started scheduling NWOSU … this could be ugly this week if the Rangers start to roll.

OhioDominican @ Tiffin University: The best overall football game of the week. Tiffin is proving to be a very tough DII football team as the Dragons are currently undefeated. ODU needs this win to prove to me they are a national championship caliber football team. Sure it may seem unfair to say that since this is a good DII school, but when St. Francis and Carroll were making their runs to the title game they were beating good DII schools. ODU needs this to prove to me they stand chance to beat St. Francis (IN) this season.

Olivet Nazarene – IL @ St. Xavier – IL: Nice little Chicago area rivalry. ONU is the team everyone forgets about because they are just “there”. They are not the top, they are not the bottom. They are just there. SXU’s plans should prove to leave them “there” with a convincing win.

Quincy – IL @ Culver-Stockton – MO: The Pepsi Great River Bowl should be a great game as well. I think that CSC is improved this season and Quincy is still a quality team. Should go to the wire with this one.

Saint Francis – IN @ Pikeville – KY: I think USF continues their run to start the season. After a 71-7 game last week I think the Cougars will scare the Bears into the gigantic hill on the West side of their football field. Pikeville is getting better but they are not on the same level as the Cougars yet.

Union (Ky.) – KY @ Malone – OH: MSC vs. MSFA. I think Malone is the better overall team and should win this game but it’s nice to see two conferences locking up in a non-conference battle.

Urbana– OH @ McKendree – IL: McKendree loses to Urbana last season. That was the point that I knew McKendree wasn’t the same power that they had been in previous seasons. A win this week will prove to me they are back in the running for the NAIA postseason.

ValleyCity State– ND @ Black Hills – SD: No wins between these two schools that were near and at the top of the conference last season. The outcome of this game will help me to draw a conclusion if BHSU will be strong enough in all areas to win the DAC. The same can be said about VCSU. For whatever reason, people seem to be writing off VCSU as a team that could win this conference. A strong performance this week can have people thinking differently.

That’s it for this week folks. Enjoy your NAIA football and I’m sure I’ll be hearing from you on email or the message boards!

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