South Dakota Preview: Coyotes at Drake
Two teams that enter 2107 with high hopes of ending FCS Playoff droughts go head-to-head to open the season when South Dakota plays at Drake.
Neither the Coyotes or Bulldogs have qualified for post season play at the FCS level, but both have shown signs of getting closer.
USD took a big step forward in Bob Nielson's first year as head coach last season, winning four-of-six at one point, before losing the final four games of the season by an average of less than seven points.
University of Minnesota transfer Chris Streveler is back for his second season at quarterback, after being named the Newcomer of the Year in the Missouri Valley Conference last season.
He'll be missing starter Ed Kennedy up front, who will sit all season with an injury, but will have a couple of veterans on the offensive line, some untapped talent at running back, and an extremely deep group of receivers.
Defensively for the Coyotes, stopping the run will be the key in 2017, after allowing more than 250 yards a game rushing in 2016.
There are a couple of holes to fill up front, but the linebacking group is solid, thanks to the return of John Wessel, who sat out most of last season with an injury.
The USD secondary has a trio of starters back.
The Coyotes travel to Des Moines to battle Drake in the opener, Saturday night (September 2).
Over a three week stretch, the Bulldogs get USD and South Dakota State (in Brookings - September 16).
This is a Drake team that started 3-4 in 2016 (including a loss to SDSU) before turning things around to win the final four games of the year.
Quarterback Grant Kraemer was a big part of the turnaround, completing 60 percent of his passes and throwing 14 of his 23 touchdowns in those final four games.
But 2017 is a rebuilding year for the Drake offense, with 70 percent of last season's output now gone.
The biggest loss was tight end Eric Saubert, who's now trying to make the Atlanta Falcons roster in the NFL. Devin Cates will try to pick up the slack, after averaging 21 yards per catch in 2016.
Also departed is last season's leading rusher Conley Wilkins, who averaged nearly 100 yards a game.
Drew Lauer and Brock Reichardt are back. Both averaged better than three yards a carry last season.
Defensively, Drake lost last season's top two tacklers. But, three starters are back on the defensive line - All Pioneer League selections Mack Marrin, Tanner Evans and Nathan Clayberg.
On special teams, punt returner Terry Wallen is a pre-season All-American. He was second in the nation with nearly 15 yards a return last season.
Kickoff is 6:00 PM, Saturday in Des Moines.
I talked with Coyote head coach Bob Nielson about the matchup with the Bulldogs: