LOCK HAVEN — Slippery Rock has been tabbed the favorite to win the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Football Western Division following the preseason poll as selected by the league’s head coaches, the league office announced Monday.
Slippery Rock garnered six of the eight possible first-place votes after claiming the Western Division in 2018 before advancing to the NCAA DII Football Quarterfinals. The Rock returns 11 starters on defense and are three wins shy of 600 overall as program. Slippery Rock finished ranked No. 7 in the NCAA DII National Poll released by the American Football Coaches Association. The Rock returns first-team all-conference quarterback Roland Rivers III. Rivers III turned in 3,318 yards of total offense while amassing 35 touchdowns.
Coach Shawn Lutz’s defense stymied the rushing attack after holding teams to 140.6 yards per contest; which was second-lowest in the PSAC. The Rock have put together 10 consecutive winning seasons.
Cal U was tabbed second and received a first-place vote. The Vulcans are the only PSAC program to win at least seven games each year since 2005. Cal U returns quarter back Noah Mitchell. Mitchell was tabbed West Freshman of the Year and was the first Vulcan to garner the award since 1987.
The Vulcans led the league and ranked among the top 10 in the country last year with both a .487 third-down conversion percentage and 0.64 sacks allowed per game.
IUP was selected third and swiped a first-place vote. The Crimson Hawks posted an 8-3 record in 2018 and return 16 starters. 11 of those 16 have previously claimed all-conference accolades. Head coach Paul Tortorella enters his third season at the helm and carries a 21-4 record, the best two-year start in IUP history.
IUP’s defense will rely on senior linebackers Damon Lloyd and Nick Amendola. The duo has combined for 480 career tackles.
Mercyhurst was picked fourth and return 15 starters. Junior running back Garrett Owens returns after a strong sophomore campaign that saw him rank fourth in the PSAC in rushing yards per game (110.6). Coach Marty Schaetzle’s defense allowed only 20.7 points per game; which was second-best in the PSAC.
Edinboro secured the fifth slot and return 14 starters. Wide receiver Ta’Nauz Gregory led the team in receptions (50), receiving yards (796) and receiving touchdowns (10). Defensively, the Fighting Scots picked off a league-high 19 passes in 2018 and finished fifth in NCAA DII.
Gannon was tabbed sixth and returns 14 starters. The Golden Knights return a pair of all-conference representatives on the defensive side in redshirt junior Jay Bullock and redshirt senior Andrew Berger. Berger accumulated 7.5 tackles-for-loss and 3.5 sacks.
Clarion was voted seventh and return all five starting defensive backs from a unit that ranked third in the PSAC in passing defense (191.5). The Golden Eagles return running back Mylique McGriff. McGriff averaged 100.6 all-purpose yards and has averaged 5.5 yards per touch over the course of his two-year career.
Seton Hill rounded out the poll and will be under the direction of Griffin alum Dan Day. The Griffins finished third in the league in 2018 after averaging 276.3 yards per game.
Slippery Rock, Gannon and Mercyhurst open their respective slates Thursday, Sept. 5. Cal U battles St. Anselm Friday, Sept. 6 while the remaining four West Division teams commence play Saturday, Sept. 7. Clarion visits Shippensburg.
West (# of 1st place votes)
Slippery Rock (6)
Cal U (1)
East (# of 1st place votes)
West Chester (6)