Head coach Vance Winter’s Bulldogs have been picked to finish eighth in the Great Plains Athletic Conference by both the coaches and the media, the GPAC announced Thursday at the league’s football media day held at the Country Inn & Suites Hotel in Lincoln, Neb.
Concordia also landed at No. 8 in the GPAC at the conclusion of the 2011 season after a 3-6 conference mark. The Bulldogs began league play at 3-1 before losing their final five games of the season.
But Concordia figures to have an improved squad now in year four of Winter’s tenure. An upgrade in talent has the Bulldogs’ head coach optimistic about the 2012 season.
“We really like our roster,” Winter said during Thursday’s press conference. “We feel like as we’ve grinded away and worked at this for three years, we feel like this is the most talented overall roster we’ve had.”
The revamped Bulldog offense led by new offensive coordinator Curran White emerged as a topic of conversation on Thursday with Winter at the podium. Without giving too much information about the system away, Winter responded to questions about the offensive changes.
“Everybody up here probably has a good idea of what Missouri Valley (White’s previous coaching stop) has run the past few years. We’re very similar,” Winter said. “A lot of similar traits offensively. There’s some new wrinkles Coach White has added to base around our personnel, but no more option.”
One of the main points of emphasis behind the new offense is the need to get the ball in the hands of playmakers like senior receiver Colten Quinabo (Wailuku, Hawaii), who Winter praised for his great spring performance.
“I think everybody works for that 50-50 (pass-run balance),” Winter said. “Still, we’re not going to be a run-and-shoot football team. We want to be able to run the ball. I just think we needed to find a way to use our athletes better. We need to find a way to use our athletes and spread out the field more. I think we’ve got some guys that have some ability to where we can obviously move the chains better than we have the past few years.”
Despite the losses of all-conference standouts Jerrod Fleming, Benjamin Klein and Derek Rodine on defense, Concordia expects to have a strong unit once again. Linebacker Dylan Heithoff and defensive lineman Michael Voelker will anchor that side of the ball under the direction of defensive coordinator Patrick Daberkow.
“We’re short with experienced depth at certain positions, but our expectations defensively are still very high,” Winter said. “I think Coach Daberkow and his staff will have those guys playing fast and physical week after week, and we’ll get a great group out there.
“Defensively, we feel like we have some difference-maker type guys at each position group.”
The media placed defending GPAC champion Morningside atop its poll with 76 points and five first-place votes. The coaches gave the top nod to Northwestern, which garnered 78 points and six first-place votes.
Briar Cliff and Dordt were the only programs picked to finish lower than Concordia by the coaches and media, reflecting the final 2011 standings.
Doane dedicates season to Cody Fanning: Doane head football coach Matt Franzen and his Tiger squad are dedicating their 2012 season to former starting defensive back Cody Fanning, who died in late April due to injuries he sustained in an automobile accident. In his Thursday press conference, Franzen said that Fanning’s mother was “blown away” by a letter of condolence she received from Vance Winter. “I just had so much respect for Cody,” Winter said. “He represented what small college football is all about.” Fanning would have been entering his senior year at Doane this fall.
GPAC Preseason Football Coaches’ Poll
*first-place votes in parentheses
1. Northwestern – 78 points (6)
2. Morningside – 76 (4)
3. Hastings – 53
T4. Dakota Wesleyan – 51
T4. Doane – 51
T4. Midland – 51
7. Nebraska Wesleyan – 38
8. Concordia – 24
9. Briar Cliff – 16
10. Dordt – 12
GPAC Preseason Football Media Poll
*first-place votes in parentheses
1. Morningside – 76 (5)
2. Northwestern – 74 (3)
3. Doane – 60
4. Hastings – 49
5. Midland – 47
6. Nebraska Wesleyan – 45
7. Dakota Wesleyan – 34
8. Concordia – 31
9. Briar Cliff – 15
10. Dordt – 9