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Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference

Looking back at 2012, there were more than a few surprises, as there always seems to be in our conference.  Worthy of mention on the disappointment side has to be the letdown season of the Bethany Swedes.  Bethel’s last minute resigning of their head coach and subsequent downward spiral ranks up there as well.  Another poor playoff performance by the KCAC champ didn’t bode well for the KCAC either.  But the most tragic and bitter pill the conference has had to swallow in my 25+ years of following KCAC football has to be the death of Tabor player Brandon Brown.  The details of what happened on that ugly night in September really don’t matter at this point.  The only thing that does matter is that it shouldn’t have happened and all we can do now is pray for all those involved to find peace, and hope that players throughout the conference learned a valuable lesson and will do whatever they can to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.  

KCAC highlights for 2012 include Senior All-American lineman Jon Michael Bergeron leading an inspired Tabor College team improved to an 8 win season, just two seasons removed from a winless campaign.  Mike Keese ended a stellar career at St. Mary claiming over 10,000 yards passing.  After a similarly impressive career at two different positions, 2012 KCAC player of the year Shane Gimzo has continued to follow his dream and joins Clarence Anderson playing professional ball in Warsaw, Poland.  Other KCAC players have gone on to extended careers as well including Zach Waggoner from Bethany and Seth Myers from KWU. 

There were some great games in 2012 as well.  September 22nd may have been the best Saturday of the year- the Friends / Mac game was an absolute barn burner, and the 100th anniversary game between KWU and Bethany was a great one, especially if you like watching offenses score.   The September 29th Sterling / St. Mary overtime game was a great one.  Meanwhile, over in Hillsboro, the Ottawa / Tabor finish was about as crazy as you are going to see. You can say what you want, but KCAC fans are always treated to some great football games.

Now, on to 2013.  After researching and writing articles on all 10 teams, here are a few thoughts.  Ottawa, Friends, KWU, Tabor, and McPherson, all have a shot at competing for the title. I know that sounds like an awfully general and ultra-safe prediction, but it’s true.  Each of these teams needs just a couple of things to go their way and a couple of bad breaks for the others, and they will be right at the top of the heap.  Additionally, keep in mind that some teams will improve more than others, so some teams will have comparable success to last year, even though they are better football teams. 

1st- Tabor College- Predicted record 10-2 overall, 9-0 KCAC

Tabor has the fewest losses of key players and the best momentum going from last season. The Jays have some holes to fill, especially on both lines, and losing their kicker may cost them a win somewhere along the way, but lately they seem to be able to find a way around whatever problems they face.  The KCAC has had a year to practice defending the option, but Tabor also has another year spent dialing it in.  How well the new staff on defense settles in will be a key factor as well.

2nd – Friends University- Predicted record 8-3 Overall, 8-1 KCAC

I think FU will make a step in the right direction in 2013.  Coach Lewis knows what the problems have been and is extremely motivated to get them corrected.  FU leads the conference in pre-season all conference picks with 9 players mentioned.  There is a large influx of new players- a good number of transfers from traditional NAIA power NWOSU.  I think that the Friends staff will find a way to blend them in effectively and get the Falcons headed back in the right direction.

3rd- Ottawa University- Predicted record 6-5 Overall, 6-3 KCAC

There is just too much loss of quality players for OU to deal with this season.  But the culture and system there will make it a very short hiatus, with the Braves being right back in it in 2014.  Having an “off” year, and still finishing 3rd is a testament to what kind of tradition has been set in Ottawa.

4th – McPherson College- Predicted record 6-5 overall, 5-4 KCAC

Mac will start strong, bringing one of the few victories vs. a HAAC opponent, but subsequently will lose one or two they shouldn’t.  How well their new QB adjusts will be a key to their success, or lack thereof in 2013.

5th- Kansas Wesleyan- Predicted record 5-6 Overall, 5-4 KCAC

Tough non-conference games mean a rough start for KWU. They will be ok on offense, but their troubles on defense will not improve enough to stop teams from scoring a lot of points.

6th- Bethany – Predicted finish 5-6 overall, 4-5 KCAC

Bethany will benefit from a new look on offense which KCAC defenses will not be fully prepared for- much the same way Tabor’s option offense gave defenses fits last year.   I give them the benefit of the doubt on some close games due to the new energy and leadership that is in place. 

 7th –Sterling- Predicted record 4-7 Overall, 3-6 KCAC

Sterling will rival Friends as the most improved team in the conference next year.  Unfortunately, their KCAC record will not change from 2012.  If the Sterling defense can stop the new triple shoot offense vs. Bethany, they could swap spots with the Swedes in the standings.

8th –St. Mary- Predicted finish 4-7 Overall, 3-6 KCAC

The Spires will miss Mike Keese more than anybody realizes.  The leadership and identity that he brought to the offense will cause a drop in production, which the defense will not be able to compensate for. 

9th – Southwestern- Predicted finish 3-8 Overall, 2-7 KCAC

The ‘Builders will improve, but still struggle with depth and the higher level of competition within the conference.   

10th- Bethel- Predicted finish 1-10 Overall, 0-9 KCAC

The Threshers are another team that will be a lot better, but will be victim to tougher competition.

2013 also marks the inaugural year for the KCAC / HAAC challenge; a great idea that I hope becomes a long standing tradition.  The arrangement is one conference has all games at home in alternating years.  This year, the KCAC hosts.  The pairings go right down the line with the previous year’s order of finish in each conference, #1 vs. #1 and so on.  Unfortunately for the KCAC, it will not be much of a challenge to begin with.  Right now, the Heart of America conference is a tough match for the KCAC, especially for the top 5 in each conference.  Here’s a breakdown of each game:

Ottawa Braves vs. Missouri Valley Vikings

Unfortunately, the loss OU suffered in last year’s NAIA championship series was a preview of what’s to come to begin 2013.  Valley is projected to be an improved team this year with a lot of returning talent and sky high expectations.  They are ranked #3 in the nation in the preseason NAIA poll.  OU, has lost a lot of key players and will be working new personnel into the system on both sides of the ball.  One consolation in favor of the Braves is that it does seem that Valley is a slow starting program.  Regardless, this is not a good match up for the Braves at this point and the Valley coaching staff will more than likely have total control of how large the point spread will be.  My guess: Valley 56 – Ottawa 21

Tabor Bluejays vs. Mid America Nazarene Pioneers

This matchup is another rough draw for the KCAC.  MNU is coming off of an 8-3 season and a playoff appearance.  They do have some losses on offense- 8 starters is the rumor, but MNU traditionally has been a reload type team during Coach Quinn’s tenure.  If Tabor can control the ball and the clock and not get into a shooting match, they could stay in it and pull off the miracle.  The big question mark they have in their kicking game could haunt them in this sort of a game.  Score MNU 28 – Tabor 14

USM Spires vs. Baker Wildcats

This game is a mismatch.  I think Baker is just going to have a great team this year, and USM is in that backsliding stage while they try to find a new QB and offensive leader.  Score Baker 35 – USM 10

KWU Coyotes vs. Evangel Crusaders

Evangel is on the verge of a breakout season.  If they get a few breaks, they will contend for a playoff spot and challenge Missouri Valley for the top spot in the Heart.  KWU will hang tough for a half, but Evangel will end up on top by 14.  Score Evangel 35 – KWU 21

Friends Falcons vs. Benedictine Ravens

Battle of the birds of prey.  This one may actually be closer than I originally thought.  I look for a ground pounding 3 yards in a cloud of dust game here.  I envision Monty Lewis and Larry Wicox standing toe to toe trading punches like Woody Hayes and Bo Shembechler did back in the 70’s.  I think the Falcons compete, but get outlasted.  BC 24 – Friends 17

McPherson Bulldogs vs. Graceland Yellowjackets

This one I think goes to the KCAC.  Mac had a strong start last year and I think will be improved enough this season that we can expect a win here. Graceland has been mediocre to bad since 2008, and have only managed two wins in the last two seasons.  Score McPherson 35 – Graceland 21

Southwestern Moundbuilders vs. Peru State Bobcats

This will be a wild one.  I think it will be a high scoring affair with Peru being the last team to score and get a close win.  Peru State 42 – Southwestern 36

Sterling Warriors vs. Culver Stockton Wildcats

Defensive struggle goes to the Warriors in a slugfest game.  Sterling 15 – CSC 7

Bethany Swedes vs. Avila Eagles

The Swedes will stay close, but get outlasted in somewhat of a shootout.  Avila 32 – Bethany 23

Bethel Threshers vs. Central Methodist Eagles

This is an even worse mismatch than it should be due to the Eagles’ self-reported violations that took away two victories in 2012 and put them in last place in the Heart.  This will probably be the most lopsided of all the matchups with a score of Bethel 3 – CMU 42

So the outlook is 8 wins, 2 losses in favor of the Heart of America Conference.  I think that the KCAC will begin to fare better as time goes on.  There are a number of teams in Kansas that have taken a new outlook with their football programs and will raise the overall level of competition to the point where the conference will become more relevant nationally than ever before.