This article appeared in the Detroit Free Press.
- Ferris State
2014 record: 11-1, 10-0 GLIAC.
Key players: Senior QB Jason Vander Laan, sophomore RB Jahaan Brown, senior DT Justin Zimmer.
Keep an eye on: Fourth-year starter and duel threat sensation Vander Laan was the GLIAC Player of the Year and Harlon Hill Trophy winner as Division II’s best player, after amassing 52 total touchdowns (30 passing, 22 rushing).
Overview: The nation’s preseason No. 2 team according to Sporting News returns a bevy of contributors from the team that won the school’s first conference title in 15 years by averaging 46.6 points per game. The GLIAC Preseason Coaches Poll pegged the Bulldogs as the favorite to win the North division, garnering seven of eight first place votes.
- Grand Valley State
2014 record: 6-5, 6-4.
Key players: Senior RB Kirk Spencer, senior OL Jim Walsh, senior DE Matt Judon.
Keep an eye on: Judon was the team’s second-leading tackler, and was second in the GLIAC with 19 tackles for loss and tied for the conference lead with 8.5 sacks.
Overview: The Lakers look to bounce back after failing to win seven games for the first time since 2000. They’ll find out quickly what type of team they have when they clash against the league’s two division champions — Old Dominican and Ferris State — in weeks two and three.
2014 record: 4-7, 4-6.
Key players: Senior WR John Haley, sophomore RB Bennett Lewis, sophomore LB Jay Rose.
Keep an eye on: The QB battle is ongoing between incumbent Mark LaPrairie, backup C.J. Mifsud and WMU transfer Chance Stewart.
Overview: After consecutive losing seasons, longtime coach Keith Otterbein will try to recapture past glory. The Chargers have a chance to start hot with three of their first four games at home.
- Michigan Tech
2014 record: 9-2, 9-1.
Key players: Junior QB Brandon Cowie, senior DT Tanner Agen, senior S Brett Gervais.
Keep an eye on: Cowie was the leading receiver last season, but has reverted back to QB with the graduation of QB record-holder Tyler Scarlett.
Overview: The Huskies look to build on their first playoff appearance in 10 seasons, and will rely on a defense that allowed 19.6 PPG, third-best in the conference. Four of their first five games are home.
2014 record: 5-6, 4-6.
Key players: Senior RB Jared Briguglio, sophomore RB Damian Nicholson, junior LB Michael Fisher.
Keep an eye on: Fisher led the GLIAC with 126 total tackles, and 6-foot-3 junior corner Ayrn Curtis was second in interceptions (six) and tied for first with 13 pass breakups.
Overview: It will be an emotional season for the Timberwolves as interim coach Leonard Haynes replaces the late Pat Riepma, the school’s winningest coach. 15 starters return, including eight on defense.
- Northern Michigan
2014 record: 3-8, 2-8.
Key players: Junior QB Shaye Brown, senior RB Wyatt Jurasin, senior WR Marcus Tucker.
Keep an eye on: Brown was second in the GLIAC with 261 passing yards per game, and his favorite target Tucker led the league with 21.1 yards per catch.
Overview: From Week 2 through 6, the Wildcats don’t leave the U.P., with four home games sandwiched around a short trip to rival Michigan Tech.
- Saginaw Valley State
2014 record: 2-9, 2-8.
Key players: Senior WR Bryan Fobbs, sophomore LB Bryan Jones, junior S Matt McKoy
Keep an eye on: Sophomore QB Tyler Palka is the incumbent, but may be pushed for playing time by junior transfer Brad Odeman, Jr.
Overview: Major 2013 contributors DT Jordan Sanders and S Major Metcalf return after missing 2014 with injuries. The Cardinals face a brutal slate to start the season, with four of their first five games coming on the road.
- Wayne State
2014 record: 7-4, 6-4.
Key players: Senior QB Carl Roscoe, sophomore DE Jake Carrizales, senior FS Zak Bielecki.
Keep an eye on: The Warriors lost RB Desmond Martin to graduation, and are waiting for one of a handful of talented yet inexperienced runners to fill the void. Look for a running back by committee until someone clearly outperforms the others.
Overview: Picked to finish third in the North, the Warriors return three fifth-year seniors in a talented secondary. The defense improved by nearly 10 points per game from 2013 to ’14, and they’ll face just one team with a winning record from last year after Week 2 (Grand Valley State).