Four Bears Gain Preseason MVFC Honors; Team Fighting for Respect
ST. LOUIS - Not even Missouri State's wins over three Top 25 opponents and a pair of Division I playoff teams a year ago were enough to impress its peers around the Missouri Valley Football Conference with the release of the league's 2011 preseason poll and all-conference team on Monday (Aug. 1).
Coming off a third-place tie at 4-4 in the MVFC standings in 2010, the Bears were picked ninth in this year's conference preseason poll as selected by league coaches, media and sports information directors. It marks the first time since 1987 that MSU has been picked last in the league preseason poll.
"It's more important where you are at the end of the season than at the beginning," said MSU head coach Terry Allen who is beginning his sixth season with the Bears. "We have a lot of new faces, so I understand why they put us where they did."
The Bears return five starters on offense and four on defense, but will have 34 lettermen and 56 squad members back when camp opens Aug. 4.
Including eight seasons at Northern Iowa, this is also the first time in 13 MVFC seasons that Allen has been picked last in the conference preseason poll. In those 13 years, his squads have never finished worse than predicted, with six finishes higher than projected and seven as projected, including six years when UNI was picked to win the conference and did so.
Northern Iowa recieved 29 of the 36 first-place votes and 316 total points to hold down the top spot in this year's poll. The Panthers were followed by North Dakota State with six first-place votes and 275 points and Southern Illinois with the remaining top vote and 207 total points. South Dakota State (172), Illinois State (169), Indiana State (168), Western Illinois (151) and Youngstown State (88) were ranked fourth through eighth, respectively, while the Bears tallied 74 total points -- by far the most ever by a team picked last in the MVFC preseason poll, which dates to 1986.
The only MSU player to earn Preseason All-MVFC first-team distinction is wide receiver Jermaine Saffold (Sr., Grandview, Mo.) who was an All-MVFC second-team selection last year after he caught 53 passes for 869 yards and five touchdowns. Three other Bears earned Preseason All-MVFC honorable mention status, including All-America candidate Chris Douglas (Sr., RB, Lawrenceville, Ga.), punter Jordan Chiles (Sr., Hillsboro, Ill.) and cornerback Jimmie Strong (Sr., Texarkana, Texas).
In 2010, Douglas became just the 10th MSU back to accumulate 1,000 rushing yards in a single season when he tallied 1,051 yards on 152 carries, scored 11 touchdowns and finished second in the nation in yards per carry (6.9). He achieved all that while getting just one start and sharing the workload with classmate Stephen Johnston who had 147 carries, 752 yards and 10 starts.
Chiles averaged 38.3 yards per punt as a junior. Half of his 56 punts were fair caught or downed inside the opponents' 20-yard line, and he is poised for his fourth season as a starter on the Bears' special teams.
Strong led the Bears with four interceptions in 2010 and did so in just nine games as he spent a great deal of his junior year fighting the injury bug. He tallied 31 total tackles and defended six passes.
Consensus Draft Services picked Douglas as a preseason All-America running back earlier this summer. Meanwhile, Saffold, Douglas, Strong and Chiles garnered preseason honors by being named to the College Football Performance Awards Watch Lists for their respective positions. Likewise, Phil Steele's College Football Preview named Saffold and Chiles as preseason All-MVFC first-team picks, while the publication had Douglas, Strong and linebacker Nick Canavan (So., Norman, Okla.) on the preseason second team.
Season tickets for MSU's four-game home slate are available by calling (417) 836-7678. The Bears went undefeated at Plaster Field in 2010 and own a six-game home winning streak headed into the 2011 season.
The Bears will kick off the 2011 season at Arkansas on Sept. 3 (6:00 p.m.) and will play their first four contests on the road, including their MVFC opener at Southern Illinois on Sept. 24.Tickets for the road games at Arkansas and Oregon (Sept. 17) are also available by calling (417) 836-7678.