It won't take long for the Central College football team to measure its progress.
Powerful Wis.-Oshkosh, which narrowly missed a berth in the NCAA Division III championship game less than nine months ago, brings a deep and experienced club to Pella Saturday in the season opener for both squads. Game time is 1 p.m. at Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium.
On the air, on the Web—Highly regarded sportscaster Trevor Castle is back for a 13th year to call the play-by-play for the Dutch on KRLS-FM (92.1) with George Wares providing color. The broadcast can also be accessed through Central's website at www.central.edu/athletics or through www.kniakrls.com. A video webcast and live stats can also be viewed at www.central.edu/athletics.
KRLS radio also airs the Coaches' Corner featuring Dutch coach Jeff McMartin at Applebee's restaurant in Pella each Monday night at 7 p.m. The show can be accessed online, either live or via podcast.
The coaches—Central's Jeff McMartin is in his 10th year as head coach with a 73-23 record. His teams have won four Iowa Conference titles and gained four NCAA Division III playoff berths. McMartin, a 1990 Central grad, enters the season ranked eighth among active Division III coaches in career winning percentage (.760). He is 6-3 in season openers as head coach.
Titan coach Pat Cerroni is in his seventh year and has compiled a 39-24 mark. Cerroni was a finalist for Division III coach of the year honors after piloting the Titans to the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship and the semifinal round of the NCAA Division III playoffs. He's 5-1 on opening day.
Last year--Wis.-Oshkosh won its first 13 games in 2012, including a 47-28 home triumph over Central, and finished with a 13-1 mark, advancing to the Division III semifinals before St. Thomas (Minn.) claimed an Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl berth with a 27-14 decision.. Meanwhile a young Dutch team struggled early but won three of its last four games to close at 5-5.
The series—It's Central's fourth straight season opener against Wis.-Oshkosh and the teams' fourth meeting overall. However, it may be their last for a while. Wis.-Oshkosh is not on the 2014 schedule.
Central's last two games with the Titans were played at Oshkosh. Before last year's Wis.-Oshkosh victory, in 2011 the Titans scored two touchdowns in the first five minutes and then held off a Dutch comeback attempt for a 31-28 win. Central prevailed in 2010 at Pella, rallying with a 21-point second half for a 34-28 victory.
Wis.-Oshkosh dominated last year's contest as Central yielded a record 644 yards of total offense, including 28 first-quarter points and 41 points in the first half, which were also school marks for most allowed.
But McMartin said his team doesn't need to use that game as motivation.
"We have to know we're playing a really good football team," he said. "We have to be really focused and keep our focus, keep making plays and hang in there. Don't let what happened last year affect us. We have to keep moving forward.
"They have a lot of good players back and are very good. It's a chance for us to get better and put ourselves in a position to do something.
The Titans—After finishing 2012 in fourth in the D3football.com rankings, Wis.-Oshkosh is now rated No. 12, its highest preseason ranking ever. But the Titans are picked to place third in the rugged WIAC according to a poll of league coaches. Wis.-Platteville, rated No. 11, is favored, followed by No. 9 Wis.-Whitewater. Wis.-Oshkosh also has a road game against defending NAIA champ Marian (Ind.).
The Titans have won 29 of their last 32 season openers. They graduated consenus all-America quarterback Nate Wara but little else on offense as 25 letterwinners return, including eight starters. Senior running back Cole Myhra also received all-America distinction. He ranked fourth in Division III with 1,589 rushing yards and a school-record 19 touchdowns while also catching 44 passes for 418 yards. Senior all-conference receiver Caleb Voss has received some preseason all-America mention. He had 68 receptions for a school-record 1,333 yards and 13 touchndowns. All-league receiver Zach Kusuboski, a junior, also returns.
While the Titans have a new quarterback as well as a new offensive coordinator, McMartin anticipates they'll give a similar look.
"I think they'll be similar on offense," McMartin said. "They've got great speed and great size."
The key to defending the Titans is the Central offense, he said.
"We need to stay on the field," he said. "We've got to get first downs and move the ball. That's the best thing we can do to help the defense."
Scrimmage with alumni—Central held a scrimmage with a squad of alumni players Saturday evening. McMartin said there were benefits to the event beyond preparing for this week.
"We got to play a lot of people and we came out of it with fairly good health," he said. "It's always great to bring past players back. A lot of our guys were able to connect with them. They got to see kind of passion they have and were able to learn from it."
Lineup decisions—With 15 returning starters, Central is considerably more experienced than the squad that traveled to Oshkosh, Wis. to start 2012. The defense is an especially veteran group. Not only do the Dutch return eight of last year's starters, they also return three veterans who missed most or all of 2012. Keith Rush (senior, Griswold) didn't see the field last year after earning all-Iowa Conference recognition in 2011 while starting cornerback Jason Breon (senior, Anamosa) missed most of the campaign as did nose guard Spencer Matlock (senior, Naperville, Ill., Waubonsie Valley HS).
"They're giving us good leadership," McMartin said. "It's good to have them back."
Yet the Dutch still have some unanswered questions as the preseason wraps up, particularly on offense, where seven starters return.
"We've got some work to do in the offensive line," said McMartin, who lists three new starters up front. "We're definitely a work in progress. We've got to keep pushing ourselves to get ready to go."
And this week's lineup decisions aren't final.
"We have a starting line-up kind of established, for the most part," McMartin said. "We're continuing to evaluate people."
McMartin is looking for more than speed and strength.
"Focus, consistency and good decision-making, those three things are critical," he said. "If we improve in those areas, we can be successful."
Aaron Eiseler (junior, Mesa, Ariz., Red Mountain HS) emerged as the starting quarterback in the final half of last season and will get the initial nod Saturday, ahead of another Arizona native, senior Austin Blom (Moutain Pointe, Ariz., Pride HS). Eiseler completed 114 of 188 passes (60.6 percent) for 1,311 yards last season with eight interceptions and seven touchdowns.
He'll be joined in the backfield by running back Josh Osborn (junior, Burlington), who was listed as No. 2 last fall when he gained 548 yards on 116 carries with two touchdowns.
Notes— Since 1960, Central is 36-16-1 in season openers…Wis.-Oshkosh may need a depth chart for its coaching staff. The Titans' roster lists 24 assistant coaches…There are eight seniors in Central's 22-man starting lineup, including just two on offense. There are 12 juniors listed… While Central has not released its 2014 schedule yet, McMartin said the Dutch will have three new non-conference opponents…Nearly six percent of the players on the Central roster—seven of them--are named Smith.
QB 9 Aaron Eiseler (jr., 6-0, 210)
RB 28 Josh Osborn (jr., 5-9, 190)
SB 41 Austin Shaver (jr., 5-11, 225)
TE 2 Jack Norgaard (jr., 6-3, 220)
WR 1 Grant McArdle (sr., 6-2, 215)
WR 18 Blaine Forsythe (jr., 6-1, 200)
or 6 Brendon Boerm (so., 6-0, 185)
LT 50 Ryan Collins (jr., 6-1, 245)
LG 79 Caleb Lynch (jr., 6-0, 270)
C 73 Travis Hook (sr., 6-4, 270)
RG 76 DJ Smith (so., 6-0, 265)
RT 72 Jordan Youngman (jr., 6-4, 305)
DE 15 Danny Samson (jr., 5-11, 255)
NG 91 Spencer Matlock (sr., 6-0, 285)
DE 5 Jack Shipley (sr., 6-3, 255)
OLB 22 Mike Young (sr., 5-11, 185)
ILB 44 Mitch Schroeder (jr., 6-0, 195)
ILB 47 Zac Miller (so., 5-10, 195)
OLB 48 Keith Rush (sr., 5-10, 210)
CB 10 Eric Larson (jr., 6-2, 175)
SS 8 Jacob Tune (jr., 6-1, 205)
FS 3 Jake Edleman (sr., 6-0, 185)
CB 20 Jason Breon (sr., 5-10, 175)
KO 16 Kevin Sheldon (jr., 6-0, 190 )
PAT/ 16 Kevin Sheldon (jr., 6-0, 190 )
P 18 Blaine Forsythe (so., 6-1, 195)
LS-P 22 Mike Young (sr., 5-11, 185)
LS-K 86 Drew Lindaman (so., 6-3, 225)