The Bearcats are set to begin their season against Saginaw Valley State University tonight in the only non-conference game of the year.
It will be the first meeting between the two teams. Preseason coach polls have Northwest at #4, and Saginaw at #22. D2football.com has Northwest at #3 and Saginaw at #18.
SVSU is coming off of an 8-3 season that included a share of the GLIAC title, and the team narrowly missed the playoffs. They are returning 18 starters, including quarterback Jonathan Jennings and receiver Jeff Jannis.
The Cardinals had one of the most potent passing attacks last year. Jennings threw for over 3,000 yards, over half of those went to Jannis. Jannis also led the country with 106 receptions.
Part of that success rests on the fact that the average weight of an SVSU offensive lineman is 306 pounds.
They will square off against one of the nation’s top passing defenses. The Bearcats brought in 28 interceptions last year and the Dixon twins, Brandon and Brian, return for their senior year poised to continue to dominate the secondary.
The defense only allowed an average of 169.5 yards per game in the air last season, and 140.5 on the ground.
Northwest finished the 2012 season 10-3 in a second-round playoff loss.
They averaged more than 40 points a game, while allowing only 13.
But last year was last year, and any coach will tell you that last year means absolutely nothing.
Until the first score tonight, the score is 0-0, and until the final whistle blows on Mel Tjeerdsma Field, their record is also 0-0.
Head coach Adam Dorrel said that practices so far have shown some great signs, that he’s proud of the 13 seniors that will take the field, but SVSU will present an early test in the season.
“We have a huge challenge,” Dorrel said. “In games like this, your sense of urgency is heightened.”
Dorrel is confident in the Cats’ running game, which typically is a big part of Northwest’s scheme.
“I feel great about our running game,” Dorrel said. “We have four backs that can play.”
Those backs include Billy Creason, Justin Fulks, Phil Jackson and Robert Burton.
Look for Fulks to line up in the slot position and Jackson in short-yardage situations.
Dorrel ran more live-tackling practices this summer than usual to get ready for the Cardinals, something he feels the team really benefited from.
“It all starts in the back end, they like to throw the ball a lot,” Dorrel said. “We have to play well back there and it all filters down.”