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In the FCS Huddle: Quick turnarounds

10:08 AM, Jan 24, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Dave Brock has stepped into a favorable situation as Delaware's new head football coach.

Not only do the Blue Hens have a long history of success, they return 18 starters next season.

Just by posting a winning record, Brock will have improved on this past season's 5-6 record.

But, really, that goal isn't enough for a program steeped in tradition.

The Blue Hens believe they will do more than turn around the losing record in former coach K.C. Keeler's final season. The first season of a new head coach tends to bring out extra energy in a team looking to prove itself again. And, of course, the returning talent is too good to deny.

With running back Andrew Pierce, the school's No. 3 all-time leading rusher, quarterback Trent Hurley, defensive tackle Zach Kerr and linebacker Jeff Williams leading the veteran roster, they expect to contend for the conference championship in what should be a deep Colonial Athletic Association race, and get back to the FCS playoffs following a two-year absence.

"Coach Keeler did a great job. I'm confident that we have the building blocks in place to win in 2013, and forward," Brock said at his introductory news conference last Friday.

A quick turnaround is a goal shared by some other FCS programs that are accustomed to winning but suffered through losing records last season. Twelve programs entered the season with a winning record in at least seven straight years, and four fell by the wayside: Holy Cross, Montana, Northern Iowa and South Carolina State.

Expect Montana and Northern Iowa to have quick fixes on the field in 2013.

Around Montana, though, people are still holding their breath over potential fallout from NCAA and U.S. government investigations into how the school's athletic department has handled reports of rape and sexual assault in recent years. Sanctions are possible, and the Grizzlies already are trying to climb out of their first losing season - a 5-6 record - since 1985.

Second-year coach Mick Delaney will have a stout defense, including All- America linebacker Jordan Tripp and defensive end Zach Wagenmann, to try to get Montana back on track. The offense will still look to beat up opponents with its running game.

Northern Iowa simply will be better by scheduling a little smarter. This past September's schedule basically defied the Panthers not to finish 1-4, and they didn't in their 5-6 season - the program's first losing campaign since 2002.

Coach Mark Farley already has early season dates against Drake and Northern Colorado to fill half of next season's non-conference schedule, so that will prevent the same slow start. Plus, he gets to put the ball in the hands of running back David Johnson and quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen.

Holy Cross slumped to 2-9, but that had a lot to do with opponents whose cumulative record was 75-47, including eight with a winning mark. Junior-to-be quarterbacks Steven Elder and Ryan Laughlin will have to settle in for coach Tom Gilmore as the Patriot League squad tries to reverse its losing record. The Crusaders have an 80-catch wide receiver in Mike Fess.

The FCS's two historically black conferences - the MEAC and the SWAC - also had their share of surprises this past season, some not so good.

South Carolina State hopes to get back to MEAC title contention, having dominated in the conference under coach Buddy Pough. This past year's 5-6 record was Pough's first below .500 in 11 seasons with the Bulldogs and the program's first losing mark since 2000.

They had a youthful defense and return quarterback Richard Cue, who must cut down on turnovers, and leading rusher Jalen Simmons. Expect success again.

One of the biggest puzzles in the FCS this past season was Grambling State, which went from being the 2011 SWAC champion to finishing 1-10 in Doug Williams' second season of his second stint as head coach. Their only win was against Virginia-Lynchburg and no Tigers player earned an All-SWAC honor.

Williams' son D.J. will return for his junior season at quarterback next season, but Grambling will need improvement across the board to get back on the winning track.

The Sports Network

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