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The Road to Salem: 2014 ONU Football Preview

We’re just hours from kickoff, and the football team is currently on a 3-game winning streak, dating back to November of last season after winning their finals three games of the 2013 campaign. They hope to carry that winning momentum and mentality into this new 2014 season, which they open Saturday against Washington (Mo.) University, with a matchup in St. Louis.

On offense, ONU returns nine starters, while also returning nine players who have started games on defense as well. 11th year head coach Dean Paul looks to take another step forward in the program’s history after the last three years have been rebuilding efforts. He’s ready to take his team back to the top of the OAC and into the national spotlight, and he’s got the playmakers to do just that.

Let’s start on the defensive side of the ball, where the Polar Bears will be relying on some fresh faces to get the job done in a conference full of high-powered offenses. Defensive Coordinator Glenn Scheutzow will serve as just that in his second stint here in Ada, after coaching the defensive line from 2005-2012. The coordinator won’t be the only change for the Polar Bears, as the entire defensive secondary has graduated, while they lose a few players from the front seven as well. It leaves the defense with nine players that have started games in their career for the Polar Bears, some in injury duty last season.

The defensive line was a bit of a rotating door last year, having many guys start various games throughout the season, but honorable mention all-conference selection Steven Kenny was not one, starting all 10 games for ONU after moving from linebacker the year before. He’ll anchor the defensive line, which will be important in stopping some of these fantastic offenses in the conference. The linebacking unit is one of the better all-around groups on this ONU team, returning two of the three starters there last season, and players who have experience on the field as well. Cody Cox had a very strong freshman season, while Dillon Kwiat was named second team all-OAC at the middle linebacker position after making 111 tackles in ten games. These two will have to be big playmakers in the defense for ONU to hold teams to fewer points, after they allowed 51 points per game in their four losses in 2013.

The biggest questions mark of this 2014 Polar Bear football team will be the secondary, after losing all four starters to graduation, and one to a pre-season injury this year. In total, that’s five guys who played the majority of the snaps in the secondary last season, gone. For starters, moving running back Will Bodden to the defensive backfield looks like a good move, after hearing he has good cover skills as well. Overall, there are five returning letter winners, while special teams extraordinaire Melvin Williams will play his part in coverage as well. Covering the threats from John Carroll’s supreme passing attack, Mount Union’s tough tight ends, and Heidelberg’s speed, this unit will have their hands full, but coach Dean Paul says that these guys are ready to step up to the challenge.

On offense, ONU looks to be right up there with anyone in the conference, as explosive an offense that we’ve seen in recent years here in Ada. After averaging over 35 points per contest last season, their playmakers are back and another year older. They bring back nine starters on offense, losing only two to graduation, and QB Pat Angle will be starting in his second season here at ONU.

The backfield play is what stirs the drink for the Polar Bears. Between Angle and the running backs, it either opens up the short, quick passing game, or completely shuts it down. If Angle and his backs, including junior Justin Magazine, can get things going on the ground, those speedy wide receivers will find space against the coverage of opponents. Angle will have full control of the offense, and is free and willing to make changes at the line of scrimmage if he sees something in the defense. Combine that with the fact that Magazine ran for nearly 600 yards last season while splitting carries with now-cornerback Will Bodden, and you’ve got a backfield pair that wreaks havoc against anyone they play. Magazine is almost like a bowling ball who teaches defenders the proper way to tackle, because do it wrong and you’ve got no shot of bringing him down.

The offensive line will play a big part in anything the offense tries to do, because everything starts up front. Coach Dean Paul says that this group has a tremendous amount of depth and experience, which is proven by the fact that these five starters combined to start 37 times last season. There’s a lot of versatility among them as well, with many of them playing multiple positions across the line last year. The line will determine if the offense is capable of moving the ball, while giving the ball carriers holes to run through and the quarterback time to throw.

The final group to look at is as talented as any single group has been in the history of the program, according to Coach Paul. Of course, that is the wide receiving core, made up of talent, youth and experience, all packaged into one of the fiercest in the region. Devon Price is a junior do-it-all player for the Polar Bears, who compares nicely to Percy Harvin of the Seattle Seahawks. He returns kicks, catches both long and short passes, and blocks well on the outside, with the speed to blow past people as well. Price said in an interview that he has a few all-time records in his sight and he’ll do everything in his power to get to those while helping ONU win. He was a second-team receiver in the OAC, and a first-team kick returner in both the conference and the region. This group has guys that can lineup all over the formation and hurt you in a variety of ways, whether their speed, size or strength is on display. The receivers are what puts this ONU team over the top, and the cause for so much optimism coming into this season.

 

When all is said and done, I think this Polar Bear team will win eight games, and finish with an 8-2 record and a NCAA playoff berth. I’ll be calling the games on radio and will have the privilege to watch them each week of the season. The offense will be fine and we’ll see how the defense holds up against some great, and I mean great offenses throughout this conference. I think Devon Price will be an All-American after the season is done, and ONU will pull a minor upset in getting a win over one member of the “big three” teams in the OAC; Mount Union, John Carroll and Heidelberg. We’ll all be watching closely.