Gateway Conference chooses its football favorites plus other notes
For years Gateway Conference football coaches have talked about how much parity there is in the league.
On Tuesday the coaches, along with media and league sports information directors, backed that up with the closest preseason poll in 20 years.
Northern Iowa was picked first, Illinois State second and Youngstown State third with seven points separating the three teams.
"This maybe one of the finest Gateway conference season’s I’ve been associated with," ISU coach Denver Johnson said. "I think there is a lot of parity here, in any given year. Whoever wins and whoever is down in the pack, there not very far drop."
Northern Iowa had 166 points, with 11 first place votes, to Illinois State’s 160 points with seven votes for first. Youngstown State received nine first place votes and 159 points.
"It’s insignificant who’s picked first, who is picked second," UNI coach Mark Farley said. "The significance is how close it is."
Western Illinois was picked fifth in the seven-team league.
"It’s about where I thought we would be," Western coach Don Patterson said. "Preseason polls don’t concern us too much. Youngstown picked was picked sixth (last year) and shared the title. It’s just a very competitive conference."
Western linebacker Jerome Bennett said that the fifth-place pick will provide plenty of motivation.
"That’s great. That just motivated me even more," Bennett said when informed of the poll result. "I’m ready to jump out of the chair. I’m just going to say we use that even more."
Illinois State placed six players on the Gateway preseason team, led by quarterback Luke Drone and linebacker Kye Stewart. Defensive back Tom Nelson, fullback Dave Mordis, and offensive linemen Jonathan St. Pierre and Isaiah Wiggins also made the team.
Western running back Herb Donaldson, wide receiver Carl Sims, linebacker Jerome Bennett and defensive back Patrick Stoudemire were honored.
NEXT BIG PUSH: Now that the NCAA’s divisional nomenclature has been settled with I-AA now being known as the Football Championship Subdivision, the next project that administrators are tackling is expanding the playoff field from 16.
"The Gateway has placed multiple teams in the playoffs but when Northern Iowa last year and Youngstown State the year before get left out, the playoffs need to be expanded," Gateway commissioner Patty Viverito said. "Expansion would undoubtedly be welcome and will then be able to seed more teams."
The renaming of the sub-divisions officially went into effect last November.
"We’ve blown up the I-A and I-AA labels," Viverito said. "The best part of this rebranding is it includes in our name what we are proud to say — we name a winner on the field each year. They are meaningful and for good reason."
Next year, the Gateway gets even tougher with North Dakota State and South Dakota State joining the conference. That will make the margin for the two or three berths the Gateway has gotten the past 10 years even slimmer.
"The biggest thing is they expand the playoff bids," Indiana State coach Lou West said. "There are going to be more than two or three teams (from the Gateway) that deserve the playoffs."
ON THE AIR: Both Illinois State and Western Illinois will be featured on national and regional airwaves this season.
Western Illinois game at Illinois on Sept. 8 will be aired on the fledgling Big Ten Network. The Leathernecks home game on Oct. 20 against Northern Iowa will be on the Gateway TV network.
Illinois State will make one appearance on the Gateway package when it plays at Missouri State on Oct. 6.
Kevin Capie can be reached at 686-3214 or email@example.com.