USD has sights on Great West title

USD has sights on Great West title By Jeremy Hoeck Yankton Press & Dakotan When The University of South Dakota football team ends its 2008 season on Nov. 22 at home, that will truly be the final game of the season. As a transititioning Division I school, the Coyotes will be ineligible for the postseason. And so, USD instead has a simple goal: Win the Great West Conference. â�?�?Weâ�?�?re in it to win it,â�? coach Ed Meierkort said Tuesday during the teamâ�?�?s annual media day. â�?�?Itâ�?�?s huge for us to have something to shoot for right away.â�? One of two newcomers to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) league, USD joins North Dakota, Cal-Poly, California-Davis and Southern Utah in a conference that has been rated as one of the most competitive in the nation. Gone are North Dakota State and South Dakota State, but in its place are two other Dakota schools that are accustomed to winning. UND advanced to the D-II postseason five straight seasons while USD tied for the North Central Conference title back in 2005 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs a year later. Now, the Coyotes are eying another league title at the next level. â�?�?Itâ�?�?ll have a lot of new experiences for us, but weâ�?�?ll get a nice ring if we win it,â�? joked USD senior linebacker Blake Hojer, who has led the Coyotes in tackles each of the last two seasons. â�?�?Itâ�?�?s one thing to play Division I football, but to say you won your conference is just huge.â�? The Coyotes, who open their season Aug. 30 against St. Ambrose (IA) in the DakotaDome, are coming off a 6-5 year in 2007. USD will return nine starters from last season, including six on defense and three on offense. The focal point of the USD offense, which was sixth in the nation in 2007 in total offense, will be junior quarterback Noah Shepard â�?�? back for his second full season as a starter. Shepard threw for 2,547 yards and 21 touchdowns last year and says the mood around fall camp has been up-tempo and competitive. â�?�?Iâ�?�?ve never been around a group of guys so hyped for a season,â�? Shepard said. â�?�?Everybody knows what the goal is and weâ�?�?re working our butts off to get there.â�? To accomplish their goal of a conference title, the Coyotes will have to contend with league favorite Cal-Poly, which Tuesday was picked first in the preseason coaches poll. The Coyotes were picked to finish fourth, ahead of only Southern Utah which was 0-11 last season. However, the road to a conference title may prove tricky, as USD will only play three of the four Great West opponents â�?�? UC-Davis wonâ�?�?t be on the Coyote schedule until 2009. Still, players say the goal is to not only perform well as a league rookie, but win it. â�?�?The competition will definitely get better at this level, but we all know what thatâ�?�?s like,â�? said junior wide receiver Dan Skelly, who will likely be the go-to receiver for the Coyotes in 2008. â�?�?We want to show that we can go out and compete in another league against good teams.â�? Shepard said, â�?�?Itâ�?�?s time to prove weâ�?�?re here and weâ�?�?re for real.â�? At Tuesdayâ�?�?s media day, one of the most discussed games on the 2008 schedule was a Sept. 6 matchup with Northern Iowa â�?�? a D-I powerhouse in the FCS. The Panthers were ranked No. 3 in the Sports Network preseason coaches poll and are coming off a 12-1 record last season. In addition, USD will travel to face Montana State on Sept. 27 and the Bobcats received votes in the Sports Network preseason poll. â�?�?We know weâ�?�?re going to be measured on those games, but this team is ready,â�? Meierkort said. â�?�?Looking the part is half the battle.â�?

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