VALPARAISO (0-0) at North Dakota State (0-0)
WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 28 - 6 p.m. CST
WHERE: Fargodome, Fargo, North Dakota
TV: (tape-delay) - Channel 43 in Valparaiso. Airs on Thursday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. - Dick Harlan announcing.
RADIO: 95.1 (WVUR-FM) - Brent Whitlock and Baron Brendel announcing.Webcast at www.valpo.edu.
THE COACHES: Valparaiso is guided by Tom Horne, who is 62-95-1 in his 16th season at Valpo. North Dakota State is led by Craig Bohl, who is 8-3 in his 2nd season at North Dakota State.
SERIES RECORD: First Meeting
LAST MEETING: First Meeting
LAST YEAR: Valpo captured its first-ever outright Pioneer Football League Championship, defeating Morehead State 54-42 in the PFL Championship Game. The Crusaders, the PFL North Champion, finished with an 8-4 record. North Dakota State finished with an 8-3 record. In 2003, the Bison completed an exploratory year in NCAA I-AA.
After a storybook 2003 Pioneer Football League Championship season, the Valparaiso University football team plays its season opener on Saturday at North Dakota State in Fargo. Kickoff is 6 p.m. at NDSU's Fargodome, which is expected to house a capacity crowd of over 19,000. The Bison are in the process of making the transition to NCAA I-AA after many years as a Division II powerhouse.
VALPO RANKED HIGH IN PRESEASON POLLS: Valpo is ranked among the elite programs in the NCAA I-AA Mid-Major preseason polls. The Crusaders, coming off a PFL Championship season, are tabbed 3rd in the Football Gazette poll and 6th in The Sports Network poll.
2004 Preseason I-AA Top-10
(2003 final records)
1 Duquesne 8-3
2 Morehead State 8-3
3 Valparaiso 8-4
4 Dayton 9-2
5 Monmouth (N.J.) 10-2
6 San Diego 8-2
7 Albany 7-4
8 Robert Morris (Penn.) 7-4
9 Stony Brook 6-4
10 Drake 6-6
The Sports Network
2004 Preseason I-AA Top-10
(first-place votes in parentheses, 2003 final records)
1. Duquesne (15) 8-3
2. Dayton (4) 9-2
3. Morehead State (1) 8-3
4. San Diego (2) 8-2
5. Monmouth 10-2
6. Valparaiso 8-4
7. Albany (2) 7-4
8. Robert Morris 6-4
9. Stony Brook 6-4
10. Drake 6-6
GIANCOLA, DANIELS NAMED TO PRESEASON ALL-AMERICA TEAM: Seniors Rob Giancola (Whiting, Ind./HS) and Chris Daniels (Peoria, Ill./Notre Dame) were selected to The Sports Network Preseason NCAA I-AA Mid-Major All-America Team. Giancola, a wide receiver, led all levels of NCAA football last year with 23 touchdown receptions and topped I-AA with 1,496 receiving yards. He was named to the 2003 I-AA All-America Second Team, which was comprised almost exclusively of players from full-scholarship programs. Daniels, a cornerback, finished 2nd in the PFL and tied for 13th nationally with six interceptions last season. He earned Mid-Major All-America honors from TSN and the Football Gazette a year ago.
EARLY KICKOFFS: Saturday's game between Valpo and North Dakota State is one of just six NCAA I or I-AA games that kick off the season. The others (ET): USC at Virginia Tech (7 p.m.) in Landover, Md.; Indiana State at Miami (OH) (7 p.m.); Glenville State at Murray State (7 p.m.); West Alabama at Samford (7 p.m.) and Central Arkansas at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (8 p.m.).
INSIDE VU FOOTBALL, head coach Tom Horne's TV show, airs every Tuesday and Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on Channel 43 in Valparaiso. This week's player guest is junior cornerback Elliott Powell.
NEXT GAME: Valpo will play its home opener next Saturday, Sept. 4 against Wisconsin Lutheran beginning at 1 p.m.
2004 CRUSADER SEASON PREVIEW
Championship teams usually attain the ultimate trophy after facing a myriad of lofty expectations during the preseason and, of course, as the season progresses. In 2003, the Valparaiso University football team provided arguably one of the most inspiring college sports stories of the year. Obviously, no one projected a squad that produced just one victory in 11 tries the prior year to shock the rest of the Pioneer Football League by capturing the PFL North Division title and eventually reigning victorious in the PFL Championship Game. Sounds like a tale found in the fiction section of any bookstore. Well, it really happened.
Not only did the championship and an 8-4 record become a reality, but it was accomplished by a relatively young team that will return 17 of the 22 starters for PFL North Coach of the Year Tom Horne. The most noticeable non-returning starter, however, is quarterback David Macchi, who became Valpo's all-time total offense and passing leader and shattered just about every record relating to quarterbacks - in just two seasons.
Macchi was one-half of the nation's most productive quarterback/receiver tandem in 2003. The latter portion of that duo was Rob Giancola, a Second Team I-AA All-America selection, who returns for his senior year after leading all receivers at all levels of NCAA football with 23 touchdown receptions in 2003. A 6'1", 215-pounder, Giancola also topped NCAA I-AA with 1,496 total receiving yards. Joining Giancola in one of NCAA I-AA's most prolific wide receiver sets is Kevin Knutson, who led the Crusaders with 74 catches and amassed 1,139 yards and six touchdowns as a junior.
A major factor in Valpo's first outright PFL Championship season was a solid rushing attack. Buoyed by an offensive line that returns all five starters from last season, running backs Nick Reid and Matt Van Daele will have a good opportunity to aid a ball-control attack, thus helping the new quarterback make a successful transition. Reid, a 6'1", 252-pounder, led the Crusaders with 700 yards on 151 carries. Van Daele, a fullback, provides balance to the offense as an exceptional blocker and strong runner and receiver.
Due to Macchi's exceptional accomplishments, talent and leadership, nobody will replace the special attributes that the NCAA I-AA Mid-Major All-America signal-caller provided. Joe Milazzo, a senior who has been the top backup for the last three seasons, is the frontrunner for the starting role.
Besides boasting one of the most explosive offenses (33.8 ppg.) in the nation, it was perhaps the defense that pushed Valpo across the championship threshold. Associate head coach/defensive coordinator Sam Bernardi will look for someone to fill the shoes of leading tackler and middle linebacker Lawrence Canada (112 tackles), as well as strong safety John Tsahas (90 tackles), both of whom graduated. Chris Daniels, a First Team I-AA Mid-Major All-America cornerback, returns for his senior year after finishing as one of the nation's interception leaders (six). Free safety Brad Smeja (103 tackles), now a junior, made the successful transition to defense after playing wide receiver as a freshman.
The defensive line came up with some of the season's biggest plays in 2003. Bill Marshall, a junior end, had a team-leading 13 tackles-for-losses and five sacks, while sophomore end James Riker also had five sacks and a 76-yard fumble return for a touchdown in Valpo's 54-42 PFL Championship Game victory over Morehead State.