SLIPPERY ROCK – Maybe it’s because of the psychological makeup of college coaches or the nearly persuasive power from having a strong reputation, but the college football team the coaches in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference believe will win the championship has only two returning starters on offense, and both are linemen.
Indiana University, which finished last season in second place to Slippery Rock, was the pick to win the West Division at Monday afternoon’s PSAC Media Day at Slippery Rock University.
California University, which has seven players returning on offense and four on defense, was picked to finish second; and Slippery Rock, which lost last year’s PSAC Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Nigel Barksdale, was third.
In the East Division, West Chester, coming off a 13-2 record and returning a dozen starters from last year’s first-place team, was the No. 1 pick. East Stroudsburg, which returns 10 defensive starters, was second; and Bloomsburg, with 13 returning starters, was third.
“When I first came to Cal in 2004, IUP was always the top school in the league,” said Cal head coach Mike Kellar. “A lot of coaches have their projections, but let’s face it; a lot of it comes down to how you did the year before. I don’t know what people base (the voting) on, but it really doesn’t matter. You have to prove it on the field.”
Even Frank Cignetti, who is entering his fourth season as head coach of the Crimson Hawks, was befuddled over how they landed in first.
“I have no idea,” he said.
When California takes the field for the first game of the season Sept. 6 against Virginia State at Adamson Stadium, the Vulcans will do so with a relatively new starting quarterback in James Harris.
The 6-2, 225-pound junior won the starting quarterback job from Cody Schroeder at midseason and did nothing to change Kellar’s mind about that decision in spring ball. That led to Schroeder transferring to Urbana University in Ohio.
“Even though I was starting at the end of last year, I had to have the right mindset to get it back in the spring,” Harris said. “I went in, thinking it was my job to lose.”
Harris was right.
He played in 11 games, making his debut after halftime at Indiana, and started the last seven games. He completed 55 percent of his passes for 1,294 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions.
What is interesting about Harris is he is a transfer from Wake Forest, where he was a baseball player for three seasons for the Demon Deacons. He didn’t play football as a senior at Etowah High School in Woodstock, Ga. So, he came to Cal last year four years removed from the sport.
“I want to win the PSAC,” said Harris, who has two years of eligibility remaining. “Every team wants to do that. I really have no (personal) long-term goals, but a lot of short-term goals. My first goal is to have the best practice on Day 1. Then, my next goal will be to have a great game in Week 1.”
If Harris makes that successful progression, then it might be Cal at the top of the coaches’ poll next year.