D2 Preview: Northwest Missouri State, The Champs

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Northwest Missouri State University (NWMSU) has gone through a lot since its inception, quite a bit for a university in a small town that is 90 minutes north of Kansas City.

They’ve experienced tornadoes, a fire to the administration building, they’ve even faced discussions about possibly being closed as a school.

Despite the bumps in the road, the Bearcats have become one of the top teams in Division II football.

Northwest Missouri State won the last two D-2 championships and six in the last 20 years.

The run began in earnest 23 years ago, when Mel Tjeerdsma came to town. By his third season in Maryville, the Bearcats started winning conference titles and making playoff appearances.

The first national title came in 1998, followed by a repeat title in ’99. He’d win one more national title in 2009 before retiring after the 2010 season, later becoming an athletic director for the program in 2013.

The most recent national titles came under Adam Dorrel, a homegrown talent who played at NWMSU and also worked as an assistant for Tjeerdsma.

Dorrel took over in June of 2011 when the school’s original selection to be the head coach, defensive coordinator Scott Bostwick, passed away from a heart attack.

With Dorrel’s knowledge and history of the program, he stepped in and helped the Bearcats march on. Northwest Missouri made the playoffs again that season, finishing second in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) and advancing to the quarterfinals.

Dorrel won his first national title as head coach in 2013, as they defeated Lenoir-Rhyne 43-28.

The Bearcats later bounced back from an early playoff loss in ’14 to win their fifth national title in ’15, going undefeated in the process.

Northwest Missouri State continued its domination in 2016 en route to another national title, where they defeated North Alabama 29-3. They’ve won 30 straight games and made the playoffs 13 straight times.

Dorrel would leave the program shortly after the team won the title as he went south to coach Abilene Christian. Northwest Missouri State once again promoted from within to hire assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Rich Wright.

With Wright at the helm, expect Northwest Missouri State to continue to be one of the top teams.

Wright will likely continue the dominance that the defense brings to the D2 level. In 2016, the Bearcats allowed just 12 points per game, which led D2.

By comparison, the national champion runner-ups from the University of Alabama gave up 13 points per game, which led FBS. Clemson gave up 18 per game.

Northwest Missouri State suffocated offenses at times. They allowed 67.2 yards per game on the ground (most in D2) and 173.2 in the air (16th).

One of the challenges for the defense, however, will be replacing three of their top four tacklers from last season. They’ll have to replace defensive linemen Cass Weitl and Collin Bevins, as well as linebacker Jacob Vollstedt.

Offensively, the Bearcats have to replace quarterback Kyle Zimmerman, who threw for 3,763 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2016.

While they have a few spots to replace, Northwest Missouri State has had a lot of success with recruiting and plugging in talent where it is needed. With the work put in over the years, the Bearcats will likely be a contender to win another national title in 2017.

They’ll try to become the first team since North Alabama in ’93-95 to win three straight national titles. We’ll soon find out if the Bearcats can pull off the accomplishment.

The season gets going for Northwest Missouri State on Thursday night with a home opener versus Emporia State.