After four national championships and two runner-up finishes as members of the NAIA, the University of Sioux Falls football program--along with the school's ten other sports-- is turning the page. The Cougars will complete a three-year transitional period by competing as a "provisional status" member of NCAA Division II in 2011.
Membership in the NSIC begins next year, but the Cougars and second-year head coach Jed Stugart will first have navigate the toughest schedule in the program's well-decorated history.
Q. The loss to Carroll in last year's NAIA National Championship Game was a tough way to end a great season. How do you feel about that game now?
A. We wanted to go out as champions of NAIA. But, after I digested that loss for a while, I realized that with the transition, with a lot of new faces, coaches and players, and for our kids to buy in and get that team back to the national championship…It came down to a missed tackle on a quarterback and a long run for a touchdown. One play and it could have been a different situation. It took me a little while to realize just how good of an accomplishment that was to get back to that game under all the circumstances.
Q. You are going into your first season of NCAA Division II football. Now that it’s here, how do you feel about it?
A. Our season started, really, Jan. 15 when those guys came back. We turned the page, and we knew that we were going to have some great teams that we’ve got to go play and we’ve got to raise our offseason workouts. Our strength coach has been working those guys like crazy this summer and getting them ready because we know where we’re headed. I think we’re pretty humble about it. We know what we’re going into. A lot of other people can speculate what they think we’re going to be like. Some people are negative about it and some guys think we’re, maybe, too optimistic about it. But, as far as our staff goes and our team goes, our approach is taking it one game at a time. We know we’ve got a tough schedule, so we just want to take it one play at a time, win that play, and see how it ends up at the end of the game.
Q. You start off with Washburn, a team that beat Nebraska-Omaha last year and also took Northwest Missouri State to the wire. What are your thoughts on the matchup with the Ichabods?
A. It really says a lot about team of wanting to take challenges. We’ve got our win streak at home on the line. I talked to our seniors before we took that game. I said, ‘hey, we’ve got a pretty good football team that wants to come in here,’ and they were all about it. They were excited about it. They’re ready for another challenge. I know that coach real well. Great guy, great program. I think our first three games out of the chute is a good measuring stick of where we’re at and where we need to go. We're not looking too far ahead, but we know that this first year gives us a little bit of an indicator of where we’re at and where we need to go as we go into the Northern Sun Conference.
Q. What’s reasonable to expect out of your team this season?
A. You feel a certain way when you come out of spring. You always know where your strengths and weaknesses are. I think, again, just like last year, we’ve got a lot of questions offensively with the types of guys that we’ve lost. Our quarterback, obviously, two really good receivers and an offensive linemen. On the other hand, I like Kristian Porter and Jordan Taylor coming back in our run game, and having some young offensive linemen that we brought in. But you just don’t know until you get into the first ten days of two-a-days and you get through a scrimmage to see where you’re at. Defensively, we’ve got to fill some holes on the line, but we’re real excited about our linebackers and defensive backfield. I’m always really hesitant to predict. I know I’m excited about some of the new guys coming in and with having some freshmen that will have a chance to come in and compete right away.
You'll get a good look at the USF's evolution to NCAA Division II on Midco Sports Network this fall. The Cougars areon the schedule three times, including both halves of the home and home series with future NSIC rival Minot State.
- Sept. 24: USF vs. Minot St., 1:30 p.m.
- Oct. 22: SD Tech vs. USF, 6:00 p.m.
- Oct. 29: Minot St. vs. USF, 1:30 p.m.
***Follow @ElsenMidcoSN on Twitter for blog updates, regional sports news, MidcoSN schedules, etc.