Jackrabbits set to kickoff season against toughest foe

The grass is green and the stripes are painted – football season is here at SDSU.

The Jackrabbits look to build on two straight playoff appearances as they open their 2014 campaign on the road against the University of Missouri this Saturday.

“We’re preparing for our toughest challenge ever here at South Dakota State,” said head coach John Stiegelmeier concerning the upcoming matchup with the 2013 Southeastern Conference East Division champions.

Stiegelmeier went on to describe the Tigers as a program with a lot of speed and tradition. He later said that he plans to use noise during practice to help his team prepare to play in a stadium that can hold 72,000 spectators.

SDSU enters 2014 following a 9-5 season in which the Jacks won their opening-round playoff game against Northern Arizona. Their success has translated to a No. 10 ranking in the FCS Preseason Coaches Poll. Three other Missouri Valley Football programs join SDSU in the rankings including No. 1 NDSU, No. 15 Northern Iowa and No. 21, Youngstown State.

A Jackrabbit defense that was scheduled to return only five starters took two big blows this summer when linebacker Charles Elmore and defensive end J.R. Plote went down with injuries. Still, other members of the roster appear ready to step up.  

 “I think Jack Sherlock has done a really nice job. Kevin Klocek has done a really nice job, they’re both seniors. ” Stiegelmeier said. “Cole Langer has picked up where he left off last fall. He’s done a really nice job.”

Offensively the Jacks will be challenged with replacing injured guard Mike Schoff.

Even as the season approaches its advent, Stieglemeier said that several positions are still up for grabs as players battle to fill the holes left by their injured teammates at defensive end and SAM linebacker positions as well as the offensive guard.

Another noteworthy battle occurs at the back-up running back position where, following a strong Spring Game and health concerns with fellow backs Kyle Paris, Reggie Gandy and Isaac Rodriguez, redshirt freshman Brady Mengarelli may slide in behind two-time 2000-yard rusher Zach Zenner.  

If the offensive line comes together, the Jacks look to have a strong offense as they return 1,000-yard receiver Jason Schneider and SDSU all-time passing leader Austin Sumner along with first-team All-American Zenner.

 “My goal is that we leave fall camp healthy, happy and hungry and I think we’re going to do that,” Stiegelmeier said. “Really our goal is to try to be one of the top-eight seeds when it comes to playoff time.”

A top-eight seed would also guarantee the Jacks a home playoff game.