With the playoffs on the horizon for the Bearcat football team, a glance at some changes may provide answers to issues this regular season.
The first big change that impacted the regular season is new head coach Richard Wright. Wright took over after previous coach Adam Dorrel took the helm at Abilene Christian University.
With any new coach an adjustment period is to be expected, as is the case with Wright. He spent the past six seasons as the defensive coordinator. His defensive mindset showed through with the Bearcat defense leading the NCAA Division II in three major categories.
The defense shined all regular season, leading in total yards per game allowed (207.6), points per game allowed (8.6) and defensive third down percentage (19.6 percent). Along with these three top statistics the Bearcats rank in the top five in four other categories.
The Bearcats rank second in rushing yards allowed per game (57.3), third in defensive passing efficiency (87.59) and first downs allowed (136), and fourth in defensive fourth down percentage (23.5 percent). Despite the stingy defense, the Bearcats dropped two regular season games for the first time since 2012.
Turnovers and lack of offensive production caught up with the Bearcats as they committed nine turnovers and totaled just 22 points in their two losses. In the final game of the season however, the offense found some rhythm with senior quarterback Jonathan Baker replacing senior Zach Martin. The Bearcats beat Missouri Western State 30-0 to close out the regular season.
The losses came to Fort Hays State University and Pittsburg State University in back-to-back weeks. This is the first time since the 2001 season that a Bearcat team has lost in back-to-back weeks. Along with this streak of 15 seasons without back-to-back losses, there were other firsts for the Bearcats this year.
This year ended a streak of four straight Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletic Association conference titles, and is just the sixth time in the past twenty seasons the Bearcats failed to claim the title. Wright follows previous coaches Dorrel and Mel Tjeersdma as both of them failed to bring home the title in their first seasons.
The Bearcats first loss this season ended their 38-game winning streak and left them two wins shy of breaking the Division II record for wins in a row. While these records and milestones gone, one streak that stayed alive is the postseason appearance streak.
With the No. 6 seed in the Super Region 3, the Bearcats extended their streak of making the playoffs to 14 years in a row. At the end of the day the fact that matters for the Bearcats is their season is still alive.
The Bearcats will travel in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Behind the playoff experienced leadership and No. 1 defense in Division II the two-time defending Division II Champion Bearcats are a dangerous six seed.