1. MSU's last winning season was a 6-5 record in 2009. It looks like they are trending up the past few seasons. The Bears had a nice, comeback win at Northwestern State this past weekend. What is the outlook for 2014?
"The outlook for this season is pretty positive! The win against NSU was the Bear's first non-conference win since 2010, and non conference play was a big reason the Bear's did not get post season consideration last year. The Bears do play in the toughest FCS conference, the Missouri Valley, with North Dakota State (the Alabama of the FCS) coming off their 3rd straight FCS title and 5th straight FBS win (including Iowa State last week and Kansas State last year). The Bear's have always been competitive in the Valley, especially last year when they finished 2nd behind NDSU. So far fans are positive, as long as MSU can pull out close wins (something they've struggled to do), things seem to be looking up. Head Coach Terry Allen is on the last year of his contract, and the students passed a $50 Recreation fee that includes new athletics facilities, so the team is under a lot of pressure to perform this year."
2. Give us some offensive and defensive players to look for.
"The biggest name on the Missouri State Squad is Caleb Schaffitzel, an FCS All-American senior safety from the Springfield area. He's the heart and soul of the defense, leading the team in tackles last season with 111, as well as being a finalist for both FCS defensive player of the year and top defensive back, the latter which he won in 2012. Coach Allen, who was the head coach at Kansas from 97-01, actually gave incredibly high praise to Caleb during media day, saying he believed he could start for any team in the Big 12, so we'll see how he does this Saturday against the Cowboys. At the end of the day, Caleb is MSU's top player, and has the best draft potential since Clay Harbor in 2010 (He now plays for the Jags). Andrew Beisel is a senior ILB who is also all MVFC along with Caleb. He's another tough tackler, finishing 5th in the conference last year in tackles per game. Those are the main players on defense.
Offensively, the Bear's have senior Kierra Harris under center. He's a dual threat QB who can make plays with his legs, rushing for 66 yards against NSU last week. Kierra's favorite target is fellow senior Julian Burton, who is set to break all kinds of receiving records at MSU. He had 140 yards last week. The Bear's feature their running game, with sophomore Phoenix Johnson and redshirt freshman Calan Crowder rushing for over 130 yards last week, though none of that would be possible without our three all MVFC offensive lineman, junior center Robert Booker, senior guard Richard Galbierz, and senior tackle Zack Cooley. This OSU pass rush will be a good test and opportunity for this line."
3. Give us a little insight on the rest of the Missouri State athletic programs. Are there any that compete for conference or national titles? Any notable alumni?
"We have a set of very successful swim teams, both men's and women's. The men compete in the MAC, but the Women are in the Valley. Last year was the men's first conference championship while the women picked up their 7th straight conference championship, and both teams are primed for more success this year.
Our Men's Soccer team led the nation in Goals Against Average last year (like ERA in baseball) with a .41. and are picked as the conference favorites this year.
Our D2 hockey team made their first trip to the national tourney in Boston last year and are preparing to make the jump to D1 soon.
The Women's bball team is under the leadership of Kelly Harper, who is returning for her second year. The Lady Bear's are Missouri State's best known team as they have made a couple trips to the NCAA final four.
The Men's bball team is almost there, taking Wichita State to OT last season. Coach Lusk is finally seeing his recruiting pay off after Cuanzo Martin took off for Tennessee with some prime prospects.
Baseball also seems to be competitive, with Tate Matheney as a player to watch there. Tate is the son of Cardinal's manager Mike Matheney, and his brother actually just committed to Oklahoma State to play baseball. Tate made the Team USA roster over the summer, the first since former Bear Ryan Howard (Phillies), so he is another draft prospect to watch this year.
As for Alumni, our most famous would be John Goodman, who actually came here on a football scholarship but got hurt and joined the theater program (that worked out well for him I would say). Kathleen Turner was also in his class. In sports, we have Ryan Howard and Clay Harbor, as well as Scott Caroll (made his debut for the White Sox this year), Ross Detwiler (The Nationals), and Brad Ziegler (Diamondbacks). Jackie Stiles still holds the record for scoring in a season at 1,062 points. For Men's Bball we have Winston Garland, Blake Ahearn, and Curtis Perry. Jason Whittle had a pretty extensive NFL career. Zak Cummings is a pretty successful UFC fighter, and that's about it as far as alums go."
4. Obviously, playing Div I FBS opponents early in the season is more about money than anything, but then comes football. What will the Bears look to accomplish against a team that just came within a play or two of defeating the defending BCS champion?
"Obviously Bear's fan's aren't expecting to come out of Stillwater 2-0, but the Bears would look at this as a tune up game in a sense. I'm expecting plenty of "teachable moments," as we have a very young secondary and defensive line, so this will be a fantastic experience for them. This recruiting class is also the 'Best in Terry Allen's history here'...another of his wonderful media quotes...so more good experience for them. The offensive line is touted as the best in the conference, so they'll be tested against a front 7 that gave FSU fits. It'll be an interesting matchup, especially with Kierra as mobile as he is. The MVFC came close to pulling out 3 wins against the FBS last week, but only came away with one against Iowa State. Youngstown State was a botched punt from taking down Illinois, and Norther Iowa had Iowa on the ropes. The University of Central Arkansas, while not in the Valley, almost beat Texas Tech and is also an MSU opponent. Granted, those team's aren't near as talented as the Cowboys, but this game could serve as an important measuring stick against the rest of the Bear's competition. I would like to see the Bear's come out and be semi competitive for a bit, get some players some nice work, and STAY HEALTHY, as two Valley teams lost their starting QBs to FBS opposition last week."
Many thanks again to John Robinson of "The Standard" for taking the time to offer up some very interesting insight.