Coach Scott Abell has only taken four seasons to establish a culture of success at Davidson, and plenty of key faces return to the Wildcats as they aim for back-to-back-to-back Pioneer Football League Championships. Davidson is picked to win the conference yet again by PFL coaches, with 8 of 11 first place votes. The ‘Cats feature numerous preseason all-conference selections, including the imposing backfield duo of Coy Williams and Dylan Sparks, veteran offensive lineman Beck Kipperman, and the PFL’s premier pass rusher Jonathan Hammond. We know the ‘Cats will bring a power option run attack to go with a fearsome pass rush. For the casual FCS football fan, however, it can be tough to keep track of what’s going on around the conference, with stats sometimes difficult to find. With that in mind, here’s our deep dive into the Wildcats’ 2022 schedule, covering all the hurdles in the way to a potential repeat title.
Sept. 3 @ Jacksonville State
2 PM, ESPN+
The ‘Cats begin their season with likely their most difficult test, taking the trip south to Jacksonville, Alabama to face a familiar foe. The Gamecocks eliminated Davidson from the 2021 FCS Playoffs 49-14 after Davidson won their first conference title in five decades. That recent meeting was the first ever between the two programs. JSU has established itself as one of FCS’s premier programs, routinely making deep postseason runs over the past decade. JSU has decided to make the jump to the FBS Conference USA in the wake of that success, so this could be the last meeting between the two teams for some time. The Gamecocks will be led by a new face. Former head coach John Grass won at least 10 games in 5 of his first 7 seasons, finishing in the FCS top 10 each of those years, but he resigned following a 4-5 start last season (despite notching an impressive road win over Florida State in week 2). The ‘Cocks are now led by Rich Rodriguez, once the leading candidate for head coach for the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2006 before they hired a certain Miami Dolphins coach. His tenure began with an impressive, nationally televised 42-17 demolition of #10 (FCS) Stephen F. Austin last week. The ‘Cats should expect Rodriguez’s typical option-heavy attack, with 4 players getting at least 8 rushing attempts last week and QB Zion Webb recording 3 touchdowns on the ground. The dynamic running back duo of Anwar Lewis and Matt LaRoche combined for 190 rushing yards on only 22 carries. If the ‘Cats are to pull a road upset, they need to keep the Gamecocks dangerous ground game in check and control the clock with their own option attack.
Sept. 10 vs. Barton (Division II)
7 PM, Davidson All Access
Davidson will host Division II Barton for their home opener on “Run It Back” night, celebrating consecutive Pioneer League Championships. The two programs will meet for the first time in history, as Barton recently reestablished its program in 2020 after a hiatus starting in 1950. The Bulldogs, hailing from Wilson, NC, compete in the South Atlantic Conference and were picked to finish sixth in the conference’s preseason poll.
Sept. 17 vs. St. Andrews (NAIA)
7 PM, Davidson All Access
Davidson’s second home game also comes against an opponent from a lower NCAA division, this time St. Andrews from the NAIA. Davidson will also hold White Out Richardson this week.The Knights hail from Laurinburg, NC and play in the Mid-South conference; they are a young program, only established in 2017, and thus have never faced Davidson. The Knights are led by first-year head coach Robert Curtin following a 2-9 2021 campaign.
Sept. 24 @ Presbyterian
7 PM, ESPN+
The ‘Cats’ conference slate begins against the team picked last in the PFL Preseason Coaches’ Poll following a 2-9 season with zero in-conference wins. Davidson faced Presbyterian three times in the previous two seasons, going 2-1. The loss came on the road, where this game will be played, in the 2020/21 spring season. Those 2 victories are also Davidson’s only wins over the Blue Hose all time, as their series record is 2-5 . Last season saw the ‘Cats dismantle the Blue Hose 70-35, with an offensive explosion aided by Kevin Kelley, a coach known for never punting, giving them prime field position time and time again. Kelley was dismissed following a 2-9 season, where Presbyterian’s defense allowed a hefty 53.6 PPG due to his hyper-aggressive strategy. The aggressive approach did help the Blue Hose’s offensive numbers, however; RB Delvecchio Powell II returns after posting up 1,222 all-purpose yards, good for 4th in the PFL. Powell is one of the most skilled offensive players in the league; he averaged an explosive 6.54 yards per carry and added 447 receiving yards to 775 on the ground. Presbyterian may have an uphill climb as they are competing with zero preseason All-PFL selections.
Oct. 1 vs. Butler
1 PM, Davidson All Access
Davidson’s conference home opener comes against the team picked next-to-last in the PFL preseason poll Butler is coming off a 1-7 conference campaign (3-8 overall), with their only PFL win over Marist. Since winning 3 PFL titles in 5 seasons from 2009-2013, Butler has yet to win another conference championship. Last season the ‘Cats defeated the Bulldogs 49-35 in Indianapolis, though Butler trailed by 28 at the start of the 4th quarter in that game. Davidson also holds a winning record against Butler all time at 8-6, including 3 in a row in the series. As with Presbyterian, Butler features no players on the All-PFL preseason team following the departure of last year’s first-team WR Yogi Flager. Butler struggled on defense last season, allowing 34.3 PPG. This should be an ideal matchup for Davidson’s option attack, as the Bulldogs defense allowed the most rushing yards in the PFL last season at 204.4 YPG. The ‘Cats led the league with 5.8 yards per attempt on the ground, while Butler gave up a poor 5.5 yards per carry, the only PFL team to allow more than 5. Barring major defensive improvement, particularly in the front seven, Davidson’s offense matches up well with Butler.
Oct. 8 @ St. Thomas
2 PM, tommiesports.com
The heat is turned up on the Wildcats in week 3 of conference play, with a stern road test against the team picked to finish third in conference play. St. Thomas is built around defense, coming off a 7-3 (6-2 PFL) season in which it allowed only 17.3 PPG, best in the conference. Making things especially difficult for Davidson, it boasted an elite rushing defense: second best in the league by yards per carry at 3.67 and best at rushing TDs allowed (only 10). Of course, that strength didn’t matter in last season’s meeting with Davidson emerging victorious 42-15 at home. On the road, the Tommies could present a tougher test. Longtime head coach Glenn Caruso maintains a highly successful program, with a 133-24 record in his tenure. Under his watch, the Tommies became the first team to ever jump from Division III to Division I FCS competition starting in 2021. St. Thomas’s weakness is on the offensive side of the ball, as it averaged only 24.4 PPG last season, 4th worst in the PFL. Davidson will be helped by the departure of two All-PFL defensive backs, but St. Thomas returns All-PFL LB Luke Herzog, who leads a strong defensive front. Expect a low-scoring battle in St. Paul that pits strength against strength with the battle of Davidson’s ground game against the St. Thomas front.
Oct. 15 vs. Morehead State
1 PM (Red Out Richardson)
Davidson faces a team that won 7 games and went 6-2 in league play for the second consecutive week hosting Morehead State. Morehead State fell last season against Davidson 29-22 in Kentucky; despite this, they hold the all-time series lead 13-10. The Eagles should once again prove to be one of Davidson’s more challenging matchups and will likely be the ‘Cats’ second biggest test at home. The Eagles have two preseason all-conference picks on each side of the ball: OL Cam Merritt and DB Amir Wallace. Sophomore DB Cooper Krezek also appeared on the All-PFL Second Team last season. Despite this talented secondary, the Eagles were one of the worst teams against the run last season in the PFL; they allowed 186.6 rushing yards per game and 4.67 yards per carry, both in the bottom 4 of the league. Their offense was effective, with a third best 32.7 PPG, but this figure lags well behind Davidson’s elite 37.9 mark. They also lose one of the league’s best QBs in Mark Pappas, who was second in passing yards last season. Expect a game quite the opposite of the previous week’s, with a more favorable matchup for Davidson’s style. The ‘Cats may be able to generate explosive plays in the ground game and control the clock, so Morehead will need quick stops and turnovers to keep up in this potential shootout.
Oct. 22 @ Drake
2 PM, ESPN 3
Davidson defeated Drake last season to the tune of a dominant 45-14 trouncing, but that was an outlier in the series, as it was the Wildcats’ first win over the Bulldogs since 2007. Davidson trails in the series 2-9 and has no victories on the road. Drake’s offensive was also outlier last season, in a bad way. They averaged a mere 12.7 PPG, trailing the next worst team, Marist, by 10.1 points. Drake’s only preseason All-PFL honoree is punter Shane Dunning. The Bulldogs will aim to give him a lighter workload this season but still are predicted to finish 7th in the PFL preseason poll. Drake will only tread water this season by riding its defense, which was 2nd best in the conference in points allowed last year. Drake profiles as a team that will aim to play a low-scoring, field position game that maximizes its strength on defense. With Davidson’s defense also in the top half of the conference, however, the ‘Cats have the chance to pull out their first ever victory in Des Moines this October.
Nov. 5 vs. Stetson
1 PM, Davidson All Access
Stetson may be projected to finish 9th in the PFL this season, but they gave Davidson fits last year. The Wildcats escaped DeLand, FL with a 35-28 victory despite trailing the Hatters at halftime. Coming off a 4-7 season with one win coming via forfeit, it would be easy to write Stetson off, especially with the two games that follow. Coming off a bye and playing at home, it feels a bit silly to insinuate this is a cliché “trap game,” but Stetson’s individual talent, especially on offense, should not be overlooked. They boast an impressive 5 preseason All-PFL picks, spearheaded by the offensive trio of QB Alexander Piccirilli, WR Nazeviah Burris, and TE Demonic Carlucci. Returning talent on Stetson’s offense to should help the Hatters make a jump from its already solid scoring average of 26.1 PPG, but the Hatters will need to greatly improve their turnover margin and special teams. Despite allowing a poor 32.4 PPG on defense, Stetson was respectable in other defensive stats, giving up a decent 5.6 yards per play and 376.5 total yards per game; this discrepancy seems to imply the Hatters lost the field position battle via turnovers . If Stetson cleans this up and makes its predicted strides, it can give Davidson a scare before the two games that may define the ‘Cats’ season.
Nov. 12 @ San Diego
4 PM, (No broadcast information)
It may be presumptuous to say that Davidson and San Diego are already legitimate rivals, but if this matchup continues to decide the PFL championship, the ‘Cats and Toreros could have one of the most unlikely cross-country rivalries in FCS. Davidson has bested San Diego twice in a row, and although the Toreros earned co-champion status last season, their head-to-head loss left them sitting on the couch for the FCS playoffs. That’s been an unusual occurrence under coach Dale Lindsey, however, who boasts an excellent .750 winning percentage (including 57-5 in conference play) over his 9 seasons. The Toreros made playoff appearances in 5 of them, including 4 in a row before Davidson’s back-to-back titles. With the two teams each at the top of the PFL poll and the last 6 championships won by one (or both) of them, this matchup could again decide the PFL. No other team received first place votes in the coaches’ poll, with the Toreros firmly in second. While San Diego’s average scoring margin last season (25.7 – 25.2) appears unimpressive at first, it should be noted they played a daunting out-of-conference schedule compared to the rest of the league, going winless against highly ranked FCS competition, such as Montana St. and UC Davis. Their 0-3 out of conference record is a stark contrast compared to their 7-1 record in conference, which featured a 7 game win streak following their loss to Davidson. Within the confines of the PFL, they allowed only 18 PPG, and the defense should once again be stout with 4 All-PFL selections on that side of the ball. The front seven features 3 such players, but none of them have helped San Diego solve the Cats’ power run game yet. On offense, all-conference WR Vance Jefferson is a problem; after a solid season with 44 receptions for 498 yards, he is primed to be one of the conference’s best wideouts as departures make him the team’s undisputed top target. Expect this game to be won in the trenches, with the ‘Cats looking to control the tempo as they have in the past two matchups. If the ‘Cats fall in a tough game on the road, it’s possible San Diego drops its own tough road matchups at St. Thomas and Morehead State.
Nov. 19 vs. Dayton
1 PM, Davidson All Access (Senior Day)
If San Diego does not decide Davidson’s season and playoff potential, then Dayton might. Otherwise, this season could mimic last year, where Davidson clinched the tiebreaker over San Diego and made the playoffs despite falling to Dayton. Dayton itself aims to be a championship threat this season, though; they were picked 4th in the conference and should have a prolific offense, much like the one that dropped 38 on Davidson last season in the ‘Cats lone conference loss. Moreover, Davidson is only 2-13 all time against the Flyers and is winless in the series since 2006. Despite the loss of standout QB Jack Cook, 3 offensive players made All-PFL this preseason, and the most dangerous of the bunch might be RB and all-purpose playmaker Jake Chisolm, coming off a season where he totaled 1,033 rushing yards, 361 receiving yards, and 245 kick return yards. He also led the PFL with 18 total TDs: 14 on the ground and 4 through the air. UD projects to lean hard on his production as a workhorse back. Conversely, the defense is a bit of a question mark. The Dayton front underperformed last season, allowing a middling 4.86 yards per rush. Dayton also struggled to force turnovers, ranking in the bottom third of the PFL with only 9 interceptions. This could prove to be one of the highest scoring games on Davidson’s schedule. If the PFL is decided here, it would be apropos for the senior class to clinch a title in their final home game against the team that spoiled last year’s perfect conference record.
Author’s Closing Thoughts
Davidson was overwhelming favorites to clinch the conference last season, and the preseason polls played out quite accurately. Evaluating the schedule this time around, Davidson should again have a path to a conference title, with only the 7th most difficult schedule based off the average of the coaches’ preseason rankings. It bodes well for the ‘Cats that the team picked first in the PFL polls has gone on to win the conference 75% of the time since 2006. To compete for playoff berth, the ‘Cats will have to lock in on the long road trips to St. Thomas and San Diego. Tiebreakers over these teams may be crucial to returning to the playoffs. Overcoming these tough road matchups will have the ‘Cats in prime position to run back its conference title once again.