After three playoff appearances in four years and back-to-back 11-win seasons, Emporia State earned its highest pick ever in the MIAA preseason polls, with the Hornets voted second by the coaches and the media.
ESU received three first-place votes by the media and two from the coaches, finishing only behind two-time defending national champion Northwest Missouri in the polls.
“I’ve been at Emporia State for 11 years and we’ve been at the bottom of the barrel,” ESU coach Garin Higgins said. “It’s been a long journey to get to this point. Preseason polls, they’re always just an indicator of what you’ve done in years past. We’ve had some success in our football program the last few years.
“I don’t take much stock into it. I think if our players have learned anything from the players that have played before them, it’s the type of work ethic you’ve got to put in to stay at this level. It’s always been a goal of ours to get to this point where we’re recognized, both within the MIAA and in the nation. I think now the tough part is staying there.”
ESU has gone 22-5 over the last two seasons with four of the losses coming to Northwest Missouri, one of four MIAA schools with a new head coach this season. Rich Wright was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach after Adam Dorrel left Northwest to become head coach at Abilene Christian.
The Hornets, who are led by preseason All-American quarterback Braxton Marstall, will open against Northwest for the second straight year, playing the Bearcats on the road on Aug. 31 in Maryville, Mo.
“They’re a great program. They’ve done some great things and they’re definitely a measuring stick of where we want to be,” Higgins said. “To get to that point, we need to beat them.”
The top six picks in both polls were the same, with Northwest and ESU followed by Central Missouri, Pittsburg State, Fort Hays State and Washburn.
Washburn is coming off a 7-5 season and a Mineral Water Bowl appearance.
“Preseason polls are preseason polls; I’m not too worried about them,” WU offensive lineman Bob Marco said. “It puts a little chip on my shoulder, I guess. It just excites me to prove people wrong.”
The other new head coaches in the MIAA are Jed Stugart (Lindenwood), Matt Williamson (Missouri Western) and Josh Lynn (Nebraska-Kearney).
2017 MIAA PRESEASON FOOTBALL COACHES POLL
1. Northwest Missouri (9) 118
2. Emporia State (2) 108
3. Central Missouri (1) 106
4. Pittsburg State 88
5. Fort Hays State 83
6. Washburn 71
7. Missouri Western 58
8. Central Oklahoma 51
9. Lindenwood 37
10. Northeastern State 31
11. Missouri Southern 24
12. Nebraska-Kearney 17
2017 MIAA PRESEASON FOOTBALL MEDIA POLL
1. Northwest Missouri (36) 464
2. Emporia State (3) 421
3. Central Missouri 383
4. Pittsburg State 347
5. Fort Hays State 316
6. Washburn 262
7. Central Oklahoma 227
8. Missouri Western 215
9. Lindenwood 145
10. Missouri Southern 108
11. Northeastern State 102
12. Nebraska-Kearney 52