By Gillian Vernick
Team: Stevenson University Mustangs
Head coach: Ed Hottle
2014 Record: 8-3 overall, 6-3 conference
Key Returners: QB Jeff Farrah, QB Dan Williams, RB Trey Lee, WR Seth Jordan, WR Cortez Taylor, LB Cory Pietrzyk, CB Austin Tennessee, S Billy Lewis
Key games: Sept. 12 vs. Lycoming, Oct. 10 at Delaware Valley, Oct. 24 vs. Widener
Entering the 2015 season, the Stevenson University football program will try to build off its most successful season in the program's four-year history.
After compiling eight wins during their first three years combined, the Mustangs went 8-3 in 2014 and made their first postseason appearance -- earning a 29-7 victory against Bethany College in the ECAC Southeast Bowl.
But this season, they know other teams will be gunning for them.
"I think everyone is our rivals," said head coach Ed Hottle, who is entering his fifth season. "The whole [Middle Atlantic Conference] is our rival. You have to watch out for everybody."
After finishing eighth in the MAC in 2013 and tied for seventh in 2012, Stevenson put together a 6-3 conference record last season -- good for fourth place.
Its only conference losses in 2014 came against teams that finished ahead of it in the standings -- Widener (first), Delaware Valley (second) and Lycoming (third). This year, the Mustangs will be eyeing those matchups.
"I'm looking forward to those in-conference games," senior safety Billy Lewis said, "just because we haven't beat them yet."
Stevenson will have a chance for an early conference victory against a top opponent when it opens MAC play against Lycoming at 1 p.m., Sept. 12. However, Hottle was quick to dispel any game as more significant than others.
"It's tough to point to anything, in particular, in the schedules," Hottle said. "It is just strapping up every Saturday. Our league is so solid from top to bottom. In and of itself, it is very challenging."
The Mustangs suffered the biggest graduation loss along the offensive line -- losing three starters. But Hottle said one area of focus once practice begins will be at quarterback, where he expects a strong competition.
Sophomore Jeff Farrah took most of the snaps last season under center, throwing for 1,449 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. During 10 games, he had a 54.6 completion percentage.
Despite Farrah earning the starting job last season, sophomore quarterback Dan Williams remains on Hottle's radar.
"There is always a QB competition," Hottle said. "We try to talk about who will be the guy to start the game tomorrow. Dan played a significant role, so he is just going to get better and better. If I was put on the spot today, I'd say Jeff [would be the starter], but you just don't know."
During five appearances last season, Williams completed 32.9 percent of his passes for 327 yards, four touchdowns and eight interceptions.
"I've been working my tail off this summer trying to be the best player I can be," Williams said. "I leave it up to the coaches. I know whoever comes out of it, the team will be better for it."
Farrah and Williams will be aided by the return of junior running back Trey Lee, who rushed for a team-high 1,073 yards and 12 touchdowns on 217 carries last season. Lee will again be relied upon to carry the load, with sophomore Brian Matthews expected to have an increased role in the backfield after finishing second on the team with 46 rushes and 240 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, Stevenson will try to maintain its dominance. The Mustangs finished second in the conference in fewest touchdowns surrendered, holding opponents to 18. They also finished second in average yards allowed per game with 301.6. Hottle credited the team's size for the success, and he said that will again be a focus this season.
"We definitely need to play to our speed and strength, just being faster than the opponent," Hottle said. "We just have to find a way to win each game. Stick to the basics: speed, physicality, discipline, the fundamentals."