Great Plains Conference rivals Morningside and Northwestern are both expected to contend for playoff spots. Morningside is ranked seventh in the N-A-I-A pre-season poll. Coach Steve Ryan has 16 starters back from last year’s team that finished 9-3 and made it to the quarterfinal round of the national playoffs.

Among the returnees is quarterback Ian Gilworth who passed for more than 36 hundred yards and 36 touchdowns in 2007. Ryan says Gilworth finished the season strong as he continued to learn the system and they’re excited to have him back.

The defense gave up only 13 points per game a year ago and much of that unit returns. He says the defense did a fantastic job of creating turnovers last year, and they have most of that defense back. A key stat in football is turnover ration. The Mustangs were a plus 22 last season.

Ryan says they had a lot of interceptions and their runningbacks lost only one fumble all season, so that made a big difference in the games. Ryan says while hopes are high the schedule is difficult, again.

Northwestern is ranked 13th in the pre season poll and the Red Raiders have a number of players returning from last year’s team that finished 8-2. Northwestern coach Orv Otten says those returning players will really help them get off to a good start, and they think they have another great opportunity. Otten says while the offense is experienced they must find a replacement for quarterback Craig Hector.

Otten says whoever ends up with the job will have the benefit of directing a veteran offense and won’t have to be the person who creates a lot on his own, as they are deep in the backfield and at receiver.

Despite finishing 8-2 the Red Raiders did not make the playoffs in 2007. Otten says another challenging conference race awaits.

Northwestern opens September sixth at Dordt College. Morningside opens at home on the sixth against Dakota Wesleyan.