D2football.com: Tony Nicolette previews week 1

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Hillsdale (8-3) at California (10-3)

In addition to being an intriguing match-up of two of the better programs in the country, this tilt is also garnering the distinction of being the first NCAA game anywhere in the land (including all divisions) to kick-off in 2012. While the 5:00 pm start offers a “jump” on everyone else in terms of beginning the season, both clubs want a jump on the rest of the country in terms of a fast start to the year with a win over a quality opponent.

There are some stark similarities to these two clubs. Cal was a PSAC Champ a year ago sharing the West Division title, while Hillsdale enters this season as the outright GLIAC Champion. Both clubs were sluggish in their 2011 openers, dropping those decisions and starting the season 0-1. Most importantly, key starters on offense are back to lead the 2012 teams.

For Cal, QB Peter Lalich returns after throwing for more than 286 yards per game in 2011. While top pass-catcher Thomas Mayo has departed, the Vulcans do have 1000-yard rusher Lamont Smith back to carry the load on the ground. Hillsdale’s QB situation is also steady, as Anthony Mifsud will lead the offense that was at the top end of the GLIAC in time of possession and 3rd Down Conversion percentage a year ago. This possession-style game is a Hillsdale hallmark, and Mifsud kept it going for the Chargers by completing nearly 67% of his pass attempts. And of course, we can’t talk about Hillsdale and their ability to possess the ball without mentioning Joe Glendening. The senior RB’s 1600-yard campaign last year earned him GLIAC Player of the Year plaudits, and he likes to start fast. Case-in-point, he dropped a buck-53 on Ferris in last year’s opener, and that was a game where the Charger O wasn’t all that crisp. It’s Joe the Show’s last go-around, so look for him to come out firing Thursday night.

It will be interesting to see which team can get out of the blocks quickly. I’m a big fan of experience at QB, and both clubs possess this. Additionally, both defenses improved as 2011 progressed, so both D’s should be ready to go. At this point, I’m looking for the experience of Hillsdale from top-to-bottom to be the difference. Cal has been a bit more “transfer-centric” of late and sometimes that lack of time together can be problematic…especially early in the year. While Cal gets the game at home, I’m going with Hillsdale’s experience…and some of that experience includes the current taste in their mouths, which is that of a team that won its league outright last fall and yet didn’t make the playoffs. Hillsdale 30, Cal 26.

Read the rest of Tony’s previews from around the league. 

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