UW-Oshkosh begins the 2017 football season with a top-10 clash at John Carroll University (Ohio) on Saturday (Sept. 2) in University Heights, Ohio. Kickoff for UW-Oshkosh's 123rd season opener is set for 1 p.m. (EDT) at Don Shula Stadium at Wasmer Field.
UW-Oshkosh (13-2 record in 2016), the reigning NCAA Division III runner-up, enters the season opener ranked fourth by D3football.com while John Carroll University (12-2), which is coming off its first Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) title since 1994, lists eighth.
Saturday's meeting will be the third between the teams – all in the past 12 months. UW-Oshkosh handed the Blue Streaks both of their losses a season ago, claiming the 2016 season opener, 33-14, and eking out a 10-3 decision during the semifinal round of the NCAA postseason.
The Titans culminated their best season in program history with a 10-7 setback to University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) (15-0) in the national championship game. The Blue Streaks matched their best NCAA tournament showing last year by advancing to the semifinals for the first time since 2002.
In last year's season opener, the Titans held a 27-0 lead over John Carroll University during the third quarter on the way to compiling a 469-279 yardage advantage. During the NCAA playoff showdown, the teams played to a scoreless first half before Titans quarterback Brett Kasper scampered into the end zone from 3 yards out. UW-Oshkosh extended its lead to 10-0 on a field goal early in the fourth quarter and held on for the victory despite being limited to just 214 total yards.
In the two matchups last season, UW-Oshkosh forced five John Carroll University turnovers while committing just one.
Last season, UW-Oshkosh equaled the school record for wins while establishing new programs marks with 3,725 rushing yards, 44 rushing touchdowns and 27 passes intercepted. The Titans amassed 85 plays of 20 yards or more and led the WIAC with 273.3 yards allowed per game.
John Carroll University's stellar 2016 campaign included a quarterfinal round victory at UW-Whitewater, snapping the Warhawks' 32-game home winning streak and halting their string of 33 straight home NCAA playoff wins. The Blue Streaks also knocked off then-No. 1-ranked University of Mount Union (12-2), clinching the OAC title during the regular season finale.
UW-Oshkosh is seeking a return to the NCAA Division III Championship for the third straight season and the fourth time in six years. The Titans were ousted in the quarterfinal round in 2015 and advanced to the semifinals in 2012.
John Carroll University has reached the NCAA playoffs six times, including quarterfinal trips in 1997 and 2014. The Blue Streaks made their national tournament debut in 1989 and also made a first-round appearance in 2013.
Titans 11th-year head coach Pat Cerroni welcomes back nine starters on offense but must replace all but one defensive starter from the national title game.
Senior quarterback Brett Kasper and senior running back Dylan Hecker will spearhead an offense that scored more than 30 points 10 times a year ago. Kasper, the 2015 WIAC Offensive Player of the Year, completed 202 of 334 passes for 2,589 yards with 19 touchdowns while Hecker, who holds the school record with 45 career rushing touchdowns, rushed for 1,142 yards and 17 scores on just 187 attempts en route to earning All-WIAC first team accolades.
Also back on offense for UW-Oshkosh are junior wide receiver Dom Todarello and senior wide receiver Sam Mentkowski. Todarello paced the team with 42 receptions for 581 yards and six touchdowns, and Mentkowski chipped in 29 catches for 442 yards and four scores. Todarello was also named All-WIAC First Team as a special teams player after averaging more than 20 yards per kickoff return and more than 14 yards per punt return.
Anchoring the offensive line are returning starters in senior Ty Summers and juniors Tyler Powers and Austin Summers. The trio helped the Titans average 6.3 yards per carry a year ago while ceding just 15 sacks.
The lone returning defensive starter for UW-Oshkosh is AJ Plewa, who was tabbed a 2017 preseason All-American by Street & Smith's magazine after snaring four interceptions and recovering one fumble last season.
On special teams, UW-Oshkosh junior placekicker Eli Wettstein and junior punter Turner Geisthardt are back after securing All-WIAC second team honors last year. Wettstein connected on 16 of 22 field goals, including a season long of 50 yards, and 63 of 68 extra points. Wettstein set school records for field goal attempts and extra point makes. Geisthardt averaged 40.4 yards per punt and placed 17 of his 55 punts inside the 20-yard line.
John Carroll University welcomes back six starters on offense and five on defense for first-year head coach Rick Finotti, who last year served as a defensive assistant at the University of Michigan.
Headlining the returning offense starters for the Blue Streaks are sophomore quarterback Anthony Moeglin and the running back trio of seniors Ro Golphin and Arin Pruitt, and junior Sam Kukura.
Moeglin completed 267 of 434 passes for 2,800 yards and 29 touchdowns during his debut college season.
Golphin, Pruitt and Kukura combined to rush for 2,226 yards and 27 scores last year. Golphin was named All-North Region Second Team by D3football.com after rushing for 1,111 yards and 11 touchdowns while Pruitt tallied 294 yards and two scores on the ground, and Kukura accounted for 821 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Blue Streaks will be without four of their top six pass catchers from a year ago. However, junior Eddie Williamson returns after collecting 42 catches for 421 yards and two touchdowns.
John Carroll University's remaining returning starters are junior offensive linemen Drew Turner and Brian Dytko.
The stout Blue Streaks defense will be led by returning All-Americans Mason McKenrick and Ray Brown. McKenrick, a senior linebacker, earned first-team All-America honors last year after registering 96 tackles while Brown, a junior defensive lineman, tallied 67 tackles, including 23.5 for loss and 13 sacks.
John Carroll University junior Matt Danko is back to handle both the placekicking and punting duties. Last year, he converted 4 of 12 field goals and averaged 37.2 yards on 64 punts.
UW-Oshkosh's most recent season opener on the road against a ranked Division III program resulted in a 34-28 loss at Central College (Iowa) in 2010. The Titans have won 31 of their last 36 season openers overall.