Every college football team would like to play like the Alabama Crimson Tide, winners of back-to-back Bowl Championship Series titles.
At IUP that is, literally, the goal: Be like Alabama.
"We try to run our program as much like them as we can," said IUP coach Curt Cignetti, who was coach Nick Saban's wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator for four years at Alabama, including the undefeated 2009 season.
"The success we had down there was based on running the football and being physical, trying to dominate both sides of the line of scrimmage. Stop the run on defense, be able to run it on offense."
Cignetti's IUP team certainly dominated on defense in 2012, putting up the best numbers in Division II.
The Crimson Hawks gave up 12.5 points per game and allowed 257.9 yards on average, fewest among the 156 Division II teams.
They also gave up the fewest first downs -- just over 14 a game -- and finished second in turnover margin.
That defense led IUP to a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference title and an NCAA quarterfinal appearance. The key to any repeat, Cignetti noted, is practice.
"One of the keys in this program is the way we practice. We practice with great tempo. We practice fast and physical," he said.
"We try to make practice harder than the game. These guys have really learned how to practice, and that's what made last year's team successful. Now, this year's team has to develop those intangibles in camp."
IUP returns its two leading tacklers, linebackers Alexander Berdahl (103) and Carl Fleming (88), sack leader Shane Meisner (8.0) and quarterback Mike Box. It was picked to finish first in the PSAC West Division in the coaches' preseason poll, earning seven of eight first-place votes.
"Our D was outstanding last year," Cignetti said. "The things we preach are stopping the run, don't give up big plays and take the ball away.
"Eleven guys doing their job. If you can get 11 guys doing their job consistently at a high level, then you have the best chance to be successful.
"We pride ourselves on playing fast and playing physical."
IUP opens Sept. 7 at Southern Connecticut State.
Around the PSAC
Mercyhurst received the other Western Division first-place vote IUP didn't get in the preseason poll. Slippery Rock was third, followed by California, Gannon, Edinboro, Clarion and Seton Hill. Shippensburg got six first-place votes in the East while Bloomsburg and West Chester had one each.
Slippery Rock (6-5, 5-2) returns nine starters on offense and defense but lost leading rusher Akeem Satterfield to graduation. Quarterbacks Nigel Barksdale and Jared Buck return as do the top four receivers -- Ken Amos, LaQuinn Stephens-Howling (younger brother of the Steelers running back LaRod Stephens-Howling), John Schaderman and Jaimire Dutrieuille. Interception leaders Isaiah Coleman and Anthony Saunders return on defense. The season opener is Sept. 7 at Northwood University in Michigan.
Western Division leading receiver Mike Williams (91.5 yards per game) returns for California (8-3, 5-2), which looks to post its 12th consecutive winning season. BJ Stevens, who led the PSAC with 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for losses, returns for his senior season. Leading rusher Lamont Smith was lost to graduation, as was quarterback Peter Lalich. The Vulcans open Sept. 7 at Hillsdale in Michigan.
Clarion (4-7, 2-5) brings back eight starters on offense and 10 on defense. First-team Western Division quarterback Ben Fiscus (2,480 yards passing, 678 yards rushing) returns for his senior season.
The Washington & Jefferson Presidents earned the Presidents' Athletic Conference's automatic bid to the Division III NCAA tournament in 2012 and was picked to win the PAC this year, too. Senior quarterback Matt Bliss will run the offense after throwing for nearly 2,000 yards a year ago. Receiver Alex Baroffio is 15 receptions shy of setting the school record, currently 192. He has a reception in 23 consecutive games.
Thomas More was second in the preseason poll, with Waynesburg in third, Grove City fourth, Bethany and Geneva tied for fifth, Westminster seventh, Thiel eight and Saint Vincent ninth.
Nick Veronica: firstname.lastname@example.org. and Twitter @NickVeronica.