High expectations for IUP football are nothing new. That has been the norm for the Crimson Hawks under Curt Cignetti and his father, Frank, who was the coach from 1986-2005.
And there are high hopes for this season, too.
With 16 starters returning from a 2012 team that finished with a top-10 ranking in the final Division II poll, the Crimson Hawks predictably find themselves as a preseason favorite. They are pegged as the No. 10 team in the AFCA Division II preseason poll and are favored to defend their PSAC West division championship.
A majority of the key components for IUP's 12-2 finish last season return, a group highlighted by senior running back De'Antwan Williams (1,376 yards, 10 touchdowns) and senior wide receiver Terrill Barnes (764 yards, eight touchdowns) on offense, and senior linebackers Carl Fleming (88 tackles) and Alexander Berdahl (103 tackles) on defense.
Their work begins today with a non-conference game at Southern Connecticut State, a team that finished 3-8 last season including a 33-6 loss to IUP in the season opener.
Duquesne (1-0) at Dayton (0-1), 1 p.m., Welcome Stadium -- The Dukes, picked to finish second in the NEC preseason poll, started their season with a 35-24 win against former conference foe Albany. In all, there are 13 starters back from last season's 5-6 team, but it was a newcomer, redshirt freshman quarterback Dillon Buechel, who made the biggest difference last week, completing 21 of 28 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns.
He'll look to follow that performance against a Flyers team that has lost to the Dukes three times in a row.
Robert Morris (0-1) vs. Morgan State (0-1), noon, Joe Walton Stadium -- The Colonials were not expected to contend against Eastern Kentucky, which began the season ranked among the top 20 teams in Division I-AA. That much was confirmed in the Colonials' season-opening 38-6 loss.
A less daunting challenge awaits against a Bears team that was picked to finish 10th in the 11-team Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference after going 3-8 in 2012.
California (0-0) at Hillsdale (0-0), 7 p.m., Frank Waters Stadium -- The Vulcans face something of a transition year after going 8-3 last season but losing their top two rushers, starting quarterback and top two tacklers. Picked to finish fourth in the PSAC West, they beat Hillsdale, 30-22, last season.
Washington & Jefferson (0-0) at Wooster (0-0), 7 p.m., John P. Papp Stadium -- The Presidents were picked first in the PAC preseason poll after going 8-3 last season and making the NCAA Division III playoffs.
With 26 returning seniors, they open the season with a road game against a Fighting Scots team playing under new coach Frank Colaprete after a 2-8 season.
Slippery Rock (0-0) at Northwood (0-0), noon, Hantz Stadium -- The Rock has some experience on offense, most notably quarterbacks Nigel Barksdale and Jared Buck and linebackers Quindell Dean and Gary Allen, the team's top two tacklers last season, also are back.
The host Timberwolves were picked last in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference North division.
Carnegie Mellon (0-0) at Grove City (0-0), 1:30 p.m., Robert E. Thorn Field -- Expectations are relatively high for both teams this season. The Tartans were picked to finish third in the University Athletic Association and received a first-place vote. The Wolverines were slotted fourth in the nine-team PAC. Carnegie Mellon won the season opener against Grove City last year, 23-20.
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.