INDIANAPOLIS, IN – The Butler Bulldogs open the 2017 campaign Saturday night when they travel to face the Illinois State Redbirds at Hancock Stadium. The game will be streamed live on ESPN3. Kick-off is set for 6:30 PM CST.
The Redbirds and the Bulldogs will play for the second time in school history. The only other meeting between the two programs happened on Oct. 29, 1949, when the Redbirds defeated the Bulldogs 14-0 in Indianapolis.
Illinois State was selected No. 18 in the FCS Preseason Coaches Poll and No. 20 in the STATS FCS Preseason Top 25. The Redbirds have made three straight appearances in the FCS Playoffs and posted a 6-5 overall record and a 4-4 mark in MVFC play in 2016.
“Illinois State is physical; they’re really big,” said Voris. “They are going to try and run it downhill at you. They were near the top of the country in several defensive categories last season, and they have a lot of guys back.”
The Bulldogs are once again led by Head Coach Jeff Voris, who enters his 12th season on the Butler sidelines. He is 64-60 at Butler.
“Our work ethic has been really good and our leadership has been great,” said Voris, of the spring season and August camp. “Guys have invested in relationships and team-building. They have competed for roles and accepted the roles they have earned. We’ve got a lot of positive energy and excitement leading into the season.”
Butler junior WR Pace Temple and redshirt senior RB Duvante Lane were named to the 2017 Preseason All-Pioneer Football League Team as selected by the league’s head coaches. Those two will be called upon to carry the load offensively.
Pace Temple was a second-team honoree a season ago after amassing 978 receiving yards in 2016 – 24th nationally. His performance was among the top ten in Butler single-season history for receiving yards.
“Pace will only continue to improve,” said Voris. “He’s a smart, competitive player, and we are going to continue to grow his role on this team.”
Duvante Lane was a Second-Team All-PFL choice last season after finishing fourth among PFL runners with nine touchdown carries. The redshirt senior running back had 706 rushing yards during the 2016 campaign. He exploded for a career-best 156 rushing yards on 29 carries in the game against Valparaiso in the closing weeks of the season.
Lane headlines a deep group at running back, featuring redshirt junior RB Anthony Scaccia, redshirt junior RB John Hall, redshirt senior RB Sam Schrader and redshirt sophomore RB Brad Sznajder. All of that group, except for Sznajder, found the end zone at least once last season. Sznajder and Hall will also return kicks alongside talented freshman WR Cam Cooper.
The running backs and offensive line accounted for 171.1 rushing yards per contest, while Butler’s defense held opposing rushing attacks to 99.8 yards per contest.
Redshirt junior QB Will Marty will get the nod under center this season. He saw action in seven of the team’s 11 games a season ago, splitting time at quarterback with the graduated Malcolm Weaver. Marty saw action in seven games, including three as a starter. He finished the season 56-117 for 664 passing yards with four passing touchdowns on the season. He also rushed 20 times for 51-yards. Marty’s best game came against Marist on 10/8 when he threw for a career-high 314-yards on 23 completions.
Joe Cheshire resumes the role of defensive coordinator for the 2017 season after spending the past few seasons in the role of assistant head coach and playing a larger role with recruiting and the secondary. He has been part of the Butler staff throughout Voris’s tenure. Cheshire previously served as the defensive coordinator during a stretch that included Butler winning the 2013 PFL title.
“(Coach Cheshire) will put his own spin on it, but we’re utilizing a similar system,” said Voris. “We have a lot of guys on defense who have played. It’s an older group that has been in a lot of situations. Along with our running backs, our deepest position group is probably at defensive end. We have a lot of players there who can help us.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs will see senior LB Ethan Brunhofer return as well as senior S Isaak Newhouse, who were each honorable mention All-PFL choices last season.
Brunhofer is the team’s leading returning tackler with 74 a season ago, including a career-high 12 in the game against Marist. Fellow linebackers David Starkey and Sean Horan had 77 and 75, respectively, before graduating. Also gone is All-PFL DL Jordan Ransone. Ransone recorded 5.5 sacks before a season-ending injury cut short his season. He graduated alongside Starkey and Horan.
Newhouse had two interceptions, as did redshirt junior DB Mike Cerone. Newhouse picked off six passes in 2015 and has returned one for a touchdown in each of the past two seasons.
Sophomore K Drew Bevelhimer made 12-of-14 field goal attempts last season and returns to handle the kicking duties. Redshirt junior P Evan Giebel takes over the punting obligations after the graduation of Ian Dubek.
Butler was picked to finish seventh in the Pioneer Football League preseason poll. The conference’s 11 head coaches voted in the poll and were not allowed to vote for their own team. The University of San Diego was picked as the preseason favorite. Butler finished 4-7 a season ago.
The Bulldogs will travel to Franklin next weekend. Butler’s home opener is Sept. 16 against Taylor.
Chris Fultz is a Senior Writer for the Indiana Sports Report and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by Butler Athletics and has full media access. Follow @CafultzISR and the @IndySportsRep on Twitter.