The Northeastern State Riverhawks finished the 2011 football regular season in a tie for second in the inaugural season of the Great American Conference.
Unfortunately for NSU, the Riverhawks aren’t members of the GAC.
2011 saw Northeastern State in a limbo state of independence since its departure from the Lone Star Conference while it awaits a schedule that denotes full membership into the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA).
NSU earned a 7-4 record this season. (I picked them to go 6-5, but still to have a winning season). It was the first season with a winning record in a decade.
And the Riverhawks went 4-1 against teams from the newly-formed GAC.
And it was a great season to watch with incredible performances from Trey McVay and Johnny Deaton. McVay actually set the receiving record for the NCAA, in ALL divisions.
Six straight wins were capped off by a victory over arch-rival Central Oklahoma to take the President’s Cup back to Tahlequah. There were thrilling last second victories over Harding and Arkansas-Monticello, and even the ECU loss was down to the wire. NSU averaged just under 42 points per game during the season’s final eight games.
2011 was a fun time to be a Riverhawks’ fan.
But the row that the Riverhawks have chosen to hoe in upcoming seasons is much harder than the ground tilled in 2011. The MIAA is a football powerhouse with perennially great teams like Northwest Missouri State, Pitt State and Central Missouri and even the middle of the road teams are better than their counterparts from other conferences.
NSU’s lone game against a future conference rival ended rather badly for them, a 65-10 loss at Nebraska-Kearney.
There are now so many teams in the MIAA that the entirety of the NSU football schedule for the foreseeable future is made up completely of conference games. There are no opportunities to pick up an easy win over a local NAIA school to get the season rolling.
The independent schedule of 2011 will probably seem like a breeze compared to the game after game after game drudgery of brutally tough football in middle America.
But there’s still time, Northeastern. Just look at the example given to you by TCU. The Horned Frogs escaped the Big East before they even played a game. Granted, the circumstances are wildly different, but the example remains.
It is this author’s humble opinion that you would be a great fit in the Great American Conference as well. Northwestern will arrive eventually and with your entrance, there would be an even 12 teams with six in Oklahoma and six in Arkansas. And the parity in the league is definitely there. Your opportunities for excellence are there and were surely displayed to you during this season. And you won’t have to give up some of the great and long running rivalries with other Oklahoma universities.
Granted, the other sports will have opportunities to shine in the new league. The women’s basketball team will fare well, even against the likes of Washburn and others. And the men’s and women’s golf and soccer teams will continue to stay on the winning track.
But the football program is the flagship program of any athletics department. And this challenge is one that will be extremely tough.
It’s just something to think about during the long off-season following your date with Minnesota-Mankato in the Mineral Water Bowl.
And seriously, give it some thought.