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Welcome to Kickoff 2017!

It's Kickoff's 13th season, but if this is your first time, here's a look at what you'll find in Kickoff and the cast of people responsible for putting it all together.

Aim theory: Everyone's got goals

Whether you have the defending national champs or someone else in your sights, all 249 teams have something to shoot for, from Stagg Bowl runner-up UW-Oshkosh, to up-and-comers such as Berry and Rose-Hulman, and startup program Dean.

Mary Hardin-Baylor enjoying the view from the peak

The champions, long the team that just missed making it to the top, deals with the pressure of defending for the first time. And what it makes them feel might surprise you.

These new coaches have to keep it from crumbling

Most teams switch coaches when the program bottoms out. At John Carroll and East Texas Baptist, new coaches are trying to keep them at the top, just like Wabash attempted to do last season.

Purple Raiders plan to climb back atop D-III mount

Mount Union didn't win the OAC or go to the Stagg Bowl last season. A narrow loss in the semifinals is a great year most places, but Alliance is not most places.

Beyond the top 25: Sleepers, surprises and the final 32

Anyone can slap a bunch of Purple Powers in order and call it a top 25. But here are the teams whose success you don't see coming a mile away.

Team-by-team previews

Each preseason we talk to every school. Who are the key players? Who needs to step up this year? And then we write a preview for every team and predict how each team will finish. That's the biggest section of Kickoff.

Where does my team rank?

Each year since 2005, Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan have ranked all of the Division III football teams from top to bottom. This year there are 249. Where did your team come in?

2017 conference rankings

Every year we rank all of the conferences from top to bottom (other than the NESCAC). Where does your league fit into the Division III football pecking order?

The (former) player's perspective

Former UW-Whitewater defensive back Brady Grayvold, Dickinson offensive lineman Tyler Aston and Christopher Newport defensive lineman Ben Thompson chat with Keith McMillan about whether last season's defensive finish was an anomaly, where the game is headed and more.

A closer look at those Stagg Bowl defenses

We asked a former Division III player to look back at last season's championship game, to determine why defense was so prominent, and suss out what the rest of us could learn from them.

Many happy returns in the MIAC

At a glance, you wouldn't think St. John's wide receiver Evan Clark and St. Thomas running back Jordan Roberts have much in common. But they do have this: Each has a medical hardship year coming to them, and they're using them.

Wheaton, North Central eager to clash again

All-American offensive lineman Kyler Kregel of the Thunder and Joe Fehrle of the Cardinals talk about what it will take to beat the other again this season, and win the CCIW.

Soumahoro eager to make one more pioneering step

Attracted to Berry's program for the opportunity to build a legacy, the All-America defensive lineman has achieved some personal goals, but has a big team accomplishment left to check off.

Frostburg State, often the tagalong, becomes the hunted in the NJAC

For years, the Bobcats were the other team in major East Coast conference shakeups. Now, with nearly their whole roster back from a 10-win team, it's their turn in the spotlight.

Shawn Miller's return to DelVal has itself been the reward

When the All-American safety left the Aggies football program, people told him he was done. Truth is, his successful football career was just beginning.

Case Western Reserve knows margin is thin

Last year, Case missed the playoffs by one game, going 9-1 and staying home. The Spartans have a lot of players back who remember that disappointment and are ready to put it behind them.

River Falls' rise begins up front

Two young offensive linemen helped keep Falcons quarterbacks from being sacked often last season. They're aiming for fewer than 10 sacks again, and are a likely candidate for more WIAC victories.

Shane Sweeney hopes to lead Hobart back to the playoffs

The first-team all-American quarterback wouldn't mind a rematch with Mount Union, but first, there are key departures to replace and a new, frontloaded schedule.

In the Centennial, it's en vogue to stick around

No conference is as home to as many long-time coaches, or former longtimers, as the Centennial. We found out why the jobs are such good places to settle in.

Finally getting a chance to run

After a frustrating five-year odyssey of being told he was better suited for the offensive line or concentrating on special teams first in high school and then in college, Hope senior Brandan Campbell earned the opportunity last fall.

What makes this coach think he can turn Wilmington around?

Bryan Moore takes on one of the toughest reclamation projects in Division III, at the other end of the OAC from the powerhouse. But he was instrumental in helping Heidelberg rise, and he's already getting buy-in from the Quakers.

When looking for recruits, some coaches cast wide net

In 2017, coaches from the Northeast can get players from anywhere. But they still can't minimize the importance of personal relationships.

The old becomes new in the NEWMAC

Teams from four conferences unite forces to create a new conference, with a lot of old links between football programs looking for a fresh start. And a lot of miles between football programs as well.

Utica hopes to swing 'four or five plays'

In the ultra-competitive Empire 8, great starts don't necessarily guarantee great seasons. The Pioneers have been knocking on the door, and now, they believe, it's time to burst through.

Ninth NESCAC game means pace quickens for all

Converting an annual scrimmage to a game that counts, and an unrelated change to the preseason, will greatly impact the way the conference looks this year.

Getting to know MacMurray's Chazz Middlebrook

Chazz Middlebrook's name might not mean anything to you beyond an anonymous line at the top of the NCAA Division III rushing stats. But as the only hearing child of deaf parents, Middlebrook had to battle just to learn to speak normally, so he doesn't care what you think of his level of competition.

Getting to know Denison's Canaan Gebele

The Big Red junior quarterback talks with Greg Thomas about the presence of data, avoiding injury as a dual-threat passer and calling lacrosse games in his free time.

Getting to know Central's Sam Markham

The Dutch senior wide receiver talks with Nathan Ford about the decision to switch from basketball to football, passing on dental school, for now and that 50-49 win at Whitworth last season.

Getting to know Redlands' Alex Andrighetto

Alex Andrighetto was unable to finish the season last year because of injury, and he discusses how that motivates him, why rivalry games aren't particularly important to him and more.

Getting to know Ferrum defensive lineman Montel Lee

The USAC defensive player of the year is poised to be a four-year all-conference player. He talks about double teams, the program's turnaround and the expectations for 2017.

Getting to know Defiance's Tyler Gillig

The Yellow Jacket senior H-back talks with Adam Turer about having three coaches in four seasons, the motto "Keep Climbing," and misconceptions about Division III.

Getting to know Salve Regina's Tommy Seaver

The Seahawks tight end talks with Matt Noonan about finding a way to postseason play, the lessons of Gronk and battling Western New England for a conference crown.

Getting to know Bridgewater's Malivai Barker

After patiently waiting his turn throughout high school and through is first two years at Bridgewater, the running back burst onto the scene in his junior year. He talks about the frustration of waiting, and how determined he was to earn his shot.

... And lastly, we predict

We asked a seven-man panel 20 questions about the upcoming season, everything from last team in the playoff field to most surprising upset. Enjoy.