Leathernecks, etc.

The Coyotes lost at home to Western Illinois a year ago in a contest they had tied at 17-17. As was so often the case, the fourth quarter was not USD’s friend that day in a 24-17 loss. Nikko Watson, one of the few really big backs in the conference – he’s listed at 6-0, 250 – ran for 126 yards, consistently drawing attention to the fact that the Coyote defense was overmatched physically.

That win wasn’t enough to save Mark Hendrickson’s job, however, and he was whacked after the season. He was replaced by Bob Nielson, the former Minnesota-Duluth coach who won a pair of Division II national championships with the Bulldogs.

With the new coach, the Coyotes can expect things to be a little different, but they’re very familiar with a lot of the Leathernecks’ personnel.

We’ll have a preview story about the game later in the week, but it bears mentioning that Western Illinois was picked to finish ninth in the conference and the Coyotes were picked to finish 10th. Other common ground includes that Western Illinois has lost seven consecutive conference home games. The Coyotes, of course, have yet to win a Missouri Valley Conference game. They’re also on a 17-game road slide, dating back to the win over Minnesota in September of 2010.

Nobody at USD is whining about it, but this is a season where scheduling a little bit of a break – a Panhandle State, a Drake or better yet, another FCS program outside the Top 25 like UC Davis – would have probably been in the Coyotes’ best interest. Instead, they have Northern Arizona, Montana and Kansas in addition to Davis.

 There’s nothing unfair about that and nothing improper, but sensible decisions are made all the time in relation to scheduling that have to do with both the expected quality of the home team and the visitors.

Last year, an obvious situation where the Coyotes’ ability to compete was compromised was the NDSU-Howard Wood debacle. I was one who agreed with playing NDSU at Howard Wood. It was a fun thing to do, and made some sense as far as the big picture was concerned, but there’s no doubt it would have made more sense from a purely competitive standpoint to have played that game in the Dome.

Would it have made any difference? Yes. I’d guess USD would have lost 53-0 rather than 54-0. But seriously, regardless of the outcome, it put a struggling program in an even tougher spot. That much everybody knew going into it.  And if it was a brilliant idea and supported 100 percent by others at USD, they’d do it again. On that count, don’t hold your breath.

This topic of compromised competitiveness will come up again when the Coyotes finish the season with Montana, SDSU and NDSU. Trust me on this, it will seem a little odd to have to play what will likely be a top-10 nonconference opponent in November with a pair of highly regarded regional rivals to follow. Somehow, some way, I have to think the football program’s best competitive interests were not embraced when the decision was made to go ahead with that.

It’s easy to yammer on about how to be the best you have to beat the best, but I think it’s in the best interest of the program to use that philosophy with some discretion. You could say that the only reason this seems like a bad idea now is because USD is currently trying to crawl out of a hole, but to my way of thinking, if USD would catch fire over the next month, having to play a non-conference national title contender in November would seem like an even poorer decision than it already is.

OK, got off on a little bit of a rant there when I should be concentrating on the tussle with the Leathernecks this week. This contest represents  a chance for the Joe Glenn regime to show that things are getting better. Bob Nielson and the Leathernecks will be thinking precisely the same thing, of course.