"At this point in the year, it's always the same: you're tired of practicing against each other," remarked head coach Paul Troth. "We're ready to do something."
That opportunity comes Saturday on Gregg-Mitchell Field, when the 11th-ranked Vikings host No. 12 McPherson (Kan.), the defending KCAC champion. This they'll do with a new quarterback for the first time since 2007, with sophomore Lorenzo Dennard winning a three-way battle to replace four-year starter Chris White.
"I'm not really concerned about quarterback," Troth asserted. "In all my years of coaching, I've never gone in with the quality we've had in these three guys. I'm excited about the skill level."
Although the Bulldogs are noted for their high-powered spread offense, they also led their league in defense (328.2 yards per game) last season -- led by pre-season all-America senior linebacker J.L. Gomez. With a new group of players in the offensive skill positions, Valley enters with question marks.
"Whether you've got all returning starters or are all new, it's still the first game," Troth said. "You're always concerned about the mistakes."
McPherson is expected to mix up their attack out of its 4-3 alignment, including switching from man-to-man to zone coverage in the secondary. It will be a chess match for Troth, since the 'Dogs "do a nice job of keeping you guessing."
Like the Vikings, McPherson also has a change at quarterback, where Shane Mascarenas was second in the NAIA with 329.2 passing yards per game a year ago. Junior Matt Summers-Johnson will be making his first start for McPherson after two impressive seasons at Shasta (Calif.) College.
"He was a very good junior college quarterback, a big kid who can run," Troth noted. "Anytime you present a dual threat, that poses another problem."
Summers-Johnson has two outstanding wideouts to target, seniors Joe Middleton and Andy Skinner coming off seasons in which they combined for 140 catches, 2,412 yards and 28 touchdowns.
"We've got to keep them in front of us," Troth said. "We want to mix it up, show a lot of formations and try to make them adjust."
If history holds true, this is a classic match-up between a rugged defense -- the Vikings were second in the NAIA in yardage allowed last season -- and a high-powered offense.
"When you play an offense like that, you try to slow them down," Troth explained. "You try to slow them down and keep them from getting into a rhythm."
This non-conference clash is not critical to either team's long-term prospects, but it could set a tone for the season. Troth believes the Vikings "need to show some consistency in all three phases" of the game.
"If we can limit mistakes and show consistency, that will be a good start," Troth said. "Obviously, we need to win the game."