For all practical purposes, the ninth-ranked Vikings have already begun, hosting Central Methodist in a scrimmage last week. That provided some valuable video for the coaching staff.
"Just some consistency with execution on offense" was the main concern, MVC head coach Paul Troth critiqued the performance. "Sometimes on defense, we struggled to get lined up correctly and take good angles."
On the bright side, Valley "didn't get anybody seriously hurt," Troth laughed.
The Vikings take the field for real against a KCAC foe they whipped in last year's season opener, 47-10, but that doesn't breed familiarity. The Bulldogs (4-5 in 2011) are now guided by Pete Stebrick, a young coach hired off the Grand View (Iowa) staff.
"You're going in blind," Troth admitted. "We don't know what he's going to do.
"We're trying to be real generic in our preparation," he explained. "The adjustments we make are critical."
A possible clue to McPherson's approach may be what Stebrick did in his former position, which was to run a spread-option offense. However, even that isn't much help.
"You don't have any tendencies, but you can see a little bit of what they did at Grand View," Troth said.
The Bulldogs do return their starting quarterback from last year, senior Jake Snodgrass having completed 170 of 305 passes for 2,094 yards and 19 touchdowns -- along with 12 interceptions, three against Valley.
"You're going to look at the talent they have and play to their strengths," Troth said. "We don't want him to get too comfortable and in a rhythm."
There's also the matter of how to approach a defense yet unseen. McPherson lists a base 3-4 scheme and returns three of four starters in the secondary, among them senior DaMarcus Trotter -- who had a team-leading three interceptions a year ago.
"Their two cornerbacks are very good players," Troth noted. "I'm sure they consider that the strength of their team."
What complicates matters for the Vikings is that looming on the horizon is a crucial HAAC showdown at No. 5 MidAmerica Nazarene the following week, making the opener a potential "trap" game.
"You hope not," Troth remarked. "It's a chance to get better, so we're trying to impress on our kids that we've got to get things going so we can go into next week, and the week after that, and the week after that.
"I think our kids have the right mindset," he assessed. "It's just going out there and doing it."