Canvas is ready for Shepherd to paint its PSAC picture
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Off in the distance to the east is West Chester, a school with 16,426 students. Off to west in the rugged landscape of western Pennsylvania is Indiana, a school with 14,638 students.
And there are nine other Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference schools with at least 7,346 students (Clarion) to Kutztown with 10,634 students. And then is newcomer Shepherd with over 3,800 students.
Such is the sprawling PSAC, with its 16 member schools playing football and then Mansfield and Pitt-Johnstown joining the gridders for men’s basketball and other sports.
There’s only the past and looking back at the Mountain East Conference and before it the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. No more Fairmont, no more Glenville, no more West Virginia State and West Virginia Wesleyan.
Up ahead in the not too distant future will be Mercyhurst out in Erie, Clarion and win-starved Seton Hill, a team that went 1-10 in football last season. Neither Mercyhurst nor Clarion recorded winning seasons in 2018.
Shepherd will be placed in the East Division of the PSAC. There are eight football-playing schools in both the East and West divisions.
The West Virginia Rams (as opposed to the Golden Rams of West Chester) will be housed in the East along with West Chester, Kutztown, Bloomsburg, Shippensburg, Millersville, Lock Haven and East Stroudsburg.
Shippensburg, a long-time rival until Shepherd joined the Mountain East Conference, comes back onto the Rams’ schedule and could provide a natural rival since the Red Raiders are located just up I-81 less than 90 minutes away from Shepherdstown.
Beginning here in 2019, Shepherd will play each of the other seven teams in the East Division, plus an additional three from the West Division to fill out the annual 10-game schedule provided by the PSAC leadership. All conference schools are allowed to play an 11th game. Shepherd has added Ohio Dominican as its 11th game for this 2019 season.
Scanning Shepherd’s 2019 schedule, you’ll see that six of the 11 teams it faces had losing seasons in 2018. However, West Chester was 10-1, Kutztown was 9-2 and Ohio Dominican was also 9-2.
The rarefied air breathed by Ram followers in 2015, 2016 and 2017 when Shepherd pillaged its MEC rivals with the three consecutive undefeated regular seasons will no longer exist. Winning seasons and possible Division II national playoffs are realistic expectations — but three straight unbeaten regular seasons is not a brush with reality.
Next season in 2020, the Rams will face both Indiana and Slippery Rock from the West Division. The Crimson Hawks were 8-3 last year and Slippery Rock was 11-3 while claiming the conference championships when it defeated previously unbeaten West Chester in the PSAC title game.
So for now, it’s off to visit new towns, new stadiums and new football-engrained environments in the state of Pennsylvania.