Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

McKendree Aims to Build on Success

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

McKendree Aims to Build on Success

Article excerpt

McKendree's transition to Division II football appeared predictably challenging in 2014 when coach Mike Babcock's second season started with six consecutive losses.

But just when that season appeared to be a lost cause, the Bearcats altered their course. They won their final five games. The progression has yet to slow.

McKendree went 9-2 last season, making the Bearcats 14-2 over their last 16 games, and finished second in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. And the prospects remain elevated for 2016.

"I feel that in the first three years we've gone from OK to pretty darn good," Babcock said. "Now we're at pretty darn good and it's time to get to great. That's winning a conference title, getting in the national playoffs and trying to get Lebanon, Illinois, on the map."

Babcock's teams have actually been highly competitive in the GLVC since his arrival, posting a 14-9 record. This year he added the best nonconference slate the team has faced during his tenure.

This is as good a year as any to increase the degree of difficulty. The Bearcats are now more than comfortable in D-II and are touting their garnering of one vote in the D-II national rankings. Success in 2015 has paid dividends.

"It builds confidence going into the offseason," Babcock said. "Guys worked a little harder, not just because they had a great season but also being close to achieving the top goals to win the conference and get into the playoffs. The seniors especially will do anything to get that. More players stayed over the summer than we've ever had, so it was definitely a fun offseason."

The program lost four-year starting quarterback Isaac Fisher, who was third in the country in total offense last year. However, the Bearcats return two first-team, all-conference players among nine starters on a defense that ranked 24th nationally in points allowed.

However, consistency is still needed. McKendree had two shutouts in 2015 and allowed 10 or fewer points in four games. The Bears also surrendered 30 or more in three games.

Defensive end Lucky Baar was the GLVC defensive player of the year two years ago and led the team in sacks and tackles for loss in 2015. …

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