Looking at Thursday’s small-college football games

NATE DREILING

MIAA

No. 1 Pittsburg State at Northeastern State, 6 p.m. — The Gorillas begin their national-title defense on the road against Northeastern, which is playing its first MIAA game. Pittsburg State junior linebacker Nate Dreiling, a national player of the year candidate, enters his third year as a starter with 299 career tackles and is the reigning MIAA defensive player of the year. Northeastern quarterback Johnny Deaton threw for 2,520 yards and 26 touchdowns last year, but faces a secondary led by Keeston Terry, who started 10 games for Kansas last season.

Nebraska-Kearney at No. 20 Washburn, 6 p.m. — It’s the first MIAA game for Nebraska-Kearney. The Ichabods must try to replace Harlon Hill Trophy runner-up Dane Simoneau at quarterback with redshirt freshman Mitch Buhler, a Rossville product.

Fort Hays State at Emporia State, 7 p.m. — Emporia State quarterback Tyler Eckenrode is the top returning passer in the MIAA, and an All-American safety in senior Derek Lohmann. The biggest talk about the Hornets in training camp was a water-balloon fight that ended up on YouTube.

Other games

Truman at Southwest Baptist, 6 p.m.

Central Missouri at No. 18 Missouri Western, 6 p.m.

Missouri Southern at Central Oklahoma, 7 p.m.

East Central at No. 3 Northwest Missouri, 7 p.m.

KCAC

Southwestern at Northwestern (Iowa), 6 p.m. – Southwestern gets a tough test in its opener against No. 14 Northwestern, which went 9-2 last season. The Moundbuilders have two quarterback options in sophomore Brady May and senior Jordan Barrett, who has been an on-again, off-again starter since his freshman year but has battled injuries.