When the final votes were tabulated in the preseason, Drake received one first-place nod from the Pioneer League coaches and was picked to finish third - just three points behind favorite San Diego and one back of Dayton.
The Bulldogs can put the rest of the PFL on notice Saturday night when they visit a North Dakota team that was one of four FCS members to defeat an FBS squad during the opening week of the season.
Drake, the league co-champion in 2011 and 2012, went 7-4 overall and 6-2 in Pioneer play last year. The Bulldogs finished one game behind champion San Diego and Jacksonville, which was - and still is - ineligible to win the PFL crown due to violations against the league's need-based financial aid guidelines.
The Bulldogs brought back 16 starters, including eight from a defensive unit that led the league with 318.0 yards allowed per game, and got 2015 underway by holding Division II program William Jewell to 324 yards in a 44-30 win last Saturday.
Drake was led by junior running back Conley Wilkins, who matched career highs with 110 yards and three touchdowns, while fifth-year senior Andy Rice passed for 286 yards and two scores and finished with a PFL-best 354 total yards.
Josh Lee converted three field goals and three extra points to earn PFL special teams player of the week honors.
While coach Rick Fox said he was mostly pleased with the performance, he didn't like the fact that the Bulldogs had a punt blocked, fumbled three times - losing one - and allowed a 97-yard kickoff return for a TD that cut the lead to 10 in the third quarter.
"First wins are often ugly and there was plenty of ugly that we've got to get ironed out, but we'll get there. I'm confident about that," Fox said. "... We've got a lot to clean up ... going against the teams we'll be facing in the coming weeks."
That starts with North Dakota, which went into Wyoming last Saturday and came away with a 24-13 victory for its first win over an FBS opponent in eight attempts since moving to Division I in 2008.
"This was a good win and a big step for our program," coach Bubba Schweigert said. "We have to keep things in the proper perspective, though. ... We have not accomplished anything yet."
Drake, which travels to South Dakota next week, visited North Dakota in 2011 and lost 16-0 in the only meeting between the schools.
"They'll come in here and play hard," Schweigert said. "This is a big game for them to come up to Grand Forks and spoil our home opener, so we need to really focus on our preparation and be ready for a hard-fought game."
A look at the other Week 2 games Saturday in the Pioneer League (all times ET):
Jacksonville (1-0) at Newberry (1-0), 1 p.m.
The Dolphins continue a stretch of playing their first three games away from home after posting a 20-14 win over Delaware, the first for a Pioneer League team against the Colonial Athletic Association. Kade Bell passed for 269 yards and a TD in being named PFL offensive player of the week. Division II Newberry won 31-28 at Florida Tech on quarterback Raleigh Yeldell's 7-yard scoring scamper with 34 seconds remaining.
The Eagles look to bounce back after being outgained 713-252 in a 56-7 drubbing at then-No. 12 James Madison. Austin Gahafer passed for 173 yards - 130 to Jake Raymond - and had a 1-yard TD on the ground. VMI lost 48-36 at FBS school Ball State despite Al Cobb going 33 of 47 for 399 yards and three touchdowns.
The Crusaders play their home opener following a 52-10 loss to then-No. 17 Eastern Kentucky in which they were held to 220 yards. Freshman defensive back Joey Diaz-Martinez provided a bright spot with two interceptions. Sacred Heart opened with a 43-19 victory over Division II Saint Anselm behind RJ Noel's two touchdown passes and two rushing scores.
The Camels look to complete a perfect homestand after scoring a pair of late touchdowns to get past NAIA school Pikeville 41-20. Junior De'Shawn Jones ran for a school-record 189 yards and a touchdown, while Kameron Bryant passed for two scores and rushed for another. Division II Chowan opened with a 41-31 victory at Fayetteville State as Randall Dixon passed for 249 yards and four TDs in his debut for the Hawks.
The Red Foxes head out on the road again after Bucknell held them to 161 yards in a 17-0 loss. Free safety Zach Adler picked up where he left off with an interception after tying for second in the FCS in 2014 with seven. Georgetown, which won 27-7 at Marist last year, opened in the nation's capital and allowed 520 yards in a 48-20 loss to St. Francis of Pennsylvania. The Hoyas will be playing with heavy hearts after junior linebacker Ty Williams underwent surgery for a serious neck injury following the game.
The Hatters opened at home with a 42-13 rout of Webber International, which came in ranked 24th in the NAIA. It was Stetson's highest point total since restarting the program in 2013. Cole Mazza had three of the team's five rushing touchdowns and safety Donald Payne, the 2014 PFL defensive player of the year, had an interception. Mercer plays its first game at home after scoring the final 21 points in a 28-7 win over Austin Peay. The Bears beat Stetson in 2013 and 2014 by a combined score of 90-14.
Butler (0-1) vs. Franklin (0-1), 6:30 p.m.
The Bulldogs face a much easier test in their home opener against Franklin following a 52-17 defeat at No. 21 Indiana State. Matt Shiltz provided most of the offense with 114 passing yards and a touchdown while also rushing for a 75-yard score and adding a 19-yard reception. Franklin, which made the Division III playoffs last season, fell 34-24 to Illinois Wesleyan in its opener. Butler has outscored the Grizzlies 122-60 in winning the last three matchups.
The Wildcats aim to regroup after gaining 104 yards in a 69-0 blowout at The Citadel that extended their losing streak to 12. That skid started with a 35-7 defeat last September to Division II Catawba, which began its season with a 44-13 loss at West Georgia in which it amassed 145 yards. The Indians have won the last four meetings.
San Diego (0-1) vs. Western New Mexico (1-0), 9 p.m.
The Toreros lost 37-3 to FBS program San Diego State, but they only allowed one offensive touchdown while the Aztecs returned two interceptions for scores and brought a kickoff back 97 yards for a TD. San Diego is 4-0 against Division II Western New Mexico, which opened with a 70-14 victory over NAIA school Arizona Christian.
Dayton (1-0) - Idle.
The Flyers began 2015 with a 27-24 victory at Robert Morris behind PFL defensive player of the week Danny Leach, who had a 93-yard interception return for a TD and picked off another pass after Dayton went ahead by three late in the game. The Flyers host Duquesne on Sept. 19.