(STATS) - San Diego was a one-point favorite over Dayton to win the Pioneer Football League in preseason voting by the league's head coaches, with Drake a distant third. At the halfway point of PFL play, the Bulldogs can prove they belong in the title conversation when they host the Toreros on Saturday.
Dayton has won 12 titles and San Diego has been champion seven times since the PFL began play in 1993. Drake is third all-time with six titles, the last coming in 2012 when the Bulldogs shared it with the Toreros and Butler.
San Diego (4-1, 3-0), which has been selected as the preseason favorite in each of the last six years, is leading the way this season while Drake (3-3, 2-1) is right on its heels.
The Toreros' first league win came by 12 points over Dayton, and they won their next two by a combined score of 96-13. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, have won their two PFL contests by a total of 16 points, with the only loss coming 35-10 at Dayton on Oct. 1.
Those numbers would indicate San Diego has a pretty good chance of staying unbeaten in the league, but Drake has won 30 of its last 32 PFL home games. However, one of those losses came to the Toreros in 2014 when they scored a touchdown with 1:21 left to pull out a 17-14 victory.
That's part of three straight wins in the series for San Diego, including 27-0 at home last October. Anthony Lawrence led the way for the Toreros in that meeting, going 22 of 33 for 326 yards while throwing 16- and 62-yard TD passes to running back Jereke Armstrong, who also rushed for a 24-yard score.
Drake didn't have to face running back Jonah Hodges due to an injury that limited him to four games last season, but he's back and leads the PFL with 569 rushing yards, 943 all-purpose yards and 10 TDs - nine on the ground. Lawrence is completing a PFL-best 69.5 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,241 yards and seven TDs for the Toreros, who top the league with 34.6 points and 455.8 total yards per game.
Defensively, San Diego ranks first in points allowed per game (14.6) and against the pass (154.8), and is second in total defense (283.2).
"They're a great football team, really in every phase of the game," Bulldogs coach Rick Fox said. "They've got a number of offensive weapons, they make you cover everything and then defensively, a lot of guys who can make plays all over the field. ... We've got to show up and play Drake football and that's playing fast, playing physical, playing together."
The Bulldogs have their own star running back in Conley Wilkins, who ranks second behind Hodges in the PFL with 558 rushing yards and 940 all-purpose yards. Tight end Eric Saubert leads the league with 40 catches, and is tied for first in touchdown receptions (five) and third in receiving yards (465).
"Drake does a really good job running the ball, they've got an adequate passing game and we do not want to go down there and have to load up the box and have to stop the run and get ourselves exposed to the pass," said San Diego coach Dale Lindsey, whose team has won eight straight and 17 of its last 18 league games.