VERMILLION, S.D. | Believe it or not, football season has already arrived.

University of South Dakota players report Saturday afternoon for a compliance meeting ahead of the first practice at 7:30 p.m. at the DakotaDome.

It’s year number two under Coach Bob Nielson, who came to USD after resurrecting the Western Illinois program into an FCS playoff qualifier. The Coyotes were 4-7 in their first season under Nielson.

“We’ve had a year in the system,” Nielson said during the Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason conference call on Wednesday. “We know our personnel better and they know us from a coaching staff standpoint.

“Offensively we have a lot of experience coming back. It’s nice to have an experienced quarterback and perimeter players and four starters in the offensive line. To be able to springboard into camp with experience and a year in the system, we feel good about that.”

The Coyotes, picked seventh in the MVFC preseason poll, return nine starters on offense, including versatile senior quarterback Chris Streveler, who passed for 1,947 yards and rushed for a team-high 823 yards despite missing one game because of injury.

“I think he is going to be a lot better,” Nielson said of Streveler, a University of Minnesota transfer who is an honorable mention preseason all-league pick. “He didn’t have the benefit of spring practice last year and even though he played some quarterback at Minnesota (it) had been a year away from playing quarterback. His development as a complete quarterback is something we look forward to this year.”

On the flip side, the defense has plenty of holes to fill.

“We have some really good senior leadership, guys like Adam Harris in the secondary and linebackers like Jim Litrenta and Jon Wessels,” Nielson said. “But at the same time we’re going to fill in with some younger guys and certainly it will be younger guys who will establish depth for us on defense. I’m very excited but obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do.

“Some of the younger guys are going to have a chance to be in our two-deep. We feel like we have a real good recruiting class this year to go along with the class we brought in a year ago. Young players have the opportunity to get better in a hurry and that’s going to be what we need to get accomplished with those guys this fall.”

As usual, the Missouri Valley is loaded with talented teams. Just one vote separated North Dakota State from South Dakota State for the top spot in the preseason poll. Youngstown State, picked third, reached the FCS national championship and Illinois State was the fourth MVFC team to make the playoffs.

“I think the Valley looks really good, not that is hasn’t in the past,” Nielson said. “When I talk to other coaches, the unique thing about the Valley is that everybody continues to get better. It’s a very difficult league to catch up in because it’s not like the top teams are sliding back.

“It’s going to be a year that’s going to require even the best teams in the league to play good football each week. That’s what makes it so good to be a part of.”

South Dakota has 19 scheduled practices between Saturday and Aug. 19. Strength and conditioning coach Jevon Bowman had the largest group of football players ever in Vermillion over the summer. Players have also taken part in 7-on-7 drills.

“We’re excited to get started on fall camp to get everybody on board an continuing the process of us getting better,” Nielson said.

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