Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There's nothing like added incentive for teams who play exceptionally well during the FCS regular season.
At the end of this year, one Pioneer Football League team will know exactly how that incentive feels.
For the first time in the history of the league, the winner of the PFL regular season will receive an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs and vie for a chance at the national championship. The automatic bid adds an excitement about the league that hasn't existed in the past.
The narrow favorite in preseason voting is San Diego, one of three teams that split the PFL crown at the end of last season. Ties for the season title will now go by the wayside with the automatic bid (all three teams can't make the national playoffs on one bid, you know), so be prepared for some form of tiebreaker if necessary.
Mason Mills, who led the FCS in completion percentage in 2012 (70 percent), returns as the signal caller for the Toreros with some solid depth and experience at wide receiver. But a talented quarterback is the common denominator for the top three projected teams this season.
Jacksonville returns Kade Bell, who started as a redshirt freshman last season and racked up 1,401 passing yards with 12 touchdown tosses. His father and Jacksonville coach Kerwin Bell said earlier this month that he picked Kade because of his playmaking ability, which should be even greater this season with experience under his belt.
The PFL's 2012 offensive player of the year, Butler's Matt Lancaster, also returns for another stint with the Bulldogs. Lancaster not only passed for 21 touchdowns, but ran for another eight on his way to top honors.
There's a "new" feeling to the PFL in 2013 as well. The competition gets a little tougher this year with the addition of Mercer and Stetson to the now 12-team league, while half of the team's coaches are entering their first season with their respective squads.
While San Diego first-year coach Dale Lindsey enjoys the idea of potentially receiving an automatic bid to the postseason, it's not the first thing on his mind. First, he said his team must deal with the PFL.
"If we can't get through the tough guys in the PFL, then we don't deserve to be there. Let's play the PFL, and worry about the FCS when we get there," he said.
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2013 Pioneer Football League race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. San Diego
7. Morehead State