Five things to watch at SDSU, USD spring football practice

Jackrabbits, Coyotes both undergoing transition heading into 2023

South Dakota State running back Isaiah Davis (22) drags South Dakota defensive back Dennis Shorter, wrapped around his right ankle, into the endzone for a touchdown as a host of Jackrabbits and Coyotes look on during the South Dakota Showdown college football rivalry game on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, at Dykhouse Stadium, in Brookings.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

South Dakota's Division I football teams are returning to the field this week for spring practice. The national champion Jackrabbits kicked off spring ball on Tuesday, while South Dakota begins on Saturday.

For both teams, there's some extra work to be done in those spring practices, as the Jackrabbits have a new coach for the first time in almost 30 years, while the Coyotes have a revamped offensive staff after a disastrous season on that side of the ball last year.

Here are five themes that will surely be areas of focus this spring:

1. Jimmy Rogers' rules

Yes, the Jackrabbits promoted from within, but when you've had the same head coach for 26 seasons, any change would feel drastic. Throw in that new coach Jimmy Rogers is a 35-year-old first time head coach and a markedly different personality than the retired John Stiegelmeier, and the culture of the defending national champions is going to be a fascinating thing to watch all year long, but especially in the spring.

012023 SDSU FB Rogers introduced.JPG
South Dakota State football head coach Jimmy Rogers speaks during an introductory press conference on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023 at the Dykhouse Student-Athlete Center in Brookings.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic

Rogers had been the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach, and Stiegelmeier was renowned for how much freedom and leeway he gave his assistant coaches, so things probably won't feel a whole lot different. Then again, Stig was the face of the program. How Rogers settles into that role is the biggest question mark facing this program, and spring ball is his chance to get a head start.


2. Are the Coyotes OK?

The last time USD fans saw their team play, the Coyotes put forth one of the worst performances in program history.

In an eventual 58-14 home loss to Northern Iowa, the Yotes trailed 42-0 a mere three minutes into the second quarter. The loss dropped them to 3-8, and many assumed coach Bob Nielson was going to be let go shortly after.

Instead, the Yotes announced immediately after the game Nielson was staying. A defensible decision, as Nielson is a proven coach who wants to be here. But there isn't a lot of momentum in the program right now.

So what's the Coyotes' morale like? Are the players still bought in?

Nielson wouldn't be back if athletic director David Herbster didn't believe the players will still buy in. And the hunch here is that the soft-spoken Nielson is highly motivated to wash away the bad vibes from last year. Spring practice is the perfect time to do that.

3. What kind of progress can Aidan Bouman make at quarterback?

When USD brought in the Iowa State transfer before last season it was tempting to wonder what that would mean for incumbent starter Carson Camp. Not surprisingly, the big southpaw unseated Camp (who has since left the program) and is now the man leading the offense, with three years of eligibility remaining.

In four games, Bouman (the son of longtime NFL quarterback Todd Bouman) completed 60 percent of his passes for 772 yards and seven touchdowns with just one pick. He's a pure pocket passer, but if the Coyotes can protect him, Bouman seems like the kind of player they can build around. Spring ball gives him a golden opportunity to build on the promise he showed last year and take momentum into his first full season as the starter.

4. Who will step up on the D-line for SDSU?

The Jacks just don't have many questions going into 2023. This is the best we can come up with. Defensive end Reece Winkelman and defensive tackle Caleb Sanders were two of the best SDSU ever had, and they're gone. On top of that, highly-regarded defensive line coach Christian Smith was snapped up by Northwestern (the one in the Big Ten).


South Dakota State defensive lineman Caleb Sanders (99) drags down South Dakota running back Shomari Lawrence (1) with Jackrabbit teammates Colby Huerter (14) and Cade Terveer (94) nearby during the South Dakota Showdown college football rivalry game on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, at Dykhouse Stadium, in Brookings.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Smith's work was one of the most underrated factors in the Jacks rising from FCS contender to national champion, as he was not only successful in building a unit that could go 8 to 10 deep, but continually rebuild and reload so they could keep playing that deep of a rotation year after year. The Jacks graduated some good lineman after 2021 — the line did not suffer in '22. Will that happen again in '23? That will no doubt be one of Rogers' top priorities. It's a group loaded with talent, and there's still experience, too. But new line coach Jalon Bibbs has big shoes to fill.

Former Jackrabbit receiver hopes to breathe life into Coyote offense after winning championship with SDSU

5. Can Josh Davis fix the Coyotes offense?

USD spent most of last year without an offensive coordinator, with Nielson taking over playcalling duties early in the season. They ended the season averaging a meager 16 points and 286 yards per game.

Enter Josh Davis, a former all-time great wide receiver for the rival Jackrabbits, and their receivers coach last year as they won the national championship.

Former SDSU player and assistant Josh Davis is the new offensive coordinator at USD.
Matt Zimmer

Crossing the rivalry is a big step, and that Davis was willing shows both how determined he is to succeed as a coordinator and how confident he is USD can win.

But Nielson didn't stop there. Jeff Nady is the new O-line coach, and former University of Mary head coach and record-setting quarterback Craig Bagnell left his post leading his alma mater to coach receivers for the Yotes. They'll begin the process of recharging the USD offense this spring.

Matt Zimmer is a Sioux Falls native and longtime sports writer. He graduated from Washington High School where he played football, legion baseball and developed his lifelong love of the Minnesota Twins and Vikings. After graduating from St. Cloud State University, he returned to Sioux Falls, and began a long career in amateur baseball and sports reporting. Email Matt at
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