2013 MIAC FOOTBALL CONFERENCE PREVIEW
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- As the 2013 football season gets set to kick off, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) boasts a pair of top-10 teams, a host of other talented contenders, countless individual returning stars and coaching changes at one-third of the schools, including the retirement of college football's all-time wins leader. If the on-field product is as rich as the storylines, this fall will certainly be unforgettable.
The top offseason news in the conference was the retirement of Saint John's legendary Head Coach John Gagliardi, who departs with the most wins - 489 - in the history of college football. After roaming the sidelines for 60 years at Saint John's (64 total), the absence of Gagliardi will no doubt be felt throughout the entire conference. But as the league transitions to life without a living legend, plenty of teams and student-athletes are ready to carry the torch.
After Gagliardi's retirement, MIAC attention turns next to the continued excellence at the University of St. Thomas. The Tommies enter the season ranked No. 2 in the nation in all three preseason polls after going 14-1 a year ago, with their only loss coming to Mount Union in the NCAA Division III championship game. Head Coach Glenn Caruso and UST became the first MIAC team to complete three-straight perfect 10-0 regular seasons in 2012, and they've advanced one step further in the postseason each season since Caruso took over. That leaves just one step left for 2013 - a national championship - and the Tommies return a team capable of another MIAC title and national prominence.
However, Bethel joined UST in the second round of the 2013 postseason, and Head Coach Steve Johnson returns tons of talent and high expectations from his 9-3 squad (6-2 MIAC). The Royals are ranked as high as No. 6 in the preseason polls, and they'll enter the season as St. Thomas' top competition in the conference, and further evidence of the MIAC's overall strength.
Concordia, which went 8-2 overall and tied Bethel with a 6-2 MIAC mark last season, was the second team listed outside the top 25 in the D3football.com "Others receiving votes" section, and Augsburg (7-3, 5-3 MIAC) also received a vote in the poll. Add in always-talented teams at St. Olaf (7-3, 5-3 MIAC) and Saint John's (5-5, 3-5 MIAC) and suddenly the MIAC landscape appears to be as strong as ever. Gustavus (3-7, 2-6 MIAC), Carleton (3-7, 1-7 MIAC) and Hamline (1-9, 0-8 MIAC) also have high hopes entering the 2013 season, with plenty of opportunities for signature wins on their schedules.
A year ago, the MIAC's relative toughness came in the form of tangible results. Six of the conference's nine teams were .500 or better, with five of those teams winning at least seven games overall with .700 or better winning percentages. Against nonconference foes the MIAC was dominant, going 13-0 over the first two weeks of the 2012 season and 16-2 overall. Many weeks, the MIAC had three teams ranked in the Top 25, with as many as five receiving votes. To top it off, the MIAC led the nation in Division III football attendance.
That standard of success seems to set an impossibly high, but the MIAC seems as strong as ever, and poised to continue its ascent on the Division III football landscape. Starting Friday, an exciting 11 weeks of MIAC football kicks off and, if the action matches the anticipation, fans of the conference are in for the ultimate football feast.
ST. THOMAS SUCCESS PREDICTED AGAIN
After the Tommies' run to the Division III title game a year ago and their MIAC three-peat, it's no surprise that Caruso's crew is the conference favorite again atop the 2013 MIAC Football Preseason Coaches' Poll. The Tommies received all eight first-place votes (coaches could not vote for their own team) and 64 points to ranks as the unanimous conference favorite.
Bethel was the consensus No. 2 team in the conference and, according to the coaches, UST's biggest No. 1 challenger. The Royals received the other first-place vote and 56 points. After that is where things get interesting, and the conference's parity is reflected with just two points separating the next three teams. Augsburg finished third with 44 points, and tied for fourth just a point back at 43 were both Concordia and Saint John's.
St. Olaf received 27 points in the poll to finish sixth, just three points ahead of Gustavus. The Gusties got 24 points and came in seventh in the predicted standings. Carleton (13 points) edged Hamline (10 points) for the No. 8 spot as the Knights and Pipers rounded out the poll's final two spots.
The 2013 season will be one of major change in the MIAC. The coaching change at Saint John's - the Johnnies first in 60 years - has been incredibly well-publicized, but the conference will welcome three new head coaches this fall as one-third of the league went through a coaching change in the offseason.
However, the SJU change is the highest-profile transition for a reason. Gagliardi was an institution in the MIAC, Division III and all of college football. Though college football's all-time wins leader will no longer be on the sidelines, his legend will forever be tied to football coaching excellence in the MIAC, as the conference coaches and administrators unanimously elected to name the conference's top coaching honor the "MIAC John Gagliardi Coach-of-the-Year" award.
Replacing him is a familiar face in a new role. Gary Fasching takes over as the Johnnies' head coach after 17 seasons as an assistant under Gagliardi. Fasching also played linebacker for SJU, graduating in 1981, so even though the legendary coach has ridden off into the sunset, many of the traditions and ideals surrounding SJU football will remain.
St. Olaf also went with a familiar face as its new head coach when former coach Jerry Olzsewski accepted the top job at Division II Augustana in Sioux Falls, S.D. Craig Stern, who was the Oles' assistant head coach, was promoted to the head job. Stern has been on the St. Olaf staff for nine seasons, so the transition should be a smooth one in Northfield, as well.
Hamline also ushered in a new era when Chad Rogosheske was hired to replace John Pate as the Pipers' head coach. Once again, a MIAC team went with familiarity, as Rogosheske spent a dozen years at Hamline as a player and an assistant coach. His assistant coaching stops also include D-III Wartburg and D-I Ohio State and Bucknell along his road back to his alma mater.
There's a reason St. Thomas is again favored to win the MIAC and ranked No. 2 in the nation ... Caruso's team returns a ton of talent and experience from a team that nearly captured the national title in 2012. There are 16 players back with starting experience, led by junior QB Matt O'Connell, who is 31-1 as a starter and accounted for 27 TDs a season ago. All-America OLB Tremayne Williams and 1,000-yard rusher Brenton Braddock are also back in starring roles once again.
Bethel is blessed with plenty of returning talent as well, starting with All-American senior LB Seth Mathis, the leader of the always-accomplished Royal defense. All-MIAC DB J.D. Mehlhorn is also back, and QB Erik Peterson and WR Mitch Hallstrom lead a Bethel offense that could be more explosive and vertical than usual.
Augsburg has enjoyed a nice progression, and moving into the top three in the league would further the development of Frank Haege's program. Dual-threat QB Ayrton Scott set the MIAC on fire as a freshman, and the star sophomore is poised to continue is ascent in 2013. All-America TE Adam Carl will again be one of Scott's favorite targets the MIAC's most feared downfield weapons, while DB Hakeem Bourne-McFarlane returns as the leader of the Auggie defense.
Concordia spent most of 2012 in the Top 25 and in contention for the MIAC title and a postseason bid, and the Cobbers have high hopes again despite the loss of MIAC MVP Brett Baune and Mike Stam Award winner Tom Knowlton. Concordia welcomes back junior QB Griffin Neal, All-MIAC DT Mark Wychor and Neal's favorite target, WR Mark Whiting. In Collegeville, the Johnnies also have talent back on the offensive side of the ball to start the Fasching era. SJU wil be led by All-MIAC lineman Kevin Battis, WR Josh Bungum, who emerged in his first year in 2012, and dangerous RB/returner Jake Essler.
St. Olaf has two big pairs of shoes to fill - from the same family - with the graduation of All-MIAC brothers Dan (QB) and Ben (DB) Dobson, but Stern will lean heavily on perhaps the league's best receiving corps with seniors Stephen Asp and Jake Schmiesing back for the Oles. All-MIAC OL Alexander Hsu also returns for St. Olaf. Gustavus will rely once again on the running ability of star senior Jeffrey Dubose, who is just 40 yards shy of 2,000 for his career. A pair of senior All-MIAC Second Team picks - Joe Hass (LB) and Donte Green (DT) - are back to lead the Gustie defense in 2013.
Carleton graduated a pair of outstanding defensive backs in Mike Elder and Paul Hoffer, but has high hopes for its passing attack with QB Conor Lynch and Preseason All-American WR Chase Gottschalk back on the offensive side of the ball. Junior LB Zach Heinrich returns as the Knights' second-leading tackler. Hamline's success in Rogosheske's debut season will start in the backfield with Austin Duncan, who had 10 total TDs in a breakout freshman season in 2012, and junior RB Ryan Ferkinhoff. Senior DL Derek Wilson returns to lead the Piper defense this season.
CIRCLE THESE DATES
The MIAC season will start with a rare kickoff under the Friday night lights, as Saint John's travels to UW-River Falls to begin the 2013 season Friday at 7 p.m. There are six more games Saturday, with five teams opening on their home field. Carleton hosts Grinnell, Hamline hosts UM-Morris, St. Olaf hosts Northwestern and Concordia hosts Jamestown all at 1 p.m., with St. Thomas hosting UW-Eau Claire at 1:10 p.m. Augsburg at Concordia-Wis. at 1 p.m. is the only road game Saturday.
Nonconference action continues the following week, starting with St. Thomas at UW-River Falls on Thursday, Sept. 12, at 7:10 p.m. Bethel and Gustavus will open their seasons - both at home - on Saturday, Sept. 14. The Royals host Wartburg and the Gusties get a visit from Simpson, with both kicking off at 1 p.m.
The conference season starts Saturday, Sept. 21. with several intriguing games on the schedule. St. Thomas hosts Saint John's in the annual Tommie-Johnnie showdown in St. Paul at 1 p.m. St. Olaf visits Concordia at 1 p.m., and Hamline hosts Carleton in the only evening kickoff of the MIAC season at 7 p.m. in St. Paul. A week later Bethel opens MIAC play by hosting Augsburg at 1 p.m. on Oct. 5.
The league's two top-ten teams, St. Thomas and the Royals, will square off in a must-see matchup on Saturday, Oct. 19 on Bethel's home field in Arden Hills at 1:10 p.m. The MIAC regular season wraps up on Saturday, Nov. 16.
A CLOSER LOOK
The rest of the 2013 MIAC Football Preview contains complete results from the 2013 Preseason Coaches' Poll, a video from MIAC Media, helpful links and a preview for each team submitted by their sports information director. The new MIAC web site - www.miacathletics.com - will be an outstanding source for MIAC football news, schedules, scores, stats and more throughout the 2013 season.
Visit the MIAC scoreboard on game days to follow all the action, and download the MIAC mobile app to have all the information with you anywhere you travel. Also, connect to the conference on its Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages for updates and interaction all season long.
2013 MIAC FOOTBALL PROMOTIONAL VIDEO
MIAC Media visited numerous MIAC football teams' preseason camps to collect footage of the players and coaches preparing for the upcoming season. The result is this promotional video announcing the start of another outstanding MIAC football campaign.
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