Both BR-13 St. Thomas and BR-8 St. John’s represented the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in D3 Football Playoffs last season. With four teams in the BennettRank Preseason Top 25, the MIAC comes in at second overall in BennettRank’s D3 Football Conference Power Rankings. Before we get into our team-by-team preview, let’s take a look at where each team stands, according to BennettRank:
|8||St. John’s (MN)|
Attrition will certainly impact the top-ranked defense in the MIAC. It will be interesting to see how BR-8 St. John’s responds after losing five all-conference players on the defensive side. Linebacker Carter Hanson will return, however, and should be one of the top players in the league at his position. Most importantly for this team, MIAC MVP and Johnnies running back Sam Sura is set to return. He rushed for an incredible 1,769 yards and 19 touchdowns a season ago and will be on the mind of every defensive coordinator he’ll face this season.
Despite losing a few key pieces from the offensive line and the defense, the BR-13 St. Thomas Tommies appear loaded once again. St. Thomas (8-3, 6-2) was the top scoring team in the MIAC last season, and will bring back every skill position player this time around. Both quarterbacks, John Gould (1,425 yards, 16 touchdowns) and Matt O’Connell (1,193 yards, seven touchdowns), will be seniors. They also return all three of their top running backs, guys who accounted for 28 rushing touchdowns and 1,817 yards last season. The Tommies did take a hit from graduation defensively however — they lost just about every starting linebacker and defensive back, as well as most of their front line from last season including their most prolific tackler – linebacker Ruttger Heffelfinger, top defensive back Kyle Coyne, and their best run-stopper – nose guard Sam Pokornowski. They’ll rely on their prolific offense to carry their largely new defense, at least through the early going.
Wide receiver Brandon Zylstra is the top returning playmaker for BR-20 Concordia-Moorhead. Expect the ball to be in his hands a lot. Alex Grove looks to be the top fit to take over at quarterback for the Cobblers (8-2, 6-2). Levi Hintermeister and Zack Martinez are back at linebacker for one of the top defenses in the MIAC. They create headaches for opposing offenses.
Marshall Klitzke rushed for 843 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. He will remain one of the MIAC’s elite running backs and will get plenty of touches this season for BR-25 Bethel. Bryce Marquardt caught 13 touchdowns and should be among the top wide receivers in the league. Linebacker Landon Mathis highlights the defense for the Royals (7-3, 6-2). He finished with 64 tackles, including nine TFL last year.
BR-38 Gustavus Adolphus will go as far as quarterback Mitch Hendricks can take them. He is clearly the top quarterback in the league coming of a remarkable season with 3,403 yards and 35 touchdowns for Gustavus (6-4, 4-4). He also rushed for another four scores. His top two receivers in Gabriel and Matt Boyce also return after they combined for over 2,000 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns. Expect similarly big production from Gustavus Adolphus this season.
Ayrton Scott is back under center for the second-best passing offense in the MIAC last season. Scott did it all for BR-71 Augsburg, throwing for 2,874 yards and 24 touchdowns. He was also the team’s top rusher with 869 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Auggies (4-6, 3-5) will also bring back Scott’s top target in Joey Sonnenfeld. He caught 14 touchdowns last year. Augsburg needs to find a way to fine tune its defense in order to be competitive. The unit allowed 37.3 ppg last year.
Austin Duncan, one of the top running backs in the conference, is back after rushing for 1,237 yards and seven touchdowns. He will be the focal point for BR-140 Hamline. Hamline (4-6, 2-6) also returns quarterback Tim Bona who threw for 2,115 and 13 touchdowns last season. Safety Anthony Hill will lead the defense. He was a first-team All-MIAC pick last year.
For the BR-158 St. Olaf Lions, the hope will be that experience leads to improvement. The St. Olaf offense struggled last season, averaging just 12.9 ppg. However, it brings back some key components like top running back J.J. Strnad and quarterback Nate Penz. The Lions (1-9, 1-7) will need someone to emerge as a reliable target for Penz after losing their top two pass catchers to graduation. Keep an eye on linebacker Colton Yahn and defensive back Coleman Foley. The should be a pair of big-time playmakers on the defensive side for St. Olaf.
It was a rough year for BR-167 Carleton last season. The numbers tell the story for the Knights, who averaged just 11.8 ppg and 217.6 yards of total offense. They also allowed 35.3 ppg. It will likely be another tough year for the Knights, but they do have some young promising talent like running back Chris Madden, quarterback Zach Creighton and defensive lineman Mitch Heflin.
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