(Editor's Note: Stats and information for this article were gathered, in part, from Matt Witwicki's NSIC Preview on D2football.com) The 2015 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference football season could shape up to be one of the most competitive in recent years, more so in the NSIC South than in the North. Yes, Minnesota State-Mankato went to the national championship game last season. And, yes, the Mavericks bring back some strong talent on both sides of the ball. But, at least two other teams are breathing, and both are located in Sioux Falls, S.D. Sioux Falls’ lone loss last season came at the hands of Mankato; that loss likely knocked the Cougars out of NCAA playoff consideration. While Sioux Falls won the Mineral Water Bowl, they’d love nothing more than to hoist a different trophy in Kansas City come December. And then there’s cross-town rival Augustana (S.D.). We profiled the Vikings as a potential sleeper team earlier this summer. A favorable crossover schedule and an emerging quarterback could propel Augie to a few upset wins. And Augie Nation would love nothing more than to spoil USF’s NCAA playoff dreams. With that in mind, let’s conclude our two-part NSIC football preview with a look at the Southern Division (Northern Division Part One). Here's where each team stands going into the season, according to BennettRank. [one_half]
|42||St Cloud St|
|46||Wayne State (NE)|
|71||SW Minn St|
2014 Record: 3-8, 3-8 NSIC, 2-5 NSIC North Projected Finish (Preseason Poll): 11th NSIC/6th NSIC South Head Coach: Cory Sauter (6rd season, 21-35) Projected Returning Offensive Starters: 5 Projected Returning Defensive Starters: 7 Southwest Minnesota State enters the 2015 season in rebuilding mode, especially on offense following the graduation of quarterback Charlie Kern and tailback Tyler Tonderum. Sophomore Blake Gimbel appears to have the upper hand for the starting quarterback spot over a pair of freshmen, Connor Wilkie and Nick Rathke. Senior Davontay Stevens (76 rushes, 483 yards, 1 TD) is the Mustangs’ leading returning rusher as he tries to fill the void with Tonderum’s departure. Sophomore wideout Nate Huot (52 catches, 649 yards, 9 TDs) looks to build off his strong freshman campaign as he returns as the team’s top receiver; senior Kevin Parks (21 catches, 304 yards, 1 TD) and junior Ty Steffensen (25 catches, 209 yards) are also expected to compete for starting spots. Six returning linemen from last year started at least five games last season.. Defensively, the Mustangs bring back seven starters from last season. Senior defensive end A.J. Page (9.5 TFLs) missed two games last season, but still led the team with three sacks. Page is the lone returning starter on the defensive line, though sophomore Alex Werner (3.5 TFLs) returns to add depth up front. Senior Alex Burton (59 tackles, 5 TFLs) and junior Tyler Flud (88 tackles, 7 TFLs, 2 forced fumbles) solidify Southwest Minnesota’s linebacker corps, but the real depth for the team is in the secondary. Senior Jared Twedt (95 tackles, 1 INT) and junior Casey Hertz (94 tackles, 1 INT) return at the safety position, though both players would probably not want to be the team leaders in tackles, hence the hopes for a stronger front seven. A pair of seniors, Andrew McReynolds (4 INT) and Donovan Woods (38 tackles, 1 TFL) anchor the cornerback spots. [divider]
2014 Record: 5-6, 5-6 NSIC, 3-4 NSIC South Projected Finish (Preseason Poll): T-13th NSIC/7th NSIC South Head Coach: Dan McLaughlin (11th season, 59-53) Projected Returning Offensive Starters: 7 Projected Returning Defensive Starters: 5 Wayne State’s offense was slightly ahead of their defense last season, and it cost them dearly. The Wildcats, who are looking for their first postseason berth since 2008, will need to change that if they want to get back in the mix in the NSIC. The Wildcats offensive line, led by senior right guard Taylor Jensen and junior left tackle Shane Finley, return all five starters from a unit which allowed a league low seven sacks (in 446 pass attempts) and helped led Wayne State to nearly 470 yards of offense per game. The consistency on the offensive line will certainly benefit junior quarterback Zach Osborn (58.3 percent completion, 3,291 yards, 25 TDs, 15 INTs) as he works with, essentially, a new group of young receivers. Senior Brian Kent (42 catches, 470 yards, 2 TDs) and junior Nick Roth (16 catches, 248 yards, 2 TDs) are the Wildcats’ leading returning receivers, with sophomore Marcel Dunson (15 catches, 190 yards, 3 TDs) expected to see an expanded role. The running back tandem of senior Ryan Ludlow (161 rushes, 867 yards, 9 TDs) and sophomore Lane Yates (71 rushes, 373 yards, 3 TDs) also return. Much like a few other NSIC teams, Wayne State’s strong offense is offset by a defense which wasn’t exactly stout. Allowing 428.7 yards and 36.5 points per game while the offense scores 31.4 ppg won’t win you too many games. The Wildcats have several gaps to fill on defense as more than half of their defensive starters from last season are gone. Senior Shawn Barker (6.5 TFLs, 1 sack) is the lone player with starting experience last season who returns to the defensive line, while senior Nate Kroupa (71 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 1 sack) anchors the linebackers. Senior CB Jon Davis (2.5 TFLs, 2 INTs, 1 sack) headlines the secondary. [divider]
2014 Record: 5-6, 5-6 NSIC, 4-3 NSIC South Projected Finish (Preseason Poll): 8th NSIC/5th NSIC South Head Coach: Ryan Williams (5rd season, 18-26) Projected Returning Offensive Starters: 8 Projected Returning Defensive Starters: 6 A 1-6 start to last season, which saw Concordia lose their first three games by a touchdown, dashed any chances of winning the division for the Golden Bears. Questions on both side of the ball haunt Concordia heading into the season. While sophomore QB Ben Schramski (56.4 percent completion, 925 yards, 8 TDs, 4 INTs) gained some valuable experience last season, junior Corey Cole, who missed all but the first two games of last season, is projected to reclaim the starting job. Whoever starts under center will loses three of his top receivers and his top running back from last season to graduation. Junior Darius Chapes (57 carries, 317 yards, 2 TDs) will have a big hole to fill with Tre Spears and his 1,254 rushing yards, while redshirt junior Alex Carr, who missed last season after an ACL injury, is also expected to challenge for carries. Junior Sammy Baucham (20 catches, 213 yards, 2 TDs) is the Golden Bears’ leading returning receiver. Four of five starting offensive linemen, who held opposing defenses to 14 sacks last season, return. Although six starters return to the Golden Bears defense, one key player from last season, defensive tackle Dion Roche (14 TFLs, 10.5 sacks) is academically ineligible. Senior nose guard Chazz Roberts (3 TFLs, 2 sacks, 1 INT) and senior defensive end Hank Goff (5.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT) are slated to return, however. Senior linebackers Jordan Halverson (9.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks) and Josh Trifunov (8.5 TFLs) will be called upon as veteran leaders on the defensive front seven, while senior cornerbacks Jimmy Mireri (14 passes defended, 11 break-ups, 3 INTs) and Jordan Nieuwsma (4 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 INT) anchor Concordia’s secondary. [divider]
BR-35 Winona State Warriors
2014 Record: 4-7, 4-7 NSIC, 1-6 NSIC South Projected Finish (Preseason Poll): 6th NSIC/T-3rd NSIC South Head Coach: Tom Sawyer (20th season, 150-68) Projected Returning Offensive Starters: 9 Projected Returning Defensive Starters: 6 Injuries hampered Winona State’s 2014 campaign. After winning their first three games, the Warriors stumbled as several players, especially on the offensive line, suffered injuries. A healthy Winona squad could sneak up on a few teams in the NSIC North. Junior quarterback Jack Nelson (52 percent completion, 2,843 passing yards, 27 TDs, 12 INTs) highlights an offense which features nine returning starters from last year’s team. The Warriors’ return their four top receivers, led by seniors Josh Mikes (59 catches, 1,025 yards, 13 TDs), Alan May (38 catches, 497 yards, 4 TDs) and Dylan Ulferts (24 catches, 313 yards, 1 TD), along with junior Cameron Johnson (21 catches, 307 yards, 4 TDs). Winona’s leading rusher, junior Paul Preston (113 carries, 715 yards, 4 TDs) also returns, as does four of five starting linemen, led by junior Ben Reinartz, which should give the Warriors a strong offensive unit. Where the Warriors might have some concerns is on defense, with five starters from last season gone. Senior defensive end Jeff Brown (4.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks) is expected to move into a starting role with all three starting linemen having graduated, while senior Collin Corcoran (6 TFLs, 4.5 sacks) anchors the linebackers. Junior cornerback Anthony Catanese (3 INTs) looks to earn a spot in the starting secondary after a solid season as a reserve; other key defensive backs expected to make an impact include senior Ryan Cain (48 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) and sophomore Andrew Spencer (2 INTs). [divider]
BR-31 Upper Iowa Peacocks
2014 Record: 6-5, 6-5 NSIC, 2-5 NSIC South Projected Finish (Preseason Poll): T-13th NSIC/8th NSIC South Head Coach: Tom Shea (7th season, 22-44; 20th season overall, 81-92-2) Projected Returning Offensive Starters: 4 Projected Returning Defensive Starters: 6 Three big cogs of the Upper Iowa offense, quarterback Cole Jaeschke, tailback Chris Smith and a trio of top receivers are among the seven offensive starters who the Peacocks will have to replace. This might be easier said than done, however, as the Peacocks also lost offensive coordinator Marty Huggins to Indiana (Pa.). Freshman Kolter Freidhof threw three passes (one intercepted) in two games last season and was projected to be the incumbent quarterback heading into spring practice. Junior transfer Dimitri Morales (Chaffey College) made enough of an impression during spring ball to gain the inside track as starter. Junior wideout Trey MacTaggart (32 catches, 377 yards, 3 TDs) is the leading returning receiver from last year, while junior tailbacks Vincent Otdoerfer (24 carries, 115 yards, 2 TDs) and Joe McCaffery (17 carries, 90 yards) are the leading returning rushers. The Peacocks also return three starting linemen, led by senior right tackle Ryan Bubulka. The Peacocks fare better defensively, as six starters are projected to return. Senior nose tackle Jevell Rollins (13.5 TFLs, 4 sacks) anchors Upper Iowa’s 3-4 defense up front, with a pair of senior linebackers in HERO Sports Preseason All-American Alex Wahl (18.5 TFLs, 5 sacks) and Cole Stephen (7 TFLs) also returning. The secondary will have a big hole to fill with Chayz Holt and his eight interceptions gone. Junior safety Tate Thompson (66 tackles, 2.5 TFLs) is the lone returnee in the secondary. [divider]
BR-26 Augustana (S.D.) Vikings
2014 Record: 6-5, 6-5 NSIC, 3-4 NSIC South Projected Finish (Preseason Poll): 4th NSIC/T-3rd NSIC South Head Coach: Jerry Olszewski (3rd season, 10-12; 8th season overall, 42-30) Projected Returning Offensive Starters: 7 Projected Returning Defensive Starters: 6 With three losses by a touchdown or less and the other two losses by no more than 11 points, Augustana’s 2014 season could very well have fared much differently. With experienced veterans on both sides of the ball, the Vikings, much like Winona State, could be a sleeper team this season. Junior quarterback Trey Heid (55.9 percent completion, 2,564 passing yards, 25 TDs, 4 INTs) will have two of his top receivers returning in junior wideouts Matt Heller (46 catches, 796 yards, 7 TDs) and Charlie Hayes (34 catches, 483 yards, 6 TDs). Senior C.J. Ham (148 rushes, 774 yards, 7 TDs) is expected to carry the bulk of the Augie rushing attack this season, although expect senior Justin Greenway, sophomore Jackie Davis and redshirt freshman (and Sioux Falls native) Caden Quintanilla to be in the mix as well. Three of five starting linemen, led by senior center Chris Long (33 straight starts), also return for Augie. The Vikings returns six defensive starters, but only two, senior linebacker Brandon Mohr (106 tackles) and junior defensive end Bryson Hamilton (5.5 TFLs), are on the front seven. But, where there have been few starts, there is experience returning. Watch for senior Jamal Samaha to step up big at defensive tackle, while redshirt sophomore Joe Schiller, who sat out last season after playing as a true freshman two season ago, also returns. A pair of seniors, Steven Miller and Jackson Rynda, are in line to earn starting spots at outside linebacker after developing well over the past three seasons and performing well on special teams. The defensive secondary is deep and experienced, with three senior starters in cornerback Garrett Earl (2 INTs), and safeties Chad Curry (3 INTs) and Justin Brown (4 pass breakups, 4 passes defended). Sophomore Jordan Johnson (55 tackles, 7 pass breakups, 2 INTs) had a breakout season as a freshman and looks to carry that momentum into the new season. [divider]
BR-7 Sioux Falls Cougars
2014 Record: 11-1, 10-1 NSIC, 6-1 NSIC South (defeated Central Oklahoma in the Mineral Water Bowl) Projected Finish (Preseason Poll): 3rd NSIC/2nd NSIC South Head Coach: Jed Stugart (6th season, 44-13; 9th season overall, 70-20) Projected Returning Offensive Starters: 9 Projected Returning Defensive Starters: 8 If there was ever a team in Division II for whom “unfinished business” applies, it would be Sioux Falls. In almost every other conference in the nation (except for, perhaps, the Gulf South or the MIAA), a 10-1 regular season record would be more than enough to earn a berth in the NCAA playoffs. A 27-14 loss to Minnesota State-Mankato effectively relegated the Cougars to the Mineral Water Bowl (where they took their frustrations out on Central Oklahoma). With several starters returning on both sides of the ball, it’s safe to say that the Cougars are out to prove the critics wrong. Junior quarterback Luke Papillion (62.9 percent, 2,779 passing yards, 26 TDs, 11 INTs) headlines an offense which returns all but two starters (tailback Nephi Garcia and lineman Antonio Oliver). Papillion, a Harlon Hill Trophy candidate last season, will also have his three top receivers returning: junior H-back Brady Rose (62 catches, 772 yards, 6 TDs), junior wideout Josh Angulo (61 catches, 891 yards, 12 TDs) and senior Garrett Shutt (47 catches, 533 yards, 3 TDs). Sophomore Max Mickey (95 carries, 403 yards, 4 TDs) is Sioux Falls’ leading returning rusher, while junior transfer Justin Fulks (Northwest Missouri) and sophomore converted defensive back Jason Towns also expected to pick up some carries. The Cougars return eight starters on defense, leading with HERO Sports Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, senior cornerback Solomon St. Pierre. St. Pierre defended 23 passes, broke up an additional 13 and snagged 10 interceptions. Yet, the secondary isn’t all about St. Pierre, as senior cornerback John Tidwell (4 INTs) mans the other side of the Cougars secondary, while senior safety David Clark (3 INTs, 2 recovered fumbles) also returns. These three ball-hawks accounted for seven defensive touchdowns last season. Up front, senior defensive tackle Grant Schindler (10.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks) and junior defensive end Evan Gentry (20.5 TFLs, 5.5 sacks) anchor the defensive line, while senior Cameron Ostrom (9.5 TFLs, 4 sacks) leads a veteran linebacker corps. [divider]
2014 Record: 14-1, 11-0 NSIC, 7-0 NSIC South (NSIC co-champions, NSIC Southern Division champions, lost to Colorado State-Pueblo in national championship game) Projected Finish (Preseason Poll): 1st NSIC/1st NSIC South Head Coach: Todd Hoffner (6th season, 48-14; 13th season overall, 90-42) Projected Returning Offensive Starters: 5 Projected Returning Defensive Starters: 7 Just 13 points separated Minnesota State-Mankato from the program’s first national championship. Ironically, for as strong as their offense was last season, the Mavericks were shut out by Colorado State-Pueblo 13-0 in the national title game. While most teams who platoon quarterbacks tend to struggle, Mankato disproved that theory as junior Ricky Lloyd (62.6 percent completion, 1,728 yards, 20 TDs, 6 INTs) and sophomore Nick Pieruccini (62.8 percent completion, 1,306 yards, 12 TDs, 5 INTs) each posted numbers in part-time duty that most full-time signal callers in D2 would die for. With the Mavericks’ two top receiving targets having graduated, seniors Bryce Duncan (31 catches, 302 yards, 7 TDs) and Kyle Riggott (26 catches, 368 yards, 1 TD) are the leading returning wideouts. Senior tailback Connor Thomas (1,363 rushing yards, 12 rushing TDs) leads a balanced rushing attack which averaged 241.7 yards per game last season. Mankato will have holes to fill on the offensive line, but senior left guard Hershel Prater and junior right guard Luke Wendricks return. The backbone of this Mavericks squad is a defense which held opponents to 302 yards per game last season. Although Mankato has only one returnee from the defensive line, that returnee is consensus All-American Joshua Gordon. The senior defensive end recorded 17.5 sacks and recovered three fumbles for the Mavericks last season. Senior defensive tackles Kaleb Wendricks and Jeff Raymond are expected to bounce back after an injury-riddled season. Another All-American, senior Tyler Henderson (122 tackles, 11.5 TFLs) anchors the linebacker corps, while senior safeties Rumeal Harris (5 INTs) and safety Justin Otto (4 INTs), plus sophomore cornerback Cory Brent (2 INTs) headline a deep secondary. [divider]
2015 NSIC FOOTBALL SOUTHERN DIVISION SCHEDULE
(All times Central) (Weeks 1-4 are crossover games; Weeks 5-11 are divisional games)
Concordia-St. Paul at St. Cloud State, 6:00 p.m. Minnesota-Duluth at Minnesota State-Mankato, 6:00 p.m. Southwest Minnesota at Minot State, 6:00 p.m. Winona State at Minnesota State-Moorhead, 6:00 p.m.
Northern State at Upper Iowa, 12:00 p.m. Mary at Sioux Falls, 12:00 p.m. Minnesota-Crookston at Wayne State, 1:00 p.m. Augustana at Bemidji State, 6:00 p.m.
Minnesota State-Moorhead at Concordia-St. Paul, 12:00 p.m. Sioux Falls at Minnesota-Crookston, 1:00 p.m. St. Cloud State at Augustana, 1:00 p.m. Upper Iowa at Mary, 1:00 p.m. Minot State at Winona State, 1:00 p.m. Bemidji State at Southwest Minnesota State, 6:00 p.m. Minnesota State-Mankato at Northern State, 6:00 p.m. Wayne State at Minnesota-Duluth, 6:00 p.m.
Augustana at Minnesota State-Moorhead, 1:00 p.m. Mary at Minnesota State-Mankato, 1:00 p.m. Concordia-St. Paul at Minot State, 1:30 p.m. Southwest Minnesota at St. Cloud State, 3:00 p.m. Minnesota-Duluth at Sioux Falls, 6:00 p.m. Minnesota-Crookston at Upper Iowa, 6:00 p.m. Northern State at Wayne State, 6:00 p.m. Winona State at Bemidji State, 6:00 p.m.
Bemidji State at Concordia-St. Paul, 12:00 p.m. Minot State at Augustana, 1:00 p.m. Minnesota State-Mankato at Minnesota-Crookston, 1:00 p.m. Minnesota State-Moorhead at Southwest Minnesota, 6:00 p.m. Sioux Falls at Northern State, 2:30 p.m. St. Cloud State State at Winona State, 2:30 p.m. Upper Iowa at Minnesota-Duluth, 6:00 p.m. Wayne State at Mary, 1:00 p.m.
Winona State at Concordia-St. Paul, 12:00 p.m. Sioux Falls at Wayne State, 1:00 p.m. Southwest Minnesota at Augustana, 1:00 p.m. MSU-Mankato at Upper Iowa, 6:00 p.m.
Southwest Minnesota at Wayne State, 1:00 p.m. Augustana at MSU-Mankato, 2:00 p.m. Concordia-St. Paul at Upper Iowa, 6:00 p.m. Winona State at Sioux Falls, 6:00 p.m.
MSU-Mankato at Concordia-St. Paul, 12:00 p.m. Upper Iowa at Winona State, 1:00 p.m. Wayne State at Augustana, 1:00 p.m. Sioux Falls as Southwest Minnesota, 6:00 p.m.
Augustana at Sioux Falls, 12:00 p.m. Concordia-St. Paul at Wayne State, 1:00 p.m. Winona State at MSU-Mankato, 1:00 p.m. Southwest Minnesota at Upper Iowa, 6:00 p.m.
Sioux Falls at Concordia-St. Paul, 12:00 p.m. MSU-Mankato at Southwest Minnesota, 1:00 p.m. Upper Iowa at Augustana, 1:00 p.m. Wayne State at Winona State, 1:00 p.m.
Southwest Minnesota at Concordia-St. Paul, 12:00 p.m. MSU-Mankato at Sioux Falls, 12:00 p.m. Augustana at Winona State, 1:00 p.m. Upper Iowa at Wayne State, 1:00 p.m.
Sioux Falls at Upper Iowa, 12:00 p.m. Concordia-St. Paul at Augustana, 1:00 p.m. Wayne State at MSU-Mankato, 1:00 p.m. Winona State at Southwest Minnesota, 1:00 p.m. If you have any comments, questions, or corrections, please email me directly at email@example.com.