We have the Northern Sun ranked as the number one conference in D2 football. The 14-team conference has a median HeroSports of 26, one better than the median of the Gulf South and two better than the Lone Star Conference. Seven Northern Sun teams rank in the BR Top 25, and all 14 rank in the BR Top 100.
No conference has a top team ranked higher than BR-1 Minnesota State-Mankato (obviously), but even more impressively, no conference has a higher-ranked bottom team than BR-79 Minnesota-Crookston. Crookston and Minot State are both winless at the bottom of the conference, but both benefit greatly from membership in the NSC, since strength of schedule plays so heavily in our rankings. We assume an 0-7 record in the Northern Sun would prepare these teams to do pretty well in most other conferences — a rising tide raises all ships.
The top three teams in the conference would be the top three teams in any conference — BR-1 Minnesota State-Mankato, BR-2 Sioux Falls, and BR-3 Minnesota-Duluth. These three teams are a combined 20-0, with Mankato and Sioux Falls at 7-0, and Duluth at 6-0.
Minnesota State-Mankato and Sioux Falls have been the two best teams in the conference so far, by just about any standard. Mankato leads the conference in scoring offense (47.1 ppg) and scoring defense (10.4 ppg allowed), and Sioux Falls is second in both (43.9 ppg, 13.6 ppg allowed). They’re also one and two in turnover margin (+12 for Sioux Falls, +11 for Minnesota State).
The Mavericks travel to face BR-11 Augustana (SD) next weekend, one week after the Vikings held off a hard-charging Wayne State (Neb.) for a 52-48 win. Trey Heid threw six touchdown passes in that game — five in the first half to put his team up 35-7 at the break, and one at the very end to retake the lead and prevent the comeback.
Sioux Falls will also hit the road to face a hot quarterback this coming weekend. BR-16 Winona State’s sophomore signal caller leads the NSC in passing yards per game (347.6), passing touchdowns (18), and is second in completion percentage (62.1). His Warriors are 4-3, but 1-3 in their last four with consecutive losses to Minnesota-Duluth, at Wayne State (Neb.), and to Minnesota State-Mankato before a win at Upper Iowa last weekend.
Once Minnesota State tangles with Augustana (SD) and Sioux Falls gets back from Winona State, the two teams will meet in the biggest game of the D2 season so far (assuming, of course, that they both take care of business this weekend and stay undefeated).
The game will take place in Mankato, where the Mavericks haven’t lost a regular season game since October 9, 2010. They’re 21-0 since then. Their only loss at home in that span was a shocking upset at the hands of St. Cloud State in the second round of last season’s D2 playoffs. The Mavericks avenged that loss week one of this season, 31-0 on the same field, and the Huskies have struggled since advancing to the National Quarterfinals last season. They’re 3-4, and have plummeted from BR-3 in the preseason to a low of BR- 32 last week.
BR-3 Minnesota-Duluth is an interesting case, since they won’t have to face either Sioux Falls or Minnesota State-Mankato this season, unless it happens in the playoffs. With the schedule they’ve got left, it would be shocking if the Bulldogs lost any of their remaining games. The highest-ranked team left on their schedule is BR-35 Bemidji State, who they get at home this weekend.
If Duluth finishes undefeated, and Mankato or Sioux Falls finish undefeated (which seems likely), two teams from the Northern Sun will end up with excellent seeding in the playoffs. There are still plenty of opportunities for a slip-up, but with winter coming, Northern Sun football looks hot.