And away we go on the fourth and final day of our annual preseason trek around the MIAC, taking a look at how the rest of the conference teams could stack up in 2013.
It all builds up to the full St. John’s preview package that runs in Wednesday’s newspaper (and will be available online overnight).
Today, we conclude our jaunt with stops in Arden Hills and St. Paul with looks at Bethel and St. Thomas.
Let’s get to it ….
Head coach: Steve Johnson (25th season)
2012 record: 6-2 MIAC, 9-3 overall
General: With the retirement of John Gagliardi, Johnson is now the longest-serving head coach in the league and his program continues to consistently be at or near the top of the conference standings every year. And the Royals have been a postseason power, adancing to the national semifinals twice since 2007 and making the second round last year.
The question, of course, is if Bethel has what it takes to catch St. Thomas atop the conference standings this fall.
That game, which has essentially decided the conference title the past three seasons, takes place at Bethel on Oct. 19.
“We’re pretty good at taking things one game at a time, but you always do have your sights set a little bit on a game that’s eluded you,” Johnson said. “For a long time, St. John’s was that game for us. Now it’s St. Thomas. But we have a lot of games to play before we get to that one.”
Offense: Eight starters are back on the offensive side of the ball including junior quarterback Erik Peterson who completed 66.78 percent (203-304) of his passes while throwing for 2,354 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushing for 239 yards and eight touchdowns in his first season as the team’s starter last fall.
The Royals also boast depth in the backfield where sophomore Marshall Klitzke returns after leading the team with 506 yards rushing and four touchdowns a year ago. Also back is senior Jesse Phenow, who rushed for 332 yards and five touchdowns, and junior Brandon Marquardt, who rushed for 292 yards and three touchdowns. Joining that group is Josh Werness, a transfer who redshirted at Division I-AA North Dakota State last season.
At wide receiver, senior Mitch Hallstrom had 78 catches for 896 yards and three touchdowns a year ago. Senior Jay Hilbrands – back for a fifth season on a medical redshirt – had 41 catches for 488 yards and seven touchdowns. Hallstrom earned All-MIAC first-team honors a year ago. Hilbrands was a second-team pick.
Freshmen Bryce Marquardt (Brandon’s brother) and Bryce Holm could also see time.
Three starters are back on the offensive line, though the two the Royals lost (guard Jared Penz and center Josh Wolfe) were both All-MIAC first-team picks. Senior Bubba Friedlund, a three-year starter, returns at tackle to ankle the group. Senior Jeff Schmidt and junior Joshua Perkins are back at tackle and guard respectively. Veteran starter Kyle Ulstad graduated at tight end. Junior Ben Price is the likely pick to replace him.
Defense: Linebacking play has long been a strength at Bethel and the Royals return perhaps the MIAC’s best in senior Seth Mathis, a first-team preseason All-American pick who had 130 tackles and five interceptions a year ago. But the other three starters surrounding him will be new.
Two of Bethel’s starting linebackers from a year ago graduated and another – Trent Duppenthaler – will not play due to a neck injury
Mathis’ younger brother Landon, a sophomore, could be one of the replacements. So could senior Mike Schmalzer.
On the defensive line, seniors Kyle Asmus and Luke Buttenhoff return at the defensive ends.
In the backfield, All-MIAC senior JD Mehlhorn and junior David Morgan return at safeties. Senior Josh Treimer is back at cornerback. And junior Ben Hanson, a transfer from Wheaton (Ill.) could also find his way into the mix.
This has been the game on the conference schedule the past three seasons and 2013 figures to be no different. The Tommies are again the preseason favorite to capture the conference title. But if any team is able to derail their drive for a fourth-straight league crown, it figures to be the Royals.
Sophomores Nathaniel Van Loon and Phillip Peterson return at kicker and punter respectively.
Head coach: Glenn Caruso (sixth season)
2012 record: 8-0 MIAC, 14-1 overall
General: There’s not much left to be said about the dominance the Tommies have established in the conference.
So just a few numbers:
3 – That’s how many straight MIAC titles St. Thomas has captured.
27 – That’s how many straight MIAC games the Tommies have won.
33 – That’s how many straight games total the team has won in the regular season.
1 – That’s how many games short of a national title St. Thomas fell last season, losing 28-10 to Mount Union in the national title game.
The team has taken another step each season since Caruso took over in 2008. Now, the only step left is winning a national championship and St. Thomas seems a legitimate contender to do that this season.
The Tommies begin the season ranked No. 2 in a pair of Division III preseason polls.
But Caruso isn’t takeing anything for granted.
“In the five years I’ve been here, the conference in general – from top to bottom – has gotten better,” Caruso said earlier this summer. “It’s a stronger conference now than it was back in 2008 and that’s reflected not just in how well our teams do in the playoffs, but in the tremendous record our teams have overall during the nonconference schedule.”
Still, St. Thomas remains the clear favorite in the race for this season’s MIAC title.
Offense: That’s due in part to the fact that the Tommies return nine starters on offense.
That includes junior Matt O’Connell who is back after throwing for 2,771 yards and 22 touchdowns a year ago.
And then there are the running backs. Sophomore Brenton Braddock began his freshman season No. 4 on the team’s depth chart. He ended the year having rushed for 1,132 yards and 16 touchdowns. Classmate Jack Kaiser also earned serious playing time and rushed for 539 yards and five touchdowns.
Veteran senior Willie Schneider also returns at fullback.
The Tommies also return their six top wide receivers from a year ago. Junior Dan Ferrazzo lead the team with 61 catches for 828 yards and four touchdowns. Sophomore Matt Misiewicz had 20 catches for 516 yards and one touchdown. And senior Dan Noehring had four touchdown catches in six games before getting injured.
On the offensive line, St. Thomas graduated All-American center Curtis James. But everyone else returns. That includes junior T.J. Woodrow, who is expected to move from tackle to center, sophomore guard Ulice Payne III and junior guard Jason Flesher, an All-MIAC second-team pick, and sophomore tackle Luke Marks. Sophomore David Simmet, who also saw time a year ago, is the top contender to join that group.
The team will have to replace All-MIAC tight end Logan Marks, who had seven touchdown catches a year ago. Nate Howard, a freshman who attended but did not play at the University of Minnesota, could be in the mix there.
Defense: Six starters are back on that side of the ball.
The team’s two outside linebackers from a year ago return in senior Tremayne Williams, a D3football.com preseason All-American pick who led the team with 72 tackles a year ago, and classmate Harry Pitera, who had 55 tackles and also earned All-MIAC first-team honors.
But the Tommies must replace the two starters inside, having lost Mike Valesano (who ranked second on the team with 68 tackles) and Paul Carlson (54 tackles) to graduation.
Senior Steve Dejewski and junior Rutger Heffelfinger may get the first looks there. Dejewski had 47 tackles and saw action in 12 games a year ago. Heffelfinger had 27 tackles and saw action in 11 games. Also in the mix are junior Cavan Metzler and sophomore Tim McClanahan while freshman Mike Redmond, who drew looks from schools like Iowa and North Dakota State.
Anthony Foreman-King, the son of former Vikings running back Chuck Foreman, transferred to the school from Division II Augustana (S.D.) during last season and will be ready to play this year.
Senior Riley Dombeck, an All-MIAC first-team pick in 2012, and sophomore Sam Pokornowski return on the defensive line. Zach Martens, who transferred after spending his freshman season at Missouri S&T, could see time there as well.
In the backfield, standout performers like Tyler Erstad, Chinni Oji and Ryan Deitz have all graduated. But senior Josh Carey and junior Sean Hamline return as starters. Sophomore Mozus Ikuenobe and senior John Connelly are contenders to see time. Zach Burrington, a junior eligibility-wise who transferred from Division II Minnesota State-Mankato could also be in the mix.
Senior Garrett Maloney is a D3football.com preseason All-American pick at punter after averaging 42.3 yards per kick a year ago. Sophomore Paul Graupner returns at kicker.