And away we go. Hard to believe it’s already time to do this for another year. But today we begin our annual preseason trek around the MIAC – taking a look at how the rest of the conference is likely to shape up in 2012.
It all leads up to our SJU preview package, which runs online and in the print version of the newspaper Wednesday.
But before we get there, let’s start out our journey with the first two stops on our trek: Carleton and Hamline.
2011 record: 1-7 MIAC (8th place), 2-8 overall
Returning starters: Offense – 6; Defense – 8
Prognosis: Former assistant Bob Pagel takes over the head coaching job on an interim basis after former St. John’s quarterback and coach Kurt Ramler resigned last January. A full-time replacement will not be hired until after the season, but Pagel said he will be an applicant for the job.
In the meantime, though, he inherits a team that had just 60 players at the start of camp – the lowest numbers of any team in the conference. The Knights lost last season’s leading rusher Jon Lien, who carried the ball for 545 yards and three touchdowns. Junior John Baker and senior Jordan Butler are the top two candidates to take his place. Baker rushed for 330 yards a year ago. Baker rushed for 142.
Quarterback is a real question mark. Danny Shields, who started a number of games a year ago, is out for the season with a knee injury. Senior Mike Hartwell, who also had starting experience, is listed on the roster. But his status is uncertain. If Hartwell does not end up with the job, Pagel said the starter is likely to be a freshman.
Junior tight end Brian Frett is likely to play a big role in the offense, maybe in a variety of different spots and formations. Junior C.J. Dale is back at a wide receiver. But classmate Conor Lynch could move to defense. On the line, senior Pete McNeely switches from left guard to center, sophomore Eric Witteburg returns at a tackle and junior Cole Rystedt is back at a guard. Freshman Henrick Byrlev could see time at a tackle.
Defensively, the entire defensive line returns from a year ago. Senior Keenan Hartert and junior Curtis Vamarasi are back at the defensive ends and seniors Andrew Wolter and Caleb Hyde are back inside. Freshman Omar Reyes may also be in the mix.
Senior Mike Elder is back to anchor a linebacking corps that lost two starters. Seniors Paul Hoffer, who had 69 tackles last season, and Max Timm are back at safeties in the secondary. But cornerback Jordan Soteros, an all-conference pick as a junior, has left school.
“We’ll probably be a little more conservative than we’ve been in the past,” Pagel said. “We’ll probably run the ball more. Some of it is we just don’t have the horsepower we’ve had in the past. We’re playing 10 games and it will be really important for us to keep everybody healthy.”
Pagel will be joined on staff by new offensive coordinator Dick Tressel. He was the coach at Hamline for 23 seasons before joining the staff of his brother Jim at Ohio State, where he spent the past 11 seasons – the last eight as the Buckeyes’ running backs coach.
2011 record: 0-8 MIAC (9th place), 0-10 overall
Returning starters: Offense – 3; Defense – 5
Prognosis: It’s fair to say that head coach John Pate’s tenure got off to a rocky start in his first season with the Pipers a year ago. Hamline averaged an MIAC-low 4.1 points and 153.4 yards per game on offense and allowed an MIAC-worst 36.1 points and 403.7 yards per game as well.
“It was abysmal,” Pate said. “Over half the shutouts I’ve ever been associated with in any level at a coach came last season. It seemed like whatever could go wrong, did.”
Now the Pipers set their sights on snapping a 16-game cumulative losing streak and improving in 2012. Starting quarterback Connor Sathre graduated. Sophomores Kevin Ackerley (who started three games in the secondary last season), Zach Brautigam and Cameron Knudsen, a former Maple Lake standout who transfers from Ripon, entered camp vying for the job.
Junior Patrick Chilton, who has started 20 straight games, and senior Stephen Girard return on the offensive line. Sophomore Zach Deitchman, a starter last season at running back, could see time there or at wide receiver. The Pipers, who expected just 69 players at the start of camp, have 12 players at running back.
That includes Ryan Ferkinhoff, a transfer from Wisconsin-Stout, and Terry Pegues, a transfer from Catawba (N.C.) who played for Pate in high school and knows his system.
Defensively, senior Eric Klaers is back at a defensive tackle after making 48 tackles, including 6.5 for a loss, in 2011. Senior Daniel Kim is back at nose tackle and junior Derek Wilson returns at a defensive end.
The top two tacklers from a year ago return in the secondary in senior free safety John-Michael Vandenberg (86) and senior strong safety Mark McDonald (77).
Senior Alex Ferguson, who handled the kicking and punting duties a year ago, has joined the crowd at running back. But John Broback, an All-MIAC pick two years ago, is back out for the team this season and could take over those duties.
Once again this season, the team spent a week practicing at Camp Ripley near Little Falls.