GAME OF THE WEEK
Northern State vs. Augustana, 1 p.m. Saturday: It's an odd week with half of the NSIC's 16 teams -- including many of the top ones -- playing the Thursday before Labor Day and MIAC teams opening up with nonconference games Saturday. The best of the rest has some intrigue: Northern State won four of its final five games last season, and the program will look to build on that in its NSIC opener against Augustana, which has defeated NSU eight consecutive times.
WEEK 1 STORY LINES
• Welcome back: Dick Tressel, a familiar name in the MIAC, is back in the league as the offensive coordinator at Carleton. Tressel was the head coach at Hamline for 23 seasons; in between MIAC stints, he served in various capacities at Ohio State, including running backs coach and special teams coordinator. Carleton opens the season Saturday at Grinnell (Iowa).
• Improvement becomes harder: St. Thomas has increased its victory total each of the past four seasons. To keep that going this season, the Tommies (13-1 last year) will have to get to the Division III title game. While they will have tougher tests along the way than Saturday's opener at Wisconsin-Eau Claire, it will be a good indicator of how they will move the ball without do-everything Fritz Waldvogel, the two-time MIAC player of the year.
• Another program looking to replace an offensive juggernaut is St. Scholastica of the UMAC. QB Alex Thiry had a passing efficiency rating of 218.1 -- the highest in NCAA football history at any level -- last season when he threw 37 TD passes with just one interception in the regular season. He graduated, leaving St. Scholastica with a major hole to fill. The Saints open the season at home Saturday against Whitworth.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Bobby Fischer, CB, St. John's: It's hard to imagine having more impact on defense than Fischer had in 2011. As a junior, he had seven of the Johnnies' eight interceptions. That was enough to lead the MIAC and the most by a Johnnies player since 2002. He also led the MIAC in passes defended with 17. His season gets underway Saturday against Northwestern.
Dan Dobson, QB, St. Olaf: He threw for 2,063 yards last season -- his second consecutive year above 2,000 -- and led the MIAC in total offense. He is 14-6 as a starter the past two seasons and will try to help the squad extend a 17-game nonconference winning streak Saturday at Luther (Iowa).
BY THE NUMBERS
6,974 Career passing yards for Augsburg's Marcus Brumm, who graduated.
282.4 Average rushing yards per game last season for Bethel, which had three of the MIAC's top 10 rushers.
21.9 Third-down conversion rate allowed by the St. Thomas defense last season, the best mark in all of NCAA football.
6 Blocked kicks by Carleton last season, tops in the league.
3 Grandsons of head coach John Gagliardi on the St. John's roster this season.
MICHAEL RAND AND JOEL RIPPEL