THREE STORY LINES
1 St. Thomas -- the first MIAC team to go 10-0 in back-to-back regular seasons -- has won 23 consecutive MIAC games and is within striking distance of St. John's record of 28 set between 2001 and 2004.
2 Coach John Gagliardi, who begins his 60th season as the St. John's coach, will try to lead the Johnnies back to the Division III playoffs after a two-year absence. The Johnnies haven't missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons in more than three decades.
3 Carleton (junior Conor Lynch), St. John's (junior Connor Bruns) and St. Olaf (senior Dan Dobson) are the only teams with returning starters at quarterback.
Listed in predicted order of finish by conference coaches:
St. Thomas (13-1 in 2011): Ranked as high as No. 3 in national preseason polls, the Tommies return eight players who were either first- or second-team All-MIAC. But coach Glenn Caruso must replace two-time All-America and two-time MIAC Player of the Year Fritz Waldvogel, RB Colin Tobin, QB Dakota Tracy and All-America LB Tony Danna. Center Curtis James, preseason All-America P Garrett Maloney and all-conference LB Harry Pitera are among the returnees.
Bethel (8-2): The Royals led the MIAC in rushing, were seventh in Division III in defense and were the second-least penalized team in Division III in 2011. Brandon Marquardt, who rushed for 895 yards and nine TDs, and Jesse Phenow, who rushed for 611 yards and five TDs, return. All-MIAC LBs Seth Mathis and Erik Smith return to anchor the defense.
St. Olaf (8-2): The Oles are led by senior QB Dan Dobson, who has passed for at least 2,000 yards in each of the last two seasons and led the MIAC in total offense last season. Receivers Stephen Asp (36 receptions, nine TDs) and Jake Schmiesing (37 receptions, seven TDs) also return. Senior DB Ben Dobson, who was the Oles' second-leading tackler (57), is back.
St. John's (6-4): The Johnnies return eight starters on defense, including all-MIAC and preseason All-America CB Bobby Fischer, and three others who missed most of last season because of injury. Stephen Johnson, who ran for 745 yards and seven TDs, returns. St. John's allowed 25.8 points and 172.4 rushing yards per game last year.
Concordia-Moorhead (6-4): The Cobbers return nine starters -- including NG Mark Wychor and S Bryce Hentges -- from a defense that was third in the MIAC in rush defense last year.
Gustavus (2-8): With only 10 returning starters and 27 returning lettermen, the Gusties will be young. Senior Muresuk Mena, who caught 32 passes last season, is expected to replace graduated QB Logan Becker. LB Joe Haas returns to anchor the defense.
Augsburg (6-4): The Auggies will rely on Tyler Maxwell, who rushed for 849 yards and a school-record 13 TDs as a freshman, and Adam Carl, a preseason All-America TE who had 58 receptions a year ago. Marcus Brumm, a three-year starter at QB, graduated.
Carleton (2-8): Bob Pagel, Knights defensive coordinator the past four seasons, replaces Kurt Ramler, who resigned after six seasons, as head coach. Safety Paul Hoffer returns to lead the second-best passing defense (154 yards) in the MIAC last season.
Hamline (0-10): Only 17 juniors and seniors are on the Pipers' roster. DBs John-Michael Vandenberg and Marc McDonald, the top two tacklers in 2011, return.