THREE STORY LINES
1 With the addition of Minot State and Sioux Falls, the NSIC has 16 members. Each team will play 11 conference games (no nonconference opponents) -- seven against members of its division and four against the other division.
2 Minnesota Duluth is 52-5 overall and 38-2 in the NSIC over the past four seasons. Can anyone stop the Bulldogs?
3 Winona State RB Rayon Simmons, a senior from University City, Mo., needs 997 rushing yards to surpass Chris Washington ( 4,216 yards from 2000-03) of Concordia (St. Paul) as the NSIC's career leader.
Listed in predicted order of finish by conference coaches:
Minnesota Duluth (11-3 in 2011): QB Chase Vogler, a senior from Inver Grove Heights, is in his fourth season as the starter. The Bulldogs have 14 returning starters -- eight on offense -- but must replace three starters on the offensive line.
St. Cloud State (9-3): The Huskies return 13 starters from a team that reached the D-II playoffs. They are led by the NSIC North Division offensive and defensive preseason players of the year -- QB Phillip Klaphake and DB Marvin Matthews.
MSU Mankato (9-3): The Mavericks will rely on RB Andy Pfeiffer, who rushed for 1,229 yards last season as a freshman. The Mavericks, who won the Mineral Bowl last season, edged out Winona State as the favorite in the NSIC South.
Winona State (7-4): Closed out 2011 -- its 15th consecutive winning season -- with four consecutive victories. QB John Tiegland, who started the first two games in 2011 before being injured, was listed as No. 1 on the depth chart.
Augustana (6-5): Lost three games last season by three or fewer points. QB Josh Hanson, who passed for 2,640 yards and 18 TDs, returns for his third season as a starter.
Bemidji State (8-3): Coach Jeff Tesch has a veteran squad with 16 returning starters -- including preseason All-America TE Brian Leonhardt.
Wayne State (7-4): Has 15 returning starters -- including eight from a defense that shut out then-No. 1 Minnesota Duluth last year.
Sioux Falls (5-4): The Cougars, who won NAIA national championships in 2006, 2008 and 2009, return 16 starters for its first D-II season.
Mary (5-6): Has six returning starters from an offense that averaged 34 points per game.
Concordia-St. Paul (6-5): Coach Ryan Williams, in his second season, will rebuild his offense with at least seven new starters.
Northern State (5-6): Won four of its final five games last season. Senior WR Chris Morton, who caught seven touchdown passes, returns.
Southwest Minnesota State (3-8): Coach Cory Sauter has 17 returning starters, including QB Tyler Peschong, who led the NSIC in passing yards (2,419) in 2011.
Upper Iowa (3-8): RB Chris Smith, who rushed for 1,212 yards last season, has been slowed by an offseason injury, but he is expected to return in Week 2.
Minot State (2-8): Will rely on a veteran defense in its first season in the NSIC as four of its top five tacklers return.
MSU Moorhead (2-9): Is young and inexperienced -- almost two-thirds of the players are making their NSIC debuts.
Minnesota-Crookston (1-10): First-year coach Paul Miller will rely on RB Richard Haley, who ran for a school-record 1,556 yards last season.