After missing the Division II playoffs in 2016, Minnesota State Mankato won its first 13 games in 2017 before losing in the third round of the playoffs.

The Mavericks are expected to build on last year’s success. The unanimous choice in the NSIC coaches’ preseason poll to win the South Division and league overall championship, they are ranked No. 1 in the d2football.com preseason top 25.

“As a coaching staff we are excited for the 2018 season to get underway,” Mavericks coach Todd Hoffner said. “We are hoping to carry forward the momentum we generated from last year.”

In addition, four Mavericks players — kicker Casey Bednarski, wide receiver Shane Zylstra, running back Nate Gunn and offensive lineman Evan Heim — were named to the d2football.com preseason All-America teams.Bednar­ski and Zylstra were named to the first team, Gunn and Heim to the second.

UMD favored in North

Since the NSIC went to two divisions in football in 2008, Minnesota Duluth has won or shared every North Division title. The Bulldogs are favored to extend their streak of division titles to 11.

The Bulldogs, who were 9-3 last season and reached the postseason for the 10th consecutive season, have 13 returning starters — seven on offense and six on defense — among 50 returning lettermen.

National recognition

Two other NSIC teams were ranked in the d2football.com preseason Top 25.

Winona State, which was 10-2 last season, was ranked No. 17, while Sioux Falls, which was 9-3 last season, was No. 18.

Winona State went 10-1 in the NSIC last season to reach the Division II playoffs for the first time since 2007.

Sioux Falls, which was 9-2 last season before losing in the first round of the playoffs, has 11 returning starters.