Listed in predicted order of finish by conference coaches
1. Minnesota Duluth (11-2 overall, 10-1 NSIC in 2012): The Bulldogs, who have reached the Division II playoffs six consecutive seasons, are ranked as high as No. 3 in preseason Top 25 polls. Highlighting the returners for second-year coach Curt Wiese is senior RB Austin Sikorski, who rushed for 1,260 yards last season. Sikorski is a preseason Division II All-America.
2. MSU Mankato (11-1, 11-0): The Mavericks, ranked as high as No. 5 in national preseason polls, are coming off a second consecutive unbeaten regular season and fifth NSIC South title in seven seasons. The Mavericks have to replace four-year letterman Jon Wolf, who passed for 2,054 yards and 17 TDs and rushed for 1,150 yards and 15 TDs last season. Sophomore Nick Pieruccini is listed No. 1 on the QB depth chart.
3. Winona State (6-5, 6-5): Sophomore QB Jack Nelson, the NSIC Newcomer of the Year last season, returns to direct the Warriors offense. Nelson passed for 2,715 yards and 25 TDs with only nine interceptions.
4. St. Cloud State (12-2, 10-1): The Huskies, ranked as high as No. 12 in national preseason polls, return 11 starters (six offense, five defense) from a team that won a school-record 12 games and reached the third round of the Division II playoffs. Nate Meyer or Jameson Parsons is expected to replace four-year starter Phillip Klaphake at QB.
5. Sioux Falls (6-5, 6-5): The Cougars, who scored at least 40 points five times last season, will count on running back Nephi Garcia, who rushed for 1,068 yards and 11 TDs.
6. Augustana (4-7, 4-7): Among the Vikings’ returning starters are RB Dajon Newell, who rushed for 530 yards last season, and DT Jake Lee, a first-team All-NSIC selection.
7. SW Minnesota State (7-5, 7-4): The Mustangs, coached by former Gopher QB Cory Sauter, are coming off their best season since 1990. Senior RB Tyler Tonderum, a first-team preseason All-America, returns after rushing for a school record 2,145 yards last season (including an NSIC record 1,979 yards).
8. Bemidji State (3-8, 3-8): The Beavers will look to rebound from their worst season since 1997. Jeff Tesch, starting his 19th season as the Beavers coach, welcomes 15 returning starters among 39 returning lettermen.
9. Mary (6-5, 6-5): The Marauders, coming off their best season since 2007, will rely on returning linebacker Grant Singer, the NSIC co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
10. Northern State (4-7, 4-7): Senior QB Jared Jacobson, who is sixth all-time in the NSIC in total yards, returns to run the Wolves’ offense.
11. Upper Iowa (6-5, 6-5): Tight end Lucas Hefty, who caught 65 passes — 10 for touchdowns — last season, returns for the Peacocks, who are coming off just their fourth winning season since 1966.
12. Concordia-St. Paul (5-6, 5-6): The Golden Bears got off to a 3-1 start in 2013, but lost five of their final seven games. WR Cordell Smith, a three-year starter, returns on offense, and LB Jordan Halverson heads the defense.
13. Wayne State (2-9, 2-9): The Wildcats bring a six-game losing streak into the season, but three of those losses were by four points or fewer.
14. MSU Moorhead (4-7, 4-7): The Dragons won four of their final seven games in 2013, finishing with their best record since 2007. WR Adam Jiskra, who led the NSIC in receiving yards per game, returns.
15. Minot State (2-9, 2-9): First-year coach Tyler Hughes will rely on QB Zac Cunha, who begins his third season as a starter.
16. Minn.-Crookston (2-9, 2-9): Ben Bucholz, a transfer from Minnesota Duluth, is No. 1 on the depth chart at quarterback.