For many years, during the time the Big Ten Conference had just 10 teams, football observers referred to the league as the Big Two (Michigan and Ohio State) and the Little Eight.
A Big Two moniker could also describe MIAC football since 2008. St. Thomas and St. John’s, which have combined for nine of the past 10 conference football championships, are the favorites in the MIAC coaches’ preseason poll.
This is the 10th consecutive year St. Thomas has been picked either first or second in the preseason poll and the fourth consecutive season St. John’s has finished no lower than No. 2 in the poll.
St. Thomas, which has won six conference titles since 2010, is seeking its fourth consecutive conference title. The Tommies, who were 11-2 and reached the quarterfinals of the Division III playoffs last season, are ranked No. 3 in the d3football.com preseason Top 25.
The Tommies have won 27 consecutive regular-season MIAC games — one shy of the record set by St. John’s in 2004 — and have won 28 consecutive games against conference opponents (beating St. John’s in the 2015 playoffs).
St. Thomas has 14 returning starters and returns 32 players who made key contributions last season.
St. John’s, ranked No. 11 in the d3football.com preseason poll, is 39-8 overall and 28-4 in conference games in the past four seasons. The Johnnies’ only losses in the MIAC since 2015 are to St. Thomas.
Among the returners for the Johnnies, who led the MIAC in scoring defense last season, are defensive tackle Nathan Brinker and safety Max Jackson, who were named to the preseason All-America second team by d3football.com.
Concordia (Moorhead), which has won at least seven games in each of the past six seasons, was picked to finish third in the MIAC preseason poll.
The Cobbers are 46-14 overall and 35-13 in the MIAC since the beginning of the 2012 season. They have gone 6-2 in the MIAC in five of the past six seasons.
Cobbers coach Terry Horan will have to find a replacement for fullback Chad Johnson, who has completed his eligibility. Johnson, the MIAC MVP last season, rushed for 1,262 yards and 17 touchdowns and finished his career with a school-record 42 touchdowns.
Bethel, the only team other than St. John’s or St. Thomas to win an MIAC football title in the past 10 years, was picked fourth in the preseason poll.
The Royals, who won the conference title in 2013, were 5-5 last season and have not had a losing season in 24 years. Bethel and St. John’s are the only teams to be ranked in the top four of the MIAC preseason poll each year since the poll was started in 2002.
Highlighting the returners for Bethel are Jake Marsh, a junior from Plymouth who passed for 2,093 yards and 15 TDs last season, and Kyle Kilgore, a senior from East Ridge who had six sacks last season.
New era at Carleton
Tom Journell, the coach at Wisconsin-Stevens Point the past six seasons, takes over at Carleton. The Knights haven’t had a winning season since 2008.