NSIC story lines
• Sioux Falls still is smarting from its NCAA playoff snub last season, when it went 10-1 — all 10 victories by double-digit margins — and lost only to Minnesota State Mankato, but still failed to get a playoff bid. The Cougars are ranked No. 10 nationally preseason by D2Football.com, and return quarterback Luke Papilion, the reigning NSIC offensive player of the year after amassing 3,583 yards in total offense.
• Concordia (St. Paul) ended last season with four straight victories, and the Golden Bears will try to build on that momentum with the return of two starting quarterbacks. Junior Corey Cole had 307 total yards of offense in the season opener against Minnesota Duluth, then was lost for the season the following week. Sophomore Ben Schramski started the final five games, engineering the four-game winning streak. The Golden Bears also return four starting offensive linemen and senior linebacker Jordan Halverson, who is only 44 tackles shy of a school record.
• St. Cloud State was ranked No. 5 among the NSIC’s 16 teams in the preseason coaches’ poll after finishing last season with three consecutive victories. The Huskies return QB Nate Meyer, who passed for 2,051 yards and 16 TDs last season, and a veteran offensive line anchored by 290-pound senior Brett Piekarski, a three-year starter. The Huskies open against Concordia (St. Paul) on Thursday in a key early game for both teams.
• Winona State was No. 6 in the preseason coaches’ poll and should put up plenty of points. The Warriors return junior QB Jack Nelson, his top four receivers and leading rusher and four offensive line starters. Nelson has 5,558 career passing yards, only 2,010 shy of the school record, and 52 TD passes, 12 away from the school record. His favorite target is senior Josh Mikes, who had 1,025 receiving yards and 13 TDs last season.
• Minnesota State Moorhead is another school carrying a winning streak into the season; the Dragons won their final three games of 2014. MSU Moorhead has 21 starters back who will try for the school’s first winning season since 2006. The offense should put up points with two returning quarterbacks in Jake Hodge and Demetrius Carr, plus leading receiver Adam Jiskra, who had 74 catches for 1,039 yards last season. He’s already the school record-holder in receiving yards with 2,670.