With the NSIC split into two divisions for football, teams from the North and South Divisions play each other only every other year.
That format gives added meaning to this year’s meeting between Minnesota State Mankato and Minnesota Duluth.
Both teams, who were named the favorites in their respective division in the NSIC preseason poll, could carry long regular-season winning streaks into their matchup on Oct. 5 in Mankato.
MSU Mankato enters the regular season with a 24-game winning streak, while Minnesota Duluth carries a 19-game unbeaten streak into the season. Each team will have four games before their meeting in Week 5.
The Mavericks (13-1, 11-0 NSIC), who reached the NCAA Division II semifinals last season, are ranked as high as third in preseason national polls and are the overall NSIC favorite.
Four Mavericks have been receiving preseason recognition: OL Even Heim and WR Shane Zylstra are on D2Football.com’s preseason All-America first team. RB Nate Gunn and OL Hunter Toppel were named to the All-America second team.
The Bulldogs (11-1, 11-0), ranked as high as No. 9 in preseason polls, have won or shared every NSIC North Division title since division play began in 2008. The Bulldogs lost in the first round of the Division II playoffs last season.
Among the Bulldogs’ 13 returning starters is quarterback John Larson, who passed and rushed for 1,778 yards and 16 touchdowns. Larson, a junior, is the North Division Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
Bemidji St., Winona St. next
Bemidji State (7-4, 7-4) was picked to finish second in the North Division preseason poll, Winona State (8-3, 8-3) in the South Division.
Bemidji State is led by linebacker Gabe Ames, who was named North Division Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Ames, a junior from Rosemount, led the Beavers with 81 tackles and 12 tackles-for-loss last season.
The Warriors are led by quarterback Owen Burke and linebacker Nick Pridgeon. Burke, a junior, passed for 2,448 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. Pridgeon, a senior, was named the NSIC South Division Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.