DIVISION II STORY LINES
UMD looking for another North title
Since the NSIC split into two divisions for football in 2008, Minnesota Duluth has won or shared all nine North Division titles. Over that period, the Bulldogs are 105-15, with eight appearances in the Division II playoffs and two national championships.
Despite having to find a replacement for four-year starting quarterback Drew Bauer, the Bulldogs, who have been ranked as high as No. 11 in preseason polls, are favored to keep their division streak alive.
In the NSIC preseason coaches’ poll, the Bulldogs were picked to win the North Division title again.
Coach Curt Wiese, beginning his fifth season as the Bulldogs coach, is expected to choose his starting quarterback from sophomores Mark Rybarczyk, who appeared in six games, and Ben Everhart, who appeared in three, and redshirt freshman John Larson.
The Bulldogs return their top two receivers from 2016: Nate Ricci (61 catches, 1,047 yards, five TDs) and Jason Balts (51 catches, 952 yards, eight TDs).
Bemidji State, coming off a 9-3 season and just its second postseason appearance (a victory over Washburn in the Mineral Water Bowl), was picked as the No. 2 team in the North Division in the NSIC preseason poll.
The Beavers, who endured a head coaching change less than a month before the 2016 season started, return most of an offense that averaged 45.6 points and 524.9 yards per game.
Quarterback Jordan Hein, a senior from Perham, Minn., accounted for 3,450 yards and 35 touchdowns last season for the Beavers. Hein already holds three school career passing records. Cornerback Gunner Olszewski, who had 95 tackles and three interceptions last season, highlights the returners on defense.
Mavs favored in South
MSU Mankato, which was 8-3 last season but missed the postseason for the first time since 2011, is the favorite in the NSIC South and the overall NSIC favorite.
The Mavericks, who had won three consecutive division titles before Sioux Falls earned its first title last year, are expected to be challenged by Augustana and Sioux Falls for the division title.
Sioux Falls has only 10 returning starters from a 12-1 team (its only loss was to Harding in overtime in the playoffs), but one of them is Max Mickey, who rushed for 1,764 yards and 19 touchdowns.