The five QBs passing for the most yards last season are gone — the league's two playoff teams of a year ago, St. Thomas and St. John's, are both breaking in new quarterbacks. Carleton's Zach Creighton leads the returnees with an average of 145.8 yards per game. Bethel, picked by coaches in the preseason poll to finish third, returns Andrew Dzurik and Trey Anderson, while Concordia, picked No. 4, has Michael Herzog back.
St. Thomas Running back Jordan Roberts was the D3football.com national offensive player of the year last season when he rushed for 2,092 yards and 34 TDs. The Tommies also return three other players who received All-America recognition: offensive tackle Will Hilbert, nose tackle Ryan Winter and linebacker Jesse Addo. But the Tommies have their toughest games on the road: St. John's, Bethel, Concordia and Gustavus. Those four teams were selected by coaches to finish Nos. 2 through 5 behind St. Thomas in the preseason coaches poll.
Duel at the top
St. Scholastica has made five consecutive postseason appearances and is the unanimous pick of league coaches to repeat as UMAC champ. But remember this: Northwestern (St. Paul) has lost the past four meetings with St. Scholastica by a total of only 22 points. St. Scholastica looks loaded offensively with the return of quarterbacks Kyle Stepka and Dakota Paulson and all-conference receiver Hunter Thompson, who led all of Division III with an average of 25.6 yards per catch. The Saints averaged 245.8 passing yards last season. Macalester was picked to finish No. 6 in the MWC by league coaches.
Mark your calendar
St. Thomas and St. John's — picked to finish 1-2 in the MIAC, and the league's two playoff teams a year ago — meet Sept. 24 at St. John's in the second week of conference play. A year ago the game, also at St. John's, attracted a Division III record crowd of 17,327. St. Thomas won last year's game 35-14, although the score was 7-7 at halftime. It's possible the game could be a matchup of former Division I quarterbacks Jacques Perra of St. Thomas and Jackson Erdmann of St. John's (Perra is currently No. 2 on the Tommies' depth chart, but will compete weekly for the starting job, coach Glenn Caruso said). The pair met in the 2013 state playoffs semifinals, with Erdmann's Rosemount team prevailing 35-28 over Perra and Roseville.
For what it's worth, Bethel's Steve Johnson appears upbeat about his team, which was only 5-5 overall a year ago but is picked No. 3 by coaches this preseason. Johnson said he's "excited about our offensive weapons, and we have a lot of defensive speed." Meaning, Bethel should be in the mix again, as it usually is. Johnson has two experienced quarterbacks — Dzurik and Anderson — and returning all-conference players in tight end Drew Neuville and lineman Kevin Olson. And Johnson is the league's most tenured coach with a career record of 197-88-1 in 27 seasons.