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BSU football season preview: NSIC North Divison primer

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Bemidji, 56619
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Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Bemidji State

Head Coach: Jeff Tesch (13th season).

2007 overall record: 7-4

2007 NSIC record: 6-3 (4th place)

Key Losses: WR Anthony Schreiber, QB Cory Wardrope, OL Justin Guy, OL John Keaveny, OL Chase Pearson, DL Drew Stafford, DL Seth Iverson, DL Robert Molstad, S Jeremiah Johnson, LB Zach Christ.

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Offense: The Beavers offense should have a balanced look this season. Speedster Erick Newman and bruiser Brandon Miles will complement eachother in the running game. Sophomore Derek Edholm takes over at quarterback and will throw to red zone threat George Kadlec and a group of speedy wide receivers. The young offensive line is led by left tackle Nathan Mahlik.

Defense: The top rush defense in the NSIC last year lost several key contributors. Looking to step in this year to keep the defensive tradition going is senior defensive end Kyle McMartin, linebacker Jake Anderson, cornerback Terrell Phelps and safety Jason Kunz.

What to watch for: Graduation claimed much of the offensive and defensive lines. How well the two young lines perform will likely determine what success the Beavers will have this season.

Why they can win: A balance on both sides of the ball should keep the Beavers in most games this season. Young players are eager to step in and prove they can win. The running game should be effective. Defensive play will likely be the hallmark once again for BSU.

Why they will struggle: A team of underclassmen in a division with two former NCC teams will be a big challenge. The schedule is unkind to the Beavers, which must play five of its first seven games on the road.

Minnesota-Duluth

Head Coach: Bob Neilson (sixth year overall).

2007 overall record: 4-6

2007 NCC record: 3-5 (6th place)

Key Losses: WR Brandon Anson, WR Bryan Gambuzza, WR Dennis Carter, LB Nate Fears, LB Cody Ahmann, LB Jon Rufledt.

Offense: Ted Schlafke will likely be the top quarterback in the NSIC this season. Named the NSIC North Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, he has started all 32 games for UMD the last three years and has set school career records in completions, attempts and completion percentage. He also holds a number of other UMD passing records.

Defense: The Bulldogs have productive seniors at the defensive line, linebacker and secondary positions this season. Their top two tackling and interception leaders are back at safety (Tyler Yelk and Jim Johnson). Linebacker Jake Comnick, linebacker Ben Loth and defensive lineman Dustin Timmersman can bring pressure and accounted for 16 combined sacks last season.

What to watch for: UMD lost its top three receivers from last season. Those three receivers (Anson, Gambuzza and Carter) accounted for 18 of Schlafke's 22 touchdowns last season. The Bulldogs success could be tied to Schlafke's success or failure with the new receivers.

Why they can win: Schlafke and the Bulldogs offense will be a force this season. Despite losing their top three receivers, the Bulldogs are deep at the position and will reload. If new head coach Bob Neilson can balance the offense and the rushing game is more effective, opposing defenses will have a tough time locking in on Schlafke.

Why they will struggle: The young Bulldogs under a new (but familiar) head coach could stumble with high expectations. Picked by the coaches to win the conference, UMD is ranked No. 22 in the Divison II preseason coaches poll entering the season, a lofty ranking for a team that finished with four wins in 2007.

University of Mary

Head Coach: Myron Schultz (10th season).

2007 overall record: 7-4

2007 NSIC record: 7-2 (tied for 2nd place)

Key Losses: QB Blair Sandy, RB Bayland Rippenkroger.

Offense: Wide receiver Mike Williams is back this season and is Mary's biggest offensive threat. He led the team in receiving (870 yards), touchdowns (nine) and has big-play potential.

Defense: Linebacker Shawn Melland leads the Marauders defense. The NSIC North Preseason Defensive Player of the Year led the team with 82 tackles in 2007, had five interceptions forced three fumbles and recovered one fumble.

What to watch for: Who will be the Marauders starting quarterback? Senior Jesse Kozak has some game experience and is the front-runner but is being challenged by Rochester Community College transfer Henry Lau.

Why they can win: The Marauders will be able to put points on the board with an experienced group of wide receivers. They also have a balanced defense led by Melland. Don't underestimate Schultz's ability to make the Marauders winners - he holds a 75-22 career record as Mary's head coach.

Why they will struggle: Opponents will likely challenge Mary's untested quarterbacks, which could lead to turnovers and losses in pressure situations.

St. Cloud State

Head Coach: Scott Underwood (1st year).

2007 overall record: 3-8

2007 NCC record: 1-7 (9th place)

Key Losses: QB Jake Kranz.

Offense: The Huskies will have a new quarterback this season and junior transfer Derek Stripling will likely win the starting role. SCSU also brings an experienced line where three of the five projected starters are seniors.

Defense: The Huskies will bring a strong defense in 2008. The unit returns eight senior starters, led by all-NCC players in defensive end Ryan Kees, linebacker Matt McLagan and defensive back Darius Dotch.

What to watch for: Underwood was promoted to head coach this season after serving as defensive coordinator/recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach since 2001. The Huskies are in a transition year with a new coaching staff, but have the players to succeed.

Why they can win: Experience is important in college football and the Huskies have it on both sides of the ball. It will be a challenge for opponents score on St. Cloud State this season.

Why they will struggle: Uncertainty surrounds the passing and running games. Michael Graham had 522 yards on the ground last season in a committee backfield.

Northern State

Head Coach: Chris Boden (fifth year).

2007 overall record: 5-6

2007 NSIC record: 5-4 (fifth place)

Key Losses: LB Jackson Megerfeld, DL Travis Frogge, WR Mike Cahoy, WR Jared Mack.

Offense: Sophomore quarterback Eric Ellingson and junior wide receiver Brian Jark are back as NSU's top two offensive playmakers. Ellingson averaged 242 yards passing per game last season and finished with 24 touchdowns. Jark had 1,008 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

Defense: The Wolves bring back senior lineman Bryar Johnson, who led the team with five sacks and 47 tackles. Three of the top five tacklers also return as do their top two interception leaders from last season.

What to watch for: The young Wolves have a potent passing attack and are capable of putting up points. Ellingson and Jark could be the NSIC's top quarterback-wide receiver combo on offense this season.

Why they can win: The passing game will put up a lot of points on the scoreboard for NSU.

Why they will struggle: Without a consistent running game, opponents will play a ball control offense to keep the ball out of Ellingson's hands.

MSU, Moorhead

Head Coach: Damon Tomeo (fifth year).

2007 overall record: 4-7

2007 NSIC record: 3-6 (tied for sixth place)

Key Losses: QB Dustin Long, WR Bert Smith, LB Casey Kannel.

Offense: Wideout Jabari Taylor is the Dragons primary offensive weapon. He finished with 1,147 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

Defense: The Dragons return 10 starters from last year's defense and a year of added maturity should improve on Moorhead's 30.6 points allowed per game.

What to watch for: The Dragons need to find a replacement for graduated quarterback Dustin Long and 2007 NSIC offensive player of the year. Craig Kutz is likely to win the starting job.

Why they can win: Even with Long gone, the Dragons should still be able run an efficient spread pass offense.

Why they will struggle: Unless the defense shows improvement, another losing year is in the cards for the building Dragons.

Minn.-Crookston

Head Coach: Shannon Stassen (eighth year).

2007 overall record: 2-8

2007 NSIC record: 1-8 (tied for 10th place)

Key Losses: QB David White, RB Eric John, WR Jordan Grafsgaard, LB Matt Forse, LB Trevor Haugh.

Offense: The Golden Eagles lost their top offensive threats in quarterback David White and running back Eric John. New players will need to step in to improve on an offense that scored just 124 points last season.

Defense: Top tackler Taylor Michels returns this season for UMC and will be the team leader on defense.

What to watch for: Crookston has won eight games in six years. Any improvement in 2008 could indicate promise for the Golden Eagles in years to come.

Why they can win: With unfamiliar players coming into the offense, the Crookston could surprise a few teams with new talent.

Why they will struggle: Inconsistency on both sides of the ball will make it hard for the Golden Eagles to be competitive in the new NSIC this season.

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Pioneer staff reports
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