Coaches peg Beavers sixth in NSIC preseason football poll; UMD, St. Cloud still teams to beat
BEMIDJI - It's no sign of disrespect. It just means there are no gimmies in the NSIC.
The conference released its preseason football coaches' poll Monday, and Bemidji State's position is exactly where most expected them: Sixth.
It's high enough to give the Beavers some respect following an 8-3 campaign last season. But it also acknowledges the teams that still rule the roost in the NSIC - Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State and Minnesota State.
Coaches ranked those teams Nos. 1-3, respectively.
Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch agreed completely with the coaches' opinions.
"It's pretty fair," Tesch said. "Duluth, St. Cloud and (Minnesota State) Mankato were all postseason teams, so you've got to put them up there. They're good."
Bemidji State officially reports to training camp Friday afternoon, in advance of first practice at 2 p.m. Saturday at Chet Anderson Stadium. The Beavers open the season at 6 p.m. Aug. 31 against Upper Iowa.
The Beavers finished fourth in the conference overall last year - behind the Bulldogs, Huskies and Mavericks, who tied for first - but were fourth in the North Division after a loss to division rivals Northern State.
The Beavers are picked to finish third in their division this season, behind Duluth and St. Cloud. U-Mary, Northern State, Minot State, MSU-Moorhead and Minnesota Crookston rounded out the coaches' North Division picks.
Winona State and Augustana were chosen to finish ahead of Bemidji State as fourth and fifth in the conference, respectively. But the teams at the top of the conference are so even there's not much separating No. 1 from No. 6.
"I think the top four teams are ranked pretty fairly," Tesch said. "We maybe could have been fifth, but it could go either way. I feel like we have a good team back, but there are some good teams in this conference."
Wayne State, newcomer Sioux Falls and University of Mary round out the top half of the poll.
For Tesch, there's a lot of balance at the top half of the conference. That means the Beavers will have to win all the games they're supposed to win for a chance at the conference title. The margin for error will be slim.
"There are going to be a lot of teams up there," Tesch said. "We're going to have to win the big games (against Duluth and St. Cloud) to move up in the conference."
The conference pollsters also named BSU tight end Brian Leonhardt and defensive tackle Matthew Shaver as "Players to Watch." St. Cloud State quarterback Phillip Klaphake was named preseason offensive player of the year for the North Division, while Huskies' defensive back Marvin Matthews was the preseason defensive player of the year.
In the south division, Minnesota State was picked to finish on top, while Winona State and Augustana followed at second and third. WSU's Rayon Simmons was the South Division's preseason offensive player of the year while Augustana's Austin Luecke was the division's defensive player.