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Predictions point to strong year for BSU football

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This is the time of year where polls and rankings seem to come out by the day.

There are already three Division II football rankings out there this preseason: the national American Football Coaches Association Top 25, the NSIC Preseason Coaches Poll and the mathematic CompughterRatings.com.

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Bemidji State will be the first NSIC team to play a game this season next Thursday (7 p.m.) against Minot State in a non-conference game at Chet Anderson Stadium.

BSU had a winning record last season but did not earn preseason recognition in the AFCA poll like it did in 2010.

The AFCA poll ranks the top 25 teams in Division II and three NSIC teams are on the list: defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth at No. 1, Augustana at No. 8 and St. Cloud State at No. 13.

All three are on Bemidji State's schedule this season and two are at Chet Anderson Stadium - UMD the night of Sept. 24 and St. Cloud State the afternoon of Nov. 5. BSU travels to Augustana for its second game and NSIC opener on Sept. 10.

In the NSIC Preseason Coaches Poll released last week, the Beavers were picked to finish eighth in the 14-team conference and third in the North Division behind top pick UMD and St. Cloud State.

The total points each team received in the NSIC poll give a glimpse into how the coaches assess the league and it looks to be split into four tiers.

In order there is UMD, St. Cloud State and Augustana at the top. Winona State, MSU, Mankato, Concordia-St. Paul, Wayne State and Bemidji State are in the second tier. U-Mary, Northern State and Southwest Minnesota State are the third tier. Upper Iowa, MSU, Moorhead and Minnesota-Crookston are at the bottom.

That's a fair assessment based on last season's performance.

The CompughterRatings.com rankings is a complex, number-crunching model created by Steven Pugh to rank football across all levels of the game. He explains the mathematical theory on his website and the average person will be lost after reading the first paragraph.

Pugh's system ranks every team in Division II from No. 1 to No. 161. Here Bemidji State is ranked a respectable No. 42. UMD is No. 1, Augustana is No. 6 and St. Cloud State is No. 10.

An interesting feature of CompughterRankings.com is a program that simulates the result of a game between any two opponents factoring in home and away sites.

BSU is predicted to finish 8-3 overall (7-3 NSIC) in 2011 based on a preseason simulation. The three predicted losses are against Augustana, UMD and St. Cloud State.

BSU will likely be favored to win in the eight other games this season barring any major injuries at key positions. Those eight wins are far from guaranteed but there is no denying BSU's success under head coach Jeff Tesch. The Beavers have 12 winning seasons in the last 13 years and have nine straight winning seasons at Chet Anderson Stadium.

The Beavers will need to come together as a team quickly and be ready to play as this new season begins. This year's group is energetic for the fresh start of a new season.

There are several players in starting positions who remember and experienced the run at a national playoff berth in 2009. The Beavers finished 8-3 that season and gave UMD all it could handle in an October game at Chet Anderson Stadium. UMD has yet to lose a game since joining the NSIC in 2008.

The same BSU players had high hopes in 2010 but could not recreate the magic and there was a sense of underachievement despite another winning record.

That feeling is motivating the Beavers on the practice field this August and that energy should carry over into the season opener next Thursday in what should be a strong fan turnout for BSU's Community Appreciation Day and the fireworks following the game.

This 2011 Beavers team has the experience, the talent and the chance to be historic. It helps two of the potential three biggest games of the year will be played in Bemidji.

The season is long, though, and two or more losses will likely keep any team from reaching the national playoffs.

Making the elite field of 16 requires skill, consistency, attention to detail, four months of hard work on the practice field and a little bit of luck.

Reach Eric Stromgren at estromgren@bemidjipioneer.com

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