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Aaron Ziemer

Northern Sun Opens On Thursday

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Minnesota Duluth at Southwest Minnesota State

After four consecutive NSIC Championships, and two National Championships in the last four years, there is no question that the University of Minnesota Duluth is the pre-season favorite in the Northern Sun.

The Bulldogs have earned that right, and with Chace Vogler as their now fourth year starting quarterback, the Bulldog offense may be even stronger. Coach Bob Nielson says Vogler has worked hard to improve his passing, and with his entire receiving core returning from last season, the Bulldogs may have a better passing attack than they have had since the days of their last fourth year starting quarterback Ted Schlafke.

Further, the Bulldogs have a lot of experience returning at running back, where Nielson expects to use a running back by committee approach. Look for Austin Sikorski though to rise to the top of the group, the sophomore led the team in rushing before he was hurt in mid-October, but their are certainly some other backs in the mix especially early in the season. Upfront the Bulldogs replace the loss of three starterts along the offensive line, by filling in Jake Scherer a transfer who started at Wisconsin at the left tackle position.

Defensively, the Bulldogs will have to replace three linebackers and two players in their secondary, but with John Steger, back as the defensive coordinator, look for the group to adapt quickly.

Southwest will provide a good test to that defense, as the Mustangs will likely look to attack those new faces through the air, with their own Senior quarterback Tyler Peschong. Peschong, who is a bit of a dual threat in his own right, as he led the Northern Sun in total offense last year, will look to help the Mustangs make a statement.

Southwest will have a rebuilt defensive unit, and that unit, will could have as many as 3-4 freshman contributing. That bodes well for the future, but could be a problem stopping the high powered Bulldogs.

I look for a fairly high scoring game, but I expect the Bulldogs to emerge convincingly.


MSU Mankato at Minot State

Everything else aside in Mankato, the Mavericks are getting set to hit the road this week and travel to Minot, which might be a good thing to get away from the distractions and on the road, where they can focus on the task at hand, beating Minot State.

Thursday night's game, will be the first ever between the Beavers and the Mavericks, and the first game for Aaron Keen who is the acting head coach for the Mavericks.

Keen, has been a head college football coach before, he coached at Illinois College, and posted a 23-27 record as the head coach of the BlueBoys.

Minnesota State was picked to win the NSIC South for a reason, because they have a well balanced offensive attack, and strong defensive unit.

The Mavericks will be led by Andy Pfeiffer, who returns after posting the third best single season rushing effort in school history last year when he rushed for 1,229 yards on the ground a season ago.

The Mavericks will have a new starting quarterback in 2012. Jon Daniels played well last year, for the Mavericks, and now it will go to Junior Jon Wolf. As a redshirt freshman Wolf played a few games at quarterback, and showed he can be effective as he ran for over 100-yards against Southwest. Wolf is such a good athlete last year, he split time between quarterback, running back, and receiver. As a freshman he was actually named the team's Offensive Newcomer of the Year.

The Beavers do bring back a little experience on the defensive side of the ball, they return their four of their top five leading tacklers from last season. Minot will be led on that side of the ball by junior linebacker, Chad Marshall, who led Minot with 81-tackles as a sophomore last season.

Offensively though, they could struggle against the powerful Maverick defense, sophomores Bryce Jorgenson and C.J. Evans split time at the quarterback position last year. Combined the two threw for just 10-touchdowns, and around 1,900 yards.

That could be a tough start against a rugged Maverick defense. I like Minnesota State to head over to Minot and emerge with a victory.

Extra Point: Minot State hasn't won their opening game in 10-years, their last season opening victory came against Bemidji State in 2002.



Minnesota Crookston at Winona State

We knew years ago when he came into the league, Rayon Simmons was going to be a special player. Entering his senior season, Simmons has an opportunity to do some special things.

The NSIC South Division Pre-Season Offensive Player of the Year, Simmons needs just 394 yards to become Winona State's all time leading rusher. He already has become only the fourth player in Winona history to reach 3,000 yards rushing. Now, he has a chance to become the leading rusher in NSIC history, another 1,000 yard season from Simmons and he will go to heights never seen by a running back in this league.

Simmons will be the leader, but not the only threat in a dangerous, and potentially explosive Warrior backfield.

I think the Warriors might be a surprise team in the Northern Sun this year, but with 15-straight winning seasons its hard to call them a surprise, but I think they could take the next step, and that's a step to compete for a conference title.

Winona finished 2011 on a 4-game winning streak, this group is primed to build on that momentum and challenge for a conference title and a shot at the playoffs. Winona has a week two showdown with Minnesota Duluth, they get Minnesota State at home, where they are always tough to beat, and then travel to Augustana near the end of the season.

I don't know that one of those tougher challenges will be this week against Minnesota Crookston, who is rebuilding yet again.

Paul Miller takes over as the head coach of the Golden Eagles, he was the offensive coordinator last year under Chuck Moeller.

Miller has been a long time assistant coach at the high school and college levels, and helped to engineer an offensive unit that averaged rushing for 231 yards a game last season. He does return his two leading rushers from last season in running back Richard Haley, who rushed for 1,556 yards and quarterback Aj Barge, who netted over 700 yards on the ground.

Crookston hopefully makes some progress towards their goal of becomming more competitive this season, but don't look for that progress to be gained much this week against Winona, I like the Warriors at home to win easily.


University of Sioux Falls at St. Cloud State

The University of Sioux Falls has made their way to the NSIC, they are the other newcomer to the league. USF, for years, was a powerhouse in football winning National Championships in 1996, 2006, 2008, and 2009.

The Cougars found out last year that things are a little different in Division II, and this year, they will find out what the Northern Sun is like, and so why not have them take on another one of those conference favorites, in St. Cloud State.

The Huskies are expecting big things in 2012. Quarterback Phillip Klaphake was picked as the NSIC Pre Season Offensive Player of the Year in the North. He dealt with some injuries in 2011, but during his time at St. Cloud has shown himself to be a strong armed playmaker, who can hurt teams either with that arm or his legs.

The Huskies also have playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, defensive back Marvin Matthews. Matthews was second on St. Cloud's defense in tackling last season, and was named the NSIC North Division's Pre-Season Defensive Player of the Year. He also picked off three passes last year, demonstrating the ability to be a complete defensive back against the run and the pass.

USF did finish 5-4 last year, which was their 18th consecutive winning season. That is an impressive streak, however none of those five wins came against an established Division II opponent, they did almost beat Division I North Dakota though.

Carrington Hanna and Taylor Perkins return at the quarterback position for the Cougars. Both can run and throw the ball. Hanna rushed for five touchdowns last season, while Perkins posted slightly better passing numbers. Perkins opens 2012 at the top of the Depth Chart, and freshman Calvin Jacobson is the other name listed on the two deep, so I would expect to see Perkins get most of the snaps on Thursday.

USF will win some games in the Northern Sun this year, keeping that streak alive will be tough for them though this season, and I don't see them beating St. Cloud on Thursday night. I will take the Huskies.

We will have more to come on the weekend games, including Friday night's game between Upper Iowa and Bemidji State later in the week.

To recap quickly, I like Minnesota Duluth over Southwest, Minnesota State over Minot State, Winona State over Minnesota Crookston, and St. Cloud State over Sioux Falls.

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