After a 15-0 run gave UMD their first taste of football glory, a team that could end up being totally different is set to take on all challengers in defense of their national championship.
(For what it's worth, I still pull my "Division II National Champions" hoody over my head with amazement. It's not that I didn't think UMD had a chance, but instead jubilation over the fact they were able to pull off such an great achievement.)
Last year's run was so much fun, in part because the Bulldogs were such a fun team to watch, and in part because of how they came from practically nowhere to get the job done.
This year, half of that equation is not going to happen, because this Bulldog team won't be coming out of nowhere.
According to at least one national sports publication, the University of Minnesota Duluth will again be one of the teams to beat in NCAA Division II football this fall as the The Sporting News slotted the defending NCAA Division II national champion Bulldogs third in its 2009 preseason poll.UMD opens defense of their 2008 Division II national championship with a home game against Concordia-St. Paul August 29.
In addition, three Bulldogs -- junior running back Isaac Odim, senior cornerback Cole Strilzuk and senior offensive tackle Sam Whitney -- were named to the Sporting News Division II Preseason All-American Team. Odim, a 2008 Football Gazette All-American (third team), established Bulldog single season records for both rushing touchdowns (26) and per carry average (7.3 yards) as a sophomore and also finished as the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference's leading ground gainer. Strilzuk, responded to his first year of starting duty in 2008 by pacing the Bulldogs in interceptions (six) en route to receiving All-NSIC recognition (second team) while Whitney, who also made his starting debut last year, was an All-NSIC honoree (honorable mention) as well.
UMD, which will enter the 2009 season sporting a 16-game winning streak, retains the services of 49 lettermen from last year's 15-0 club, including six starters on offense and five on defense. The Bulldogs will face just one team which landed in the Sporting News Preseason Poll -- No. 10 Central Washington University -- in a nationally televised home game on Sept. 3.
UMD defeated both of the poll's top two-ranked clubs -- Grand Valley State University (No. 1) and Northwest Missouri State University (No. 2) -- on its way to the 2008 NCAA II championship.
The aforementioned date with Central Washington is UMD's only non-conference game in 2009, and it should be a doozy.