This year, the Bulldogs again start out as a prohibitive favorite in the NSIC, and they have to be considered a national championship threat again.
After all, UMD returns a ton of experience all over the field, most notably senior running back Isaac Odim (Harlon Hill Award finalist in 2009 and one of the favorites in 2010), and senior linebackers Kiel Fetchelkotter and Robbie Aurich, two of the best defensive players in Division II.
The Northern Sun isn't messing around, anointing UMD as the preseason title favorite yet again this year. This is the information from UMD.
In their annual preseason poll, the league coaches picked the two-time defending NCAA Division II Bulldogs to finish first in both the North Division and in the overall standings. The NSIC is a 14-team league and for football, is broken down into two, seven-school divisions.
UMD, which concluded 2009 with an 11-2 overall record and a perfect 10-0 league mark, was unanimous favorites, garnering 13 of a possible 13 votes (coaches could not vote for their own team) and 169 points.
Minnesota State University-Mankato, which captured the South Division title one year ago, was next (157 points and the remaining first-place vote), followed by Augustana College (125), St. Cloud State University (125) and Bemidji State University (122).
In addition, for the second straight time, Bulldog senior inside linebacker Robbie Aurich was chosen the North Division Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and senior running back Isaac Odim landed the North Division Preseason Offensive Player of the Year honor. Both of those two are the reigning NSIC Players of the Year in those two categories as well.
Aurich, who along with Odim and senior inside linebacker Kiel Fechtelkotter will serve as a team tri-captain this season, paced the Bulldogs in tackles for the second year in a row last fall with 93 stops, including a team-high 40 solos. The Spring Lake, Mich., product has finished as UMD’s leading tackler in 15 of the last 17 games and was a integral part of a defensive unit which gave up the second fewest points (12.4 per game) and fifth fewest yards (251.0) of any NCAA Division II school in the country one year ago.
Odim, a native of Rochester, Minn., enters his third, and final year with the Bulldogs owning the title as UMD’s all-time leading rusher and scorer. Last fall, he established club single-season records for rushing yards (1,808), scoring (198 points), rushing touchdowns (29), total touchdowns (33) and 100-yard rushing games (12) -- all marks which he previously owned -- and kickoff return average (35.9) en route to being named to five different All-Americans. One of nine finalists for the 2008 Harlon Hill Award (he finished fourth in the final voting), Odim also ranked second in the NCAA II in scoring, fourth in rushing and fifth in all-purpose yardage (192.0 ypg).
Since transferring to UMD from Rochester Community and Technical College two years ago, he has proceeded to eclipse team standards in a host of categories including rushing yardage (3,446), rushing touchdowns (55), total touchdowns (63), points (378) and 100-yard rushing games (21). Odim's proven to be no slouch in the classroom either, as evident by his selection to the 2009 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American team.
UMD will enter 2010 armed with a school-record 20-game NSIC winning streak, having not tasted defeat against conference competition of any kind since Oct. 27, 2007 when it fell to then-North Central Conference rival University of North Dakota 31-14. The last NSIC club to derail the Bulldogs was Winona State University, which did so via a 24-17 victory in Winona, Minn., in the 2003 season finale.
The Bulldogs, who have been chosen as the NSIC preseason favorite during each of their last four years of league membership (2010, 2009, 2008 and 2003), return some 44 letterwinners from a year ago, including six starters on offense and five on defense. They'll open their 78th season of intercollegiate football on Aug. 28 with a road clash with NCAA II power Central Washington University.
2010 NSIC Preseason Coaches Poll (Votes) Points
1. Minnesota Duluth (13) 169
2. MSU-Mankato (1) 157
3. Augustana 125
3. St. Cloud State 125
5. Bemidji State 122
6. Wayne State 116
7. Winona State 114
8. Mary 74
9. Southwest Minnesota State 73
10. Concordia-St. Paul 72
11. Northern State 45
12. Upper Iowa 41
13. MSU-Moorhead 26
14. Minnesota-Crookston 15
No real surprises, though the American Football Coaches Association preseason poll, which came out Monday, has two NSIC teams -- UMD and Minnesota State -- ranked, while four others received votes. None of them was Augustana, picked high by the league's coaches.
The Bulldogs play a tough league schedule, visiting Mankato while hosting Bemidji State, Wayne State, Winona State, and St. Cloud. Even with that difficult slate, it's hard to imagine them not being a high seed in the Division II playoffs.
As long as the quarterback situation sorts itself out -- head coach Bob Nielson told us on The Fan 1490 Tuesday that he thinks both Jon Lynch and Chase Vogler will see time -- UMD is a national contender once again.
Considering the way the Bulldogs choose to build their program, it's truly amazing that they've been able to build such a powerhouse.
(Oh, and I wonder where that first-place vote for MSU came from. Hmm ...)