The MIAC 3: Top games on the gridiron to watch for this weekend

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The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference has a rich tradition of football excellence spanning the entire state.

From the great Gustavus days of the mid-1900s, to the legacy of John Gagliardi and St. Johns, to the emergence of Glenn Caruso and St. Thomas, the only college conference contained within Minnesota's borders has been playing football nearly 100 years, and it's about time the storied tradition is recognized.

Every week, we'll preview the top three games within the conference to get you prepped for the weekend action. Last week, Carleton edged St. Olaf in the Cereal Bowl, Bethel continued their rampage towards a conference title, and Concordia thrashed the Auggies in Moorhead.

Three weeks to go, here's what to keep an eye on as we head into the first weekend of November.

1. No. 18 St. Johns @ Gustavus, 1 p.m., Hollingsworth Field, St. Peter:The Johnnies had the week off, and are one of two one-loss teams left in the MIAC that stands between Bethel and an auto-bid to the 32-team NCAA tournament. The week off likely did the Johnnies good, as quarterback Connor Bruns was held out SJU's last game against Carleton with a foot injury. Nick Martin threw three interceptions in his place, and head coach Gary Faasching would surely welcome the return of Bruns. Gustavus hadn't had a bad loss all year, until last week, when they had a pummeling put on them by Bethel, a 41-14 final. This will likely be a back and forth defensive battle in St. Peter, as we believe Gustavus' defensive lapses last week to be an aberration, rather than a trend. The Johnnies have allowed over 20 points in a game just once all year (Augsburg), and are second in the league in scoring defense. Similarly, Gustavus has only given up more than 21 points to an opponent once this season, that obviously coming last week, so these teams know how to slow down the offenses. They shouldn't have a problem doing that this weekend, as both these offensive units have their massive deficiencies, the Johnnies ranking second-to-last in the league in points and the Gusties ranking second-to-last in the league in passing. It should be a war of attrition, a very important one for St. Johns, who must stay at one loss if they hope to have a serious chance at making the NCAA tournament.

2. No. 21 St. Thomas @ Augsburg, 1 p.m., Edor Nelson Field, Minneapolis:Had a few things gone differently for each of these teams, this game may mean a little more than it does to each side. Augsburg got crushed last week in Moorhead, but their other two losses come by a combined five points. St. Thomas lost starting quarterback Matt O'Connell for the season against Gustavus three weekends ago, and still almost upset Bethel the next week, instead picking up their second loss of the year. For what it's worth, the Tommies are still the top two-loss team in the country according to the AFCA national poll, which could be a big positive when the five at-large bids to the NCAA tournament are handed out at the end of the regular season, or could mean nothing. Alex Fenske was very good last week in his second start in place of O'Connell, throwing for 360 yards and four touchdowns. That being said, Hamline is last in the league in many defensive categories, so anointing Fenske the next big thing is a tad presumptuous. Even though Augsburg is out of postseason contention, this will be a big game for them simply because of the name of their opponent. Beating the Tommies holds real weight with recruits and on the national stage, and for UST, this is a must to stay alive. Expect a competitive, high scoring game, though it will be interesting to see how Augsburg QB Ayrton Scott reacts to the toughest defense in the conference, with his rushing numbers being slim-to-nill the past three weeks.

3. No. 8 Bethel @ Hamline, 1 p.m., Klas Field, St. Paul:This game simply made the cut because Bethel is three games away from the auto-bid to the NCAA tournament. The 5-0 Royals are showing no signs of slowing down, having plowed through Gustavus behind receiver Mitch Hallstrom's three total touchdowns (two receiving, one passing), while picking off Gustie QB Mitch Hendricks three times. Hamline shouldn't pose much of a threat to Bethel's 7-0 season, as they've beaten only winless St. Olaf in the MIAC, and are being outscored by nearly 25 points per game this year, far and away the highest margin the conference. The last time Hamline was at home they lost by 56 to Concordia, and its been a rough first year for Hamline head man Chad Rogosheke. Still, they have to play the season out and will likely use games like this as teaching moments for this young bunch. Expect big days from Bethel QB Erik Peterson and his top target Hallstrom, as well as the Royals top option in the backfield Brandon Marquardt.

The other game of the weekend is Concordia visiting Carleton, which is a vital one for the Cobbers as they attempt to keep their one-loss season going. The Knights have been competitive as of late, outscoring their last three opponents by a combined 34 points. Their victim last week, St. Olaf, is on a bye.

There you have it, it's going to be chilly this weekend, so bundle up as you support your schools.

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