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, #8 Bethel took down Augsburg in the biggest clash of the weekend, holding on to a 31-28 victory, St. Johns bounced back with a 31-0 shutout of St. Olaf, and Gustavus pounded Hamline 52-7.

This weekend, the most competitive slate of games thus far await us. Here's this week's MIAC 3:

1. Bethel @ Concordia, 1 p.m., The Jake, Moorhead:Bethel took out one undefeated last week, and their task is even tougher this week against the last undefeated team left in the conference not named Bethel. Last week's stats in the Royals-Auggies game had both teams looking nearly identical, with BU holding on following a blistering Augsburg comeback that cut the lead from 17 to three in the fourth quarter. The one main difference in how each team played? Penalties. Augsburg racked up seven of them while being assessed 82 yards, Bethel only had one yellow hanky fly against them. Discipline, it's the name of the game in hard fought football battles, and the Royals are the least penalized team in the league. Concordia was off last week to prepare for this matchup, the last time we saw them they were beating St. Johns in Collegeville. In that win, Concordia relied on a balanced running attack and complimentary passing performance from QB Griffin Neal. It seems crystal clear, Concordia will run the ball as long as they get in between 20 and 25 passes in the air per game (they've been nearly right on those marks every game this year). Speaking of penalties, Concordia is on the other end of spectrum from their opponent this week, racking up 352 penalty yards in four games, the most in the league. They'll have to keep that number down and hope their tough defense can contain Erik Peterson, who still leads the MIAC in passing, and Brandon Marquardt, who is one of four players averaging over 100 yds/gm on the ground this year, and putting up an absurd 8.8 yds/carry. Here's an interview with head coach Terry Horan speaking about his bye week and previewing the Bethel contest.

2. St. Thomas @ Gustavus, 1 p.m., Hollingsworth Field, St. Peter:We left the St. Thomas game out of the MIAC 3 last week, and for good reason. How we thought the game might go was exactly how the game went, a destruction of Carleton 65-6. Gustavus dismantled Hamline at nearly the same rate, thrashing the Pipers 52-7. We have preached for weeks and weeks how improved this Gustavus team is, and they're making good on our word. Their balanced offensive attack features Jeffrey Dubose, who was the conference player-of-the-week on offense for his 200-yard performance against Hamline, and quarterback Mitch Hendriks, who is averaging just north of 200 yds/gm. But the key for Gustavus, no matter how good the offense plays, will be defense. The Tommies are back up to averaging 40 pts/gm, and are among the most prolific offenses in the country. Not only that, UST is allowing just 10 pts/gm, that's a 30 point spread. While Gustavus may be improved, averaging 35 points a pop to giving up just 16.5, this would surely be one of the bigger upsets in recent Gustie memory. It may take all they have, and more. Below is a chat with Gustavus head coach Peter Haugen from yesterday.

3. Augsburg @ St. Johns, 1 p.m., Clemens Stadium, Collegeville:The explosive Auggie offense was held under wraps relatively well by Bethel, allowing just 14 points through three quarters. Or, did the Augsburg offense do well to put up 28 by game's end against a harsh Bethel defense? A question we'll know the answer to after Saturday, with Augsburg facing another tough defense in St. Johns that is giving up just 14/gm. The Johnnies are, however, giving up the second most rush yards in the league, and the multi-dimensional Ayrton Scott, who is averaging 126 yds/gm on the ground and 235/gm in the air, is primed to keep the Johnnie defense off balance and have one of his patented 500 total yard games. The Johnnies hit a nice stride on offense last week, with Connor Bruns throwing for 278 yards and three scores, and two backs go over 95 yards on the ground, both encouraging signs for a team that is third-to-last in the MIAC in yards/gm. They're also third-to-last in pts/gm, and will need their defense to be huge this weekend, as they have been all year against tough competition. With St. Thomas and Concordia in the rear-view mirror, if the Johnnies can rise to the occasion and keep this game low scoring while getting even a fraction of the performance Bruns gave them last week, they could control their own destiny should Bethel beat Concordia this week.

The other two contests this weekend feature a battle of the remaining winless MIAC teams, Hamline and St. Olaf in Northfield, and Carleton traveling to Macalester in non-conference play.

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