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 went to Moorhead and put a beat down on #25 Concordia, #12 St. Thomas held on in St. Peter against Gustavus, but took a big loss along the way, and St. Johns edged Augsburg 30-28.

This weekend, the matchup of the year is here. Here's this week's MIAC 3:

1. St. Thomas @ Bethel, 1:10 p.m., Royals Stadium, Arden Hills:This is the Royals chance. Having not claimed an MIAC title since 2007, the stars seem to be aligning for Bethel to take down the big, bad Tommies. With a convincing 45-22 victory over Concordia this past weekend in which an opportunistic Royals defense forced seven turnovers, Bethel couldn't be flying higher, sporting a balanced offensive attack and defense with a nose for the ball. St. Thomas has already lost to St. Johns this year, and nearly took another defeat at Gustavus last week, 20-12 was the final as the Tommie defense stifled a possible game-tying Gustie drive late in the fourth quarter. While it is a win, the Tommies lost an important piece, with junior quarterback Matt O'Connell going down with a leg injury that looks like it could cost him the rest of the 2013 season. That leaves the Tommies' powerful offense in the hands of sophomore quarterback Alex Fenske, who threw two touchdowns but completed just 45 percent of his passes in relief of O'Connell last week. O'Connell wasn't blowing the world away with stats this year, but led UST to the national championship game last year, and was an experienced, steady hand at the helm. Bethel leads the conference in scoring, is allowing just 19 points per game, and looks like this MIAC could be theirs with a win, with just Concordia (whom they've already beaten) and St. Johns (whom they play the last game of the season) as the one loss teams in the league if the Royals are victorious Saturday. Below is a preview of this massive tilt with d3sports.com executive editor Pat Coleman, who says this Bethel team may be their best yet.

2. St. Johns @ Carleton, 1 p.m., Laird Stadium, Northfield:The other three games this week lack punch, with mismatches across the board. This Johnnie side traveling to Northfield to take on the Knights is one of those, with Carleton getting throttled by a team the Johnnies beat, St. Thomas, by 59 points just two weeks ago. We can deliver the good news that Carleton is coming off a win, with the bad news being it was against conference-less Macalester. Still, that is positivity, something the Knights could use, they're second to last in the league in scoring defense as well as total offense. The Johnnies narrowly hung on over Augsburg last week, giving up 468 yards of total offense, 304 of those in the air. Had Augsburg not fumbled five times and thrown two interceptions, the game may have ended differently. Instead, the Johnnies are still alive in the race for a conference title behind two things they did exceedingly well Saturday: limiting penalties, and stopping Auggie QB Ayrton Scott. St. Johns was flagged just once for two yards, and held Scott, who was third in the conference in rushing coming in to the contest, to a goose egg. Yep, zero yards. It's just the third time in Scott's career he's been held under 100 yards, let alone not gaining anything on the ground. The Johnnies shouldn't have too much trouble this weekend with a defense that forced that many turnovers and an offense that seems to be slowly but steadily improving. The one big thing to look for if you're Gary Faasching and the Johnnie faithful is the continuance of improvement from quarterback Connor Bruns and a running game that ranks third-to-last in the conference.

3. Concordia @ Hamline, 1 p.m., Klas Field, St. Paul:You already know what Concordia did wrong last week, turning the ball over seven times and letting Bethel shred them for 523 yards. You might be able to stick around in a game if one of those things happen, but definitely not both. Cobber QB Griffin Neal was really the only one that came to play for Concordia, completing over 80 percent of his passes and rushing for 93 yards, but he also turned it over four times, so there goes your only positive. Hamline has lost to Carleton, the Knights only win, while getting smoked by Gustavus and Augsburg, but they come off a huge positive, head coach Chad Rogosheke's first conference win, a 31-28 victory over winless St. Olaf in Northfield. Winning on the road is always a tough task, so for the Pipers, a big step in the right direction. Still, this is a massive task. The Pipers MUST take care of the ball and get their running game going, while the Cobbers need to bounce back with better play on both sides of the ball.

The other MIAC game on the slate is St. Olaf visiting Augsburg, while Gustavus travels out of conference to visit Valley City State.

Brave the whether, especially if you're a Tommie or Royal supporter, it will be worth it.

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