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, No. 8 Bethel did enough to take down No. 12 St. Thomas, Concordia thrashed Hamline, and St. Johns, despite not having their starting quarterback, took down Carleton.
We've reached the midway point of conference play, here's what to keep an eye on as we open the second half of the MIAC season.
1. Augsburg @ Concordia, 1 p.m., The Jake, Moorhead: This game is big for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Cobbers are one of two one-loss teams left in the conference, with St. Johns (idle) being the other. They both trail undefeated Bethel, and with one more loss would essentially be guaranteed no better than a second place finish in the conference. That may or may not be good enough to get an at-large bid in the NCAA playoffs, with just five awarded yearly to the 32-team postseason festivities. A conference title is your best shot at keeping your season going, with the MIAC being one of 24 conferences that gets an auto-bid. Concordia has already lost to Bethel, so they need help to have a shot at a share of the conference title, and St. Johns hosts Bethel at Clemens Stadium in the last game of the year. A lot of information, and probably too early to dissect that info, with a month left in the regular season. First and foremost, the Cobbers have to get by Augsburg, who appear to be having a bit of an identity crisis with their star quarterback. The league's leading rusher last year, QB Ayrton Scott, has carried the ball just eight times the past two weeks combined, gaining just two yards. It hasn't hurt their offensive production, as the Auggies bounced back against St. Olaf last week, a 41-17 win after losing to both St. Johns and Bethel by a combined five points. With a loss in Moorhead, their postseason hopes would be over, and even with a win, it still appears to be a long shot. The Cobbers went on the road and beat St. Johns earlier this year, their marquee win with St. Thomas still to come, and their 23-point loss to Bethel two weeks behind them. A win at The Jake Saturday would be huge considering how competitive Augsburg has been all year, and they must limit turnovers and make sure Auggie QB Scott is the one-dimensional man he's been the past two weeks, rather than the dual threat beast he's been his entire career before this lull in rushing production. Here's the man that will be calling the game, Tom Witschen, briefly discussing Augsburg.
2. Carleton @ St. Olaf, 1 p.m., Manitou Field, Northfield: On paper, a matchup of a winless Ole side, and a Carleton team that got beat 65-6 two weeks ago by St. Thomas shouldn't do much for you. But it's the battle for Northfield, the Cereal Bowl, the fact that the Goat Trophy is on the line, that makes this worth it. These two schools legitimately do not like each other, we're talking football teams and student bodies, there is a legitimate dislike. That will make this game watchable when so often this year these two teams have been the opposite. Olaf, as we mentioned, was beaten soundly at Edor Nelson Field last Saturday, but kept it close for a half, going into the break down just 21-17 to Augsburg. Their defense failed them, giving up five touchdowns through the air, but their offense looked passable and at times more than adequate, moving the ball effectively through the air. Carleton kept it tight with a St. Johns team that was missing starting quarterback Connor Bruns, who sat out with a foot injury. The Knights picked off replacement Nick Martin three times, but the issue was their offense, which gained just 259 yards, only 38 of those on the ground, which led to just a 13-point performance. It hasn't been pretty for these two squads, but with two closely matched teams, a passion and personal desire to beat the other team on the field, and a 2.3 mile gap between the schools, it should be a fun Saturday in Northfield.
3. Gustavus @ Bethel, 1 p.m., Royal Stadium, Arden Hills: The Bethel watch is on after last week's tight win over St. Thomas. The Royals now 6-0 with just the Gusties, Hamline, St. Olaf, and St. Johns standing in their way of their first conference regular season crown since 2007. Their road to getting past St. Thomas last week wasn't easy, as they had to come from behind and get two fourth quarter touchdowns to stay unbeaten. The game winner came from Marshall Klitzke, who scored twice, with just 40 seconds left in the game and Bethel down one. Alex Fenske, St. Thomas replacement for starting QB Matt O'Connell, who is indeed done for the year with a compound fracture of his leg, got the Tommies all the way to the Bethel eight, but time ran out, ending St. Thomas chances of taking out the Royals. Bethel did what Bethel does in the win, boasting a balanced offensive attack and a bend but don't break defense. In this case, they bent as far as they could, but it got the job done. The Gusties have gotten praise from us all year for their marked improvements since the 2012 season. Problem is, they still don't have a marquee win to show for it. They were out of conference last week, beating Valley City State by three touchdowns, led by running back Jeffrey Dubose' 196 yards on the ground. It would be the upset of a lifetime for head coach Peter Haugen and the Gusties, and they have the defense to do it, a squad ranked third in scoring D in the MIAC. It should be competitive. Whether an upset is possible, we will let the two teams decide that.
The other game of the weekend is St. Thomas hosting Hamline, a massive mismatch, and St. Johns is on a well deserved bye.
Good night, good luck, enjoy the action tomorrow.