Aug. 25, 2010

 

By Amy Farnum

NCAA.com

College football officially kicks off this weekend as Division II action gets underway.  Here’s a look at games involving teams ranked in the AFCA Division II Preseason Top 25:

Saturday, August 28

No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth at No. 5 Central Washington, 1 p.m. PT

In clearly the biggest match-up of the 2010 opening weekend, No. 4 UMD will travel more than 1,500 miles to meet fellow 2009 NCAA quarterfinalist Central Washington in Ellensburg, Wash.  It is the only contest between AFCA Division II Top 25 teams during the first weekend of Division II action, and is a rematch of the Wildcats’ 13-10 victory in Duluth last season.

The Bulldogs are the two-time defending champions of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, while the Wildcats have claimed four straight Great Northwest Athletic Conference crowns. 

UMD returns 44 letterwinners and 11 starters from last year’s squad that went 11-2, including senior running back Isaac Odim, who ranked second in Division II in scoring, fourth in rushing and fifth in all-purpose yardage last season.  He rushed for over 100 yards all but one game last year, and is already the school’s all-time leading rusher and scorer.  Defensively, senior Robbie Aurich has led the squad in tackles in each of the last two seasons, anchoring a unit that gave up just 12.4 points per game, which was the second-fewest in the nation.

The Wildcats return just seven starters and 29 letterwinners, but boast a pair of preseason All-America defensive linemen in Eugene Germany and Tyrell Nielsen, as well as the 2009 GNAC Freshman of the Year, quarterback Ryan Robertson. 

Central Washington leads the all-time series between the two programs, 2-1.

Winona State at No. 9 Carson-Newman, 1 p.m. ET

TV: Comcast Sports Southeast (CSS)

The No. 9 Eagles welcome back seven starters from a 2009 squad that finished 11-3, won their third consecutive South Atlantic Conference title and advanced to the NCAA semifinals.  C-N will be trotting out new quarterback Doug Belk, who spent most of 2009 as a receiver, catching 18 passes for 280 yards.  Junior running back Nate Inman is the team’s top returner rusher (686 yards) as the Eagles look to replace a pair of players that reached 1,000 yards on the ground.

The Warriors’ roster is headlined by the NSIC South Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, defensive lineman Matt Ulrich, who notched 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 2009.  WSU will replace last year’s starting quarterback Greg Preston (2,610 yards, 21 TD) with sophomore Evan Aber, who attempted just four passes last season.

The game will be the second meeting between the two programs.  Winona State got off to an early 17-0 lead, and held off the Eagles’ fourth-quarter comeback for a 17-12 win last season.

No. 10 Washburn at Colorado School of Mines, 1 p.m. CT

The Ichabods and Orediggers will meet in the season-opening contest for the sixth time in the last seven seasons for a battle in Golden, Colo., for the second straight year.  Washburn leads the all-time series 13-4, including victories in the last five meetings.

Washburn is loaded with returning talent – 53 letterwinners and 20 starters, including All-Americans sophomore defensive back Pierre Desir and senior placekicker Steve Ivanisevic – from a 2009 squad that went 8-3 and finished No. 25 in the final national rankings.  Desir led the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association with seven interceptions and 13 passes defended while also forcing two fumbles, while Ivanisevic finished second in the nation with 1.73 field goals per game last season.

The Orediggers are predicted to finish second in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Preseason poll after an 8-3 season for the program’s eighth winning season in the last nine years.  CSM boasts seven players on the Preseason All-RMAC squad, including the league’s Preseason Co-Defensive Player of the Year, defensive end Marc Schiechl. 

Shorter University (Ga.) vs. No. 12 West Alabama, 7 p.m. CT

After making its first appearance in the NCAA Division II playoffs in 34 years, the No. 12 Tigers are looking to building on their winning ways with 43 letterwinners and 13 starters returning.  Quarterback Deon Williams the Tigers after finishing fifth in the Gulf South Conference in total offense (263.9) and sixth in passing (233.7) last season. 

Shorter, a member of the NAIA, is coming off a 6-5 season in which the Hawks were ranked as high as No. 10 in the NAIA Top 25.   The Hawks, who led the NAIA in rushing last season, will be looking to fill the void left by All-American A.J. Cooley – the school’s all-time leading rusher.

Dubbed the RockTenn Classic, the meeting in Demopolis, Ala., will be the first between the two schools.

Wayne State (Neb.) at No. 13 Nebraska-Kearney, 6 p.m. CT

The No. 13 Lopers will look to avenge last year’s 21-16 opening-season loss to the Wildcats with seven Preseason All-RMAC picks leading the charge.  Junior running back Rustin Dring, the RMAC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, returns after rushing for a school-record 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns in the program’s best-ever finish (11-2) that was capped off with an NCAA playoff appearance.

Wayne State College finished the 2009 season with an 8-3 overall record, going 7-3 in the NSIC to finish in a tie for third place.  Senior wide receiver Frederick Bruno led the NSIC with 77 catches for 1,163 yards, and ranked third in the nation with 197.27 all-purpose yards per game during an AFCA All-America campaign.