Friday, August 13, 2010

Three weeks until MSU football team opens season

The Minnesota State football team went through its first practice Thursday night, artfully dodging the area storms to get nearly three hours of work.

 As coach Todd Hoffner always asks after that first workout, "It looked like football, didn't it?"

It's tough to say how the squad will do this season, though the national poll has the Mavericks at No. 21 and the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference coaches have picked Minnesota State to win the South Division.

The strength of the team appears to be the defense, with the top three tacklers returning. Linebackers Dan Fehlberg and Matt McQuiston and safety Jesse Hamilton, who has gotten some preseason accolades, give the Mevericks some strength up the middle.

On the line, Don Thomas, Bryan Schmid and Michael Robinson should be stout, and defensive backs Bryce Kinniry and Troy Jones provide good experience against the pass.

The offense seems to be the question mark, with only four returning starters. Quarterback Steve Pachan had some moments as a part-time starter last season, but he was inconsistent. The strength of this unit appears to be running back, where Jake Aberg and Chris Echols are back, bolstered by Northern Iowa transfer Taylor Brookins.

The receivers lack marquee names, but Hoffner said he was happy with the group that includes Omaar Balton and Adam Thielen.

Of course, the offense goes nowhere without a solid line, and four of those five have graduated. Right tackle Jeremy Clark is back, and if that first practice revealed anything, the rest of the linemen are big. We'll see if that translates to good.

The schedule seems good early, starting with a nonconference game against Northern Michigan on Sept. 2. After that road games at Northern State and Minnesota Crookston better be winnable, as well as the home game against Concordia St. Paul on Sept. 25.

Then its Winona State and St. Cloud State in the first real conference tests, and consecutive roads games at Wayne State and Augustana in late October will determine this season's success. If the Mavericks survive those games, the season finale is at home against Minnesota Duluth.

It seems unlikely that the Mavericks can get to 10 wins again, but that's the standard that's been set and anything less will be disappointing. Once you've been to the national playoffs, you don't want to take a step back.

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