The Southwest Minnesota State University football team was picked to finish 12th overall and seventh in the South Division in the annual Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll released on Tuesday. The announcement came from the NSIC office in Burnsville.
Defending conference champion and national semifinalist Minnesota State-Mankato was chosen as the overall preseason favorite to earn its third straight conference title, along with the South Division title. The Mavericks received 13 overall first place votes (coaches cannot vote for their own team) and recorded a total of 223 points. Minnesota-Duluth was picked second overall, receiving two first place votes and recording 207 points and was picked to win the North Division. Winona State was selected to finish third overall, followed by St. Cloud State and the University of Sioux Falls (S.D.).
In the NSIC South Division poll, Minnesota State earned 48 points, including six first place votes, followed by Winona State with 44 points and two first place votes. Sioux Falls ranked third with 32 points, followed by Wayne State (31), Augustana (26), Concordia-St. Paul (16), SMSU (15) and Upper Iowa (11).
Sioux Falls senior wide receiver Carrington Hanna was named the NSIC South Division Offensive Preseason Player of the Year, while Concordia-St. Paul senior defensive end Zach Moore was named South Division Defensive Preseason Player of the Year. St. Cloud State senior quarterback Phillip Klaphake was named North Division Offensive Preseason Player of the Year, while teammate senior defensive back Jack Moro was named North Division Defensive Preseason Player of the Year.
SMSU senior center Brandon Puffer and senior safety Tate Bunkers were both named "Players to Watch" in the conference. Puffer begins his third season as a starter on the Mustang offensive line. Puffer, who was named second team All-NSIC South last season and was an honorable mention All-NSIC South selection in 2011, anchors a line that returns all five starters. A season ago, the offensive line helped SMSU rush for 1,888 yards the second highest total in school history and also set a school record for average yards per rush with 4.9.
Bunkers started 10 games last season and was named honorable mention All-NSIC South. He finished third on the team with 70 tackles, while racking up 5.5 tackles for loss. Bunkers also ranked second on the team with 45 solo tackles and had two pass break-ups.
NSIC Preseason Coaches Poll
first-place votes in parentheses
1. Minnesota State-Mankato(13)223
2. Minnesota-Duluth (2)207
3. Winona State191
4. St. Cloud State (1)183
5. Sioux Falls159
6. Bemidji State140
7. Wayne State137
8. Northern State128
10. Concordia-St. Paul96
13. Upper Iowa63
14. Minot State57
Southwest Minnesota State reports for fall practice on Aug. 14 and opens the 2013 season on Sept. 7, hosting St. Cloud State at Mattke Field at the Schwan Regional Event Center.