Chad Courrier: Northern Sun football will be more fun than swatting wasps

Aug. 25—By this time next week, football games will have been played in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. The preseason polls will become irrelevant, and opinions may have changed.

But as certain as the Blakeslee Stadium wasps will return on Saturday afternoons, it's going to be fun.

There are some exciting changes this season. The most important is the addition of nonconference games.

There are a couple of goodies. Saginaw Valley State, which wanted no part of a game against Minnesota State, will host Winona State. Northern Michigan plays at Minnesota Duluth. Sioux Falls was the most aggressive scheduler, playing at Pittsburg State.

We'll see what Western Oregon brings to Blakeslee on Oct. 13. The unknown is refreshing, for players and fans, and anything is better than watching Upper Iowa extend its futility on the perfectly groomed surface at Blakeslee.

Bemidji State was the only team in the league not to find an 11th game this season, so it will be interesting to see if that helps or hurts the Beavers' playoff chances.

We can only hope that if the league expands to 14, which seems likely with Jamestown, that nonconference games survive the scheduling model.

The Mavericks open the season at Sioux Falls on Thursday. Sioux Falls is coached by former Minnesota State defensive coordinator Jim Glogowski, which adds intrigue to a game that lacked some.

Three Northern Sun programs have recently hired someone with strong Minnesota State ties: Sioux Falls (Glogowski), Wayne State (offensive coordinator Collin Prosser) and Northern State (offensive coordinator Ryan Schlichte).

The current quarterback class is pretty good, led by Bemidji State's Brandon Alt, Wayne State's Nick Bohn and Minnesota State's Hayden Ekern.

The biggest change on the field will be clock management, because the clock no longer stops after a first down, until the last two minutes of the second and fourth quarters. It will be up to the quarterback to keep drives moving, or running out the clock, outside of those parameters so experience will likely be a factor.

There are no longer South and North Divisions divisions in the Northern Sun, but with 13 teams, schedules won't be equal. Minnesota State faces six of the other top seven teams in the preseason coaches poll, with road games against Sioux Falls, Bemidji State, Augustana and Winona State.

Four Northern Sun teams qualified for the NCAA playoffs last season, with Minnesota State and Bemidji State both winning a first-round game. Four NCAA teams seems likely again, given the strength at the top of the conference.

Minnesota State and Bemidji State were both top 15 teams in both preseason national polls. Wayne State should have gotten more love from pollsters, and Winona State, Minnesota Duluth and Augustana could move into the top 25 with a good start.

It all starts next week with 11 fun-filled Saturday. It's going to be more fun than watching Trey Vaval return kicks — once the press box wasps are all dead.

Chad Courrier is the Free Press sports editor. He's at 507-344-6353, or on Twitter @ChadCourrier.