The head football coaches of the Minnesota College Athletic Conference (MCAC) recently gathered for preseason meetings on the eve of the 2017 NJCAA football season.
As a part of this process, coaches took part in looking towards the near future, predicting the 2017 finish of the twelve-team MCAC football slate.
Central Lakes College, victorious in the MCAC State Championship game and participant in the inaugural Red Grange Bowl at the College of DuPage, clearly landed in the top spot, receiving all but two of the available first place votes. Coach Greg Medeck's Raider squad was unbeaten in the regular season, posting a 5-0 division record, sweeping all MCAC opponents in league play before falling in overtime on a 36-yard sudden-victory field goal at College of DuPage. League coaches put an 'X' squarely on the back of Central Lakes for 2017 and several programs look poised to challenge the Raiders, who are ranked 13th in the national NJCAA poll.
North Dakota State College of Science, the Western Division champion and finalist in the MCAC State Championship game took the number two spot in the poll, based on league coaches. NDSCS, located in Wahpeton, North Dakota, returns a strong core and welcomes a quality recruiting class to the Wildcat fold. NDSCS has won twelve Conference Championships, with the most recent occurring in 1999, and have appeared in 7 NJCAA bowls between 1992-2009. The Wildcats dropped only one Divisional contest in 2016, a 30-27 affair at rival Dakota College of Bottineau in early October. NDSCS and Dakota will tangle on Saturday, October 7th, this time in Wapheton, and both squads likely have that date circled on their calendar. NDSCS is receiving votes nationally in the NJCAA preseason rankings.
Speaking of Dakota College-Bottineau, the college on the western-most edge of MCAC geography came in tied with Rochester Community & Technical College for the third rung in the preseason playoff poll, with both programs finishing just above Ridgewater College and Northland CTC respectively. Coach Danny Davis and the Lumberjacks will be able to settle the logjam with Eric Waldstein's squad, as the Yellowjackets will travel to Dakota in week two of the 2017 season. RCTC also brings 2016 bowl experience to the 2017 campaign, as Rochester was invited to participate in the 2016 Graphic Edge Bowl, falling to Ellsworth CC of Iowa, 55-32.
As noted, Ridgewater College finished in the top tier of voting, likely based on their balanced run during the 2016 season. Ridgewater always rebounded from a league loss with a win during last season, and pitched two shutouts along the way (16-0 over Mesabi Range and 28-0 over NCTC). CLC ended Ridgewater's season in the MCAC semi-final, but 2017 seems to be a year in which Ridgewater could be poised to go even further in the Conference.
Northland Community & Technical College will be heading into their second season with Jim Cox at the controls, and a large recruiting class allows the Pioneers to be confident heading into their season opener against Rochester CTC. Northland went 5-4 in 2016 MCAC play, including back-to-back overtime wins during early September. The key for Northland will be to get off to a strong start, and a week one tilt with Rochester will prove to be a good first test. NCTC also has home games against NDSCS and Dakota College, making 2017 a good opportunity to make a statement.
The second half of the conference poll should prove to be an interesting tale to watch unfold, as Mesabi Range College, Minnesota State Fergus Falls and Itasca Community College all head into 2017 with new head coaches at the helm. Tom Inforzato (Mesabi Range), Weldon Braxton (Itasca) and Korey Fry (Minnesota State) all find themselves adjusting to some new surroundings, but they likely are well on their way to putting their stamp on the 2017 editions of their programs. Mesabi Range won a Divisional championship in 2010, Minnesota State developed a quarterback who moved on to the NCAA Division I level this past season and Itasca was over .500 in both Divisional and Conference play in 2016, so clearly each of the three squads can put together the ingredients needed for success in the MCAC.
Minnesota West, in Worthington, Minnesota, doesn't have to worry about getting to know the head coach, as Jeff Linder heads into his 22nd year with the Bluejays. Linder enjoys having veteran assistants as well, with several staff members having served at Minnesota West for over a decade with the football program. The Bluejays will have a great opportunity to have some people take notice in week one, when they host defending champion Central Lakes.
Vermilion Community College, (Ely) and Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College (Cloquet) are close in proximity, but hope to distance themselves in the Eastern Division race. Both squads will see challenging early season schedules, and hope to take a strong record into their Saturday, October 7th contest, when VCC travels to FDL for a 2pm game in Superior, Wisconsin. As many around college football have noted, new preseason training camp rules affecting two-a-day practices in both NCAA and NJCAA football likely mean that early season contests will be fact-finding missions for coaching staffs; an early season upset in the eight-week regular season of the MCAC could be a launching pad for many squads not listed at the top of a preseason poll. Vermilion or Fond du Lac could find themselves as the Cinderella-story of the league with an upset win or two in September.
The 2017 Minnesota College Athletic Conference Coaches Preseason Poll:
1) Central Lakes College (#13 in national poll)
2) North Dakota State College of Science (RV in national poll)
3) Tie- Rochester Community & Technical College / Dakota College-Bottineau
4) Ridgewater College
5) Northland Community & Technical College
6) Mesabi Range College
7) Minnesota State - Fergus Falls
8) Itasca Community College
9) Minnesota West Community & Technical College
10) Tie- Vermilion Community College / Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College
The MCAC plays an eight game regular season and three week play-off schedule, with six teams in both a Western and Eastern Division format. For more complete information on league stats, standings and more, be sure to visit: www.mcacsports.org