As new kids on the NSIC block, it’s easy to say that USF has to be prepared for a big test every week at their new level, but the reality is that there are still a couple teams at the bottom of the conference who have yet to join in on the parity party, and one of them, Minnesota State-Moorhead, visits Bob Young Field for the Cougars’ home opener on Saturday.
Moorhead is an extremely young team. I mean YOUNG. Of their 11 offensive starters, 10 are freshmen or sophomores. Their O-line consists of three freshmen and two sophomores.
The defense starts four freshmen in the secondary — including Roosevelt alum Shea Dejong — but their front seven is mostly upperclassmen.
So while Moorhead could have a bright future if these guys develop, they’re going to be in way over their heads against a senior-dominated USF team that woke up their conference foes by whipping St. Cloud State last week in St. Cloud.
The Cougars are 37-1 all-time at the Bob, and haven’t lost a home conference game since — get this — 2001.
Moorhead’s defense may be able to challenge the USF run game, which would probably be good for the Cougars, as that’s something they still need to work on. But the Cougar defense is likely going to put the Dragons through some serious growing pains.
Prediction: Cougars 40, Dragons 6
If Augustana had played poorly in their opener against Northern State — even if they’d won — I would’ve picked Mary to knock them off this weekend in Bismarck.
But the Vikings looked sharp — their offense had balance, and their defense, though it gave up a lot of yards, mostly controlled the line of scrimmage and made several game-changing hits in the second level. They took a close game against a good team and turned it into a rout in their 35-14 season-opening win over the Wolves.
Most importantly, their new-look offensive line exceeded hopes and expectations by clearing space for the Vikings to rush for over 200 yards and protecting QB Josh Hanson (zero sacks).
We all know the Marauders embarrassed the Vikings last year in Week 3. Augie was coming off back-to-back close losses at home to Duluth and Bemidji, and they expected to go up to Bismarck and get healthy without playing their best.
They rushed for just 58 yards, were sacked five times, and got shutout 10-0.
The Marauders enter this season with high expectations, particularly on offense. QB Craig Bagnell and WR Tyler Steffan both are back after big seasons, and they got off to a good start in Week 1. Bagnell threw for 359 yards and 4 TD last week in a 32-26 win over a solid Concordia-St. Paul team, with Steffan catching four passes for 101 yards.
The bad news for Mary? They didn’t run the ball (1 — one — net rushing yard) and their defense was torched, allowing 593 total yards and 30 first downs. They did force five takeaways, which helped them win despite getting outgained by over 200 yards.
The Vikings need another strong effort from their O-line. If they get one, Augie should score lots of points. Bagnell will surely get his yards, but if the Vikings can shut down the Mary ground game like Concordia did, they’ll likely get some sacks and picks.
Prediction: Vikings 41, Marauders 24