I like making fun of college sports all-conference teams, because they’re kind of a reminder of how detached from reality and insulated people who work in college sports can sometimes be.
Coaches, parents, fans, sports information directors, etc. — there are people who treat these things like they’re life and death, with coaches pressuring SID’s to get their kids recognized and SID’s in turn launching all-out campaigns to get marginally good players recognition.
It’s not a bad thing, but what makes it silly is how many players are now receiving some sort of All-Conference recognition.
First teams, second teams, honorable mentions — some affiliations in some sports even have third and fourth teams.
Last year the NSIC recognized 84 offensive players as All-Conference — either first team, second team or honorable mention (they have first, second and HM teams for the North and South Division). If you figure each team has 11 offensive starters, that’s 154 to choose from. 84 is 53 percent of 154. Meaning over half the starters in the league would be All-Conference, meaning average and even a few below-average players were recognized.
Nice for the kids, but the more players you recognize, the less the honors mean.
As an NFL fan, I always liked the All-Pro team better than the Pro Bowl selections, because it was harder to make. It was a bigger deal to be an All-Pro. Cream of the crop. Best of the best.
So I’m making my own All-NSIC All-Pro team. Yes me, the guy who picked St. Cloud State to go 11-0, Augustana to go 8-3, has taken it upon himself to name the definitive All-NSIC squad. Me, the guy who picked Augie to beat Minnesota State and Winona State (combined score: 155-49). The guy who picked a USF team with 25 seniors to lose on senior day. I will determine the best players in the league.
There is no 2nd team. No honorable mention. I planned on limiting the team to just 25 guys — 11 offense, 11 defense and three specialists, but since some teams favor the run and others favor the pass, I allowed for 12 on offense, and since some run a 3-4 and others run a 4-3, I picked 12 on defense as well. And three specialists. So to make this list, you have to be a superstud. In fact, there are superstuds that didn’t make this list, because there are 16 teams in this league. 27 starters per 16 teams would be over 400 guys, and since each team obviously used more than one starter at certain positions, I’m essentially choosing the best 27 players from a field of close to 500.
Quarterback and linebacker were the toughest spots to pick, and offensive line was also hard since there aren’t any individual stats to measure them by. At offensive line, defensive line and defensive back, I didn’t make sure to get center, guards, ends, corners, etc. I just chose five O-linemen, four D-linemen and four DBs.
It’s entirely possible I missed a guy or two or three, but I feel pretty good about the list. No effort was made to give fair or equal representation to certain teams, nor was their much consideration given to team success.
Of course, there’s no getting around the fact that I saw USF and Augie play a lot lot more than the other teams, and there are more USF players on my list than any other school. So there’s that. I thought about going back and changing the list to not be so USF-heavy, but then I thought, screw it, those are the guys I thought were the best. If people think I’m a homer, whatever. USF won nine games largely because of the work of a handful of playmakers, unlike teams like Duluth and Mankato, which were far deeper and less reliant on individuals.
I never saw Mary or Minot State, and never saw any other team more than twice. Just putting out full disclosure here.
So here it is. The Matt Zimmer All-NSIC All-Pro team (yeah, yeah, I know they’re not actually ‘pros’, so what). I fully expect each of these players to put this honor on their resume or use it as a springboard to the NFL.
Philip Klaphake, St. Cloud State - 2,760 yards and 28 touchdowns passing, 607 yards and nine touchdowns rushing
Was stunningly ineffective in the season opener against USF. Was pretty awesome the rest of the year. A Harlon Hill candidate, Klaphake finished the season red hot, making him the pick over Chase Voegler, Josh Hanson, Cole Jaeschke, John Teigland and Taylor Perkins.
Rayon Simmons, Winona State - 1,586 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing, 29 catches for 292 yards and two touchdowns
Dajon Newell, Augustana - 1,090 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing
Simmons is the shoo-in offensive player of the year. He set an NSIC single-season rushing record and led the league by a mile as the Warriors took a step up from being one of the ‘pretty-goods’ to being a conference heavyweight.
Newell was also a pretty easy choice. He finished third in the NSIC in yards and touchdowns, and led the league with a whopping 6.2 yards per carry.
Carrington Hanna, USF - 69 catches for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns, 111 yards passing with one touchdown
Keaton Hosch, Upper Iowa - 60 catches for 1,094 yards and 10 touchdowns
Jeremiah Oates, USF - 48 catches for 921 yards and 12 touchdowns
Easy calls here. Hanna led the league in catches, Hosch in yards, Oates in TDs. With the possible exception of Simmons, Hanna was maybe the best all-around offensive player I saw this year. A year ago he was USF’s starting QB, and I wasn’t sure how he’d work out as a receiver. He was awesome. Great hands, terrific body control and awareness, he was almost unstoppable as a possession receiver, and still a threat to throw it.
Hosch led the league in yards by a mile, and was impressive to the eye as he was on paper. He had 281 receiving yards against the Cougars, and it was no fluke. USF’s defense is no slouch, and they could do nothing to slow him down.
Oates missed the season finale and still led the league in touchdown catches. Nearly unstoppable in the red zone and a terrific deep threat as well (19.2 yards per catch), Oates would’ve reached 1,000 yards were it not for a late-season concussion.
Nate Thienes, Concordia-St. Paul - 43 catches for 450 yards and five touchdowns
There are actually several very good tight ends in the NSIC, but Thienes, at 6-5, 275, looked like a man among boys. A huge target who could basically serve as a third tackle as a blocker, it’ll be interesting to see if Thienes gets a look at the next level.
Jake Bscherer, Minnesota Duluth
Garth Heikkinen, Minnesota Duluth
Andrew Beckmann, St. Cloud State
Richard Lilla, Winona State
Josh Meeker, Minnesota State
Bscherer used to start for the Wisconsin Badgers and came out of “retirement” to join the Bulldogs after two years out of football. He helped pave the way for an offense that averaged 268 rushing yards per game. Heikkinen, a 6-4, 315-pound senior, is the captain of that unit, and is headed for his third straight All-NSIC first team honor.
Beckmann, a 6-3, 313-pound senior, would be the best left guard in the league if Heikkinen weren’t around.
Lilla was All-NSIC honorable mention as a freshman last year, and anchored the line that paved the way for Simmons’ record-breaking season, while Meeker was the man in the middle for an MSU O-line that was nearly as dominant as Duluth’s.
Zach Moore, Concordia-St. Paul - 14 sacks, 39 tackles - 21 for loss
Richard Daniel, Wayne State - 8 sacks, 59 tackles, 14.5 for loss, 6 forced fumbles
John Oyloe, Mary - 10 sacks, 69 tackles, 13.5 for loss
Chris Schaudt, Minnesota State - 8.5 sacks, 32 tackles, 14 for loss, 4 fumble recoveries, 3 forced fumbles
Watching Moore was like watching a young Chris Doleman. 6-6, 280, and he’s so lean and strong he looks like he’s about 240. He didn’t just lead the league in sacks, he had more sacks than Minot, Crookston and Moorhead and almost as many as Augie, Upper Iowa and SMSU.
Daniel has been one of the league’s most dominant rush ends for what seems like a decade, while Oyloe and Schaudt were dominant against both the run and the pass. Moore, Oyloe and Schaudt are all juniors, by the way.
Nick Bonte, USF - 73 tackles, 17.5 for loss, five sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, one blocked kick, one touchdown
Cory Crosby, Bemidji State - 108 tackles, 15 for loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles
Eric Anderson, USF - 85 tackles, 13.5 for loss, three sacks, two interceptions, one touchdown
Marcus Hall-Oliver, Minnesota State - 54 tackles, five for loss, two interceptions, one forced fumble
Crosby is a beast on the league’s most underrated defense, one of those guys that opposing coaches instantly mention when you’re talking about his team. Hall-Oliver is the best linebacker on the league’s best defense — his tackles numbers are low because the D-line in front of him is dominant and because his defense gets itself off the field.
As for Bonte and Anderson, they simply made such an enormous impact on their team’s success that there was no way I could not include them both. They’re versatile — they can get sacks on the blitz, and they can get interceptions dropping into coverage. They rack up tackles and they just made so many crucial, game-changing plays where the Cougars were in trouble, and those two found a way to bail them out. USF is not 9-2 without the big plays that Bonte and Anderson routinely made.
Augie’s Austin Luecke was very hard to pass up, as were Upper Iowa’s Tony Leggett, Concordia’s Jordan Halverson, Duluth’s Colby Ring and Mary’s Grant Singer.
Jack Moro, St. Cloud State - 11 interceptions, 49 tackles, 6 passes defensed, one blocked kick, one touchdown
Ryan Williams, Winona State - 81 tackles, 8 for loss, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries
Robert Virgil, USF - 7 interceptions, 16 passes defensed, 66 tackles
Marquis Mulkey, Northern State - 4 interceptions, 13 passes defensed, 35 tackles, one touchdown
Moro led the league with 11 interceptions. 11. That’s a ton. Virgil is second with 7 interceptions, and led the league with 16 breakups. Williams is one the best two-way DB’s in the league, and Mulkey is a playmaker for Northern’s underrated defense.
Braden Wieking, USF - 36-38 XP, 16-19 FG, 84 points
The most accurate kicker in the league, and with the ability to hit from deep. Concordia’s Tom Obarski hit a 59-yarder, and was 2-for-3 on kicks of 50-plus yards, but Wieking was also 2-for-3 from 50 or more, as well as 2-for-3 from 40-49 and 5-for-5 from 30-39.
Drew Behrens, Augustana - 43.0 yards/punt, 40.8 net average, 15 punts inside 20
Behrens’ punting was about more than just getting rid of the ball after a failed drive, it was a weapon for the Vikings. His booming punts routinely altered field position in the Vikings’ favor, and while a lot of D2 punters post nice gross averages by kicking line drives, Behrens boomed high, hanging punts that were virtually never returned. His 40.8 net average was by far the best in the league, as opponents had 83 total yards in returns on his 37 punts.
Wayne’s Randy Weich had a better gross average, but had one kick blocked and gave up 368 yards in returns.
I don’t know if he’s even interested considering what a good student he is, but Drew might have a shot to make it at the next level.
Aaron Roth, Minnesota Duluth
Two touchdowns and a 33.8 average on kickoff returns, 8.2 average on punt returns.
Most Valuable Player
Chris Schaudt, Minnesota State
Defensive ends don’t win MVP awards, but I don’t think you’ll find a more respected player in the NSIC than Schaudt.
Simmons will win offensive player of the year, and there are several candidates for defensive player of the year, but I’m not splitting offense and defense. Just one MVP.
While Schaudt might seem like an out of left field pick, picking him made sense for me. He was the most dominant on the best defense in the league, which led MSU to an 11-0 season. Defense is just as valuable as offense, after all, especially in this league.
The Mavs roared through the NSIC - in particularly the brutal South Division, and that was the biggest story of the season. Though their offense is quite good, MSU’s defense was the key. The NSIC is a heavily offensive league, but the Mavs allowed just 16 points and only 267 yards per game. They allowed just 74 rushing yards per game and 2.4 yards per carry, and 193 passing yards per game. They also allowed a league-low 11 touchdown passes and 6.1 yards per pass play.
The key to that defensive dominance was the defensive line, which was consistently able to pressure the quarterback and stifle the run without relying on the blitz.
After their 52-14 win over Augie, Mike Aldrich lamented how his team “couldn’t block four with five”, and Mavs coach Aaron Keen wasn’t shy about admitting that being able to do that was pretty much their gameplan.
And if you ask people around the league, Schaudt was the Alpha Dog on that unit. Defensive players are hard to judge by the numbers. A good defense isn’t on the field that much, so padding stats is difficult. And if you’re on a good defense, as Schaudt is, you’re sharing what tackles, sacks, etc., there are with other players.
Too many of these awards, to me, are about stats, and stats don’t always tell the same story in football that they do in baseball. If I were to pick an offensive player of the year, it would be Simmons. If I were to pick a defensive player of the year based solely on stats, it would be Zach Moore or Jack Moro.
But for me, Schaudt was the most important player on the most important unit on the best team in the league. That’s an MVP.
Coach of the Year
Aaron Keen, Minnesota State
There’s no overstating the significance of what Jed Stugart did in USF’s first season in the NSIC, but Keen is a no-brainer. He’s technically not even MSU’s head coach. Todd Hoffner retains that title, and who knows, he could eventually be back on the Mankato sideline.
But with Hoffner on administrative leave all season due to the charges against him, offensive coordinator Keen served as acting head coach, and led the Mavs to a perfect season, a top-ten national ranking, the conference title and a playoff berth.
The timing of Hoffner’s departure (days before the season began) could’ve thrown the Maverick season into total disarray, but obviously the exact opposite happened. That’s kind of amazing.
Picking Keen for coach of the year was the easiest call on this entire list.
* Live chat today at 2. Feel free to stop by to tell me how terrible my All-Conference team is, or to talk about anything else.