The Call: USF at Duluth, MSU-Moorhead at Augie

Obviously, this year’s season opener for USF has a similar feel to last year’s. That one had a little more significance to it, as it was USF’s debut as a member of the NSIC, and the Cougars made one hell of a first impression by whipping St. Cloud State 32-19. The Huskies were picked by many to go to the playoffs; I had picked them to run the table and win the league.
And the game was never close. USF built on the win to have a surprising 9-2 debut season in the NSIC, while St. Cloud sputtered to a disappointing 7-4 finish.

This year the opponent is tougher, and USF makes the trip with far fewer bullets in the gun.
Yes, I’ve picked against this team in big-time road challenges before and been wrong, but I really don’t see how USF wins this game.
Yes, there’s a true freshman at QB in Luke Papilion, but that’s far from the only reason to take Duluth. After all, Papilion had to beat out a third-year sophomore for the job, and by all accounts he did so easily.
USF also has three guys with limited experience fighting for carries in the backfield, two freshmen starting on the O-line, and no experienced receiver alongside Carrington Hanna (not counting reliable tight end Austin VanHove).
I thinks USF is going to have a real tough time moving the ball against what is a very experienced UMD defense.

USF has five guys with experience back in their front seven, but it sounds like all five of them had to fight just to earn their spot in camp. UMD is a power football team, and they’re going to have a big size advantage over USF’s defense (to be fair, this is nothing new for the Cougars).

A lot of people seem to think UMD is ripe for a fall, and with a new coach that’s certainly possible, especially when you add in the graduation of four-year starting QB Chase Vogler.
But the Dogs have 18 starters back. They have 22 seniors, which is the most they’ve ever had. For this program, that’s saying something.
I know USF players and coaches have fought hard to avoid being labeled a rebuilding team, and I do think they’ll win their share of games this season, but there are going to be growing pains, too. This isn’t the GPAC. Hopefully for the Cougars there are positives to build on, and the Bulldogs provide a stern but useful barometer of where the young guys need to be.

PREDICTION: Bulldogs 28, Cougars 10

One of the reasons to be optimistic that Jerry Olszewski can have a successful debut season as Augie coach is the Viking schedule.
They have six home games, and a seventh (at USF) in Sioux Falls. Weeks 3-thru-6 are going to be a bear, but luckily for the Vikings, they basically get a two-week warmup to prepare for it.
They open the season Saturday at home against MSU-Moorhead, then travel to Minot State the following week (that won’t necessarily be an easy one, but we’ll worry about that next week).

The Dragons went 1-10 last year, playing an extremely young lineup. Their one win came at home against Minnesota-Crookston. Moorhead will be a more experienced team this season, and they gave some good teams all they could handle towards the end of last season.
But this is still a game the Vikings should win easily.

Running backs Dajon Newell and CJ Ham were banged up in camp, so it’ll be interesting to see how much they play. That said, Jason and Justin Greenway would probably step in admirably.
Obviously there will be lots of attention on QB Trey Heid, the RS freshman who beat out junior Justin Heinrich for the job, but all five offensive lineman have starting experience, and Heid will have plenty of quality targets to throw to if they give him time.

The Dragons have a few playmakers on offense, including a young and improving quarterback, and I’ll be looking to see how well the Vikings defense plays, considering they return a lot of experience, but weren’t actually that good last season.

PREDICTION: Vikings 34, Dragons 14

Other games:
Winona State over Bemidji State*
Upper Iowa over UM-Crookston
Concordia over Minot State
Minnesota State over Mary
Northern State over Wayne State
St. Cloud State over SMSU

* Yes, I wrote this before they played Thursday night