In 2008, Bob Nielson took the reins of a UMD football team that won only four games the previous season. Over the next five years, the Bulldogs brought home two NCAA Division II Championships and four NSIC titles, firmly planting themselves among a select group of perennial college football powerhouses. This fall, UMD offensive coordinator Curt Wiese stepped in for Nielson, now the head coach at Western Illinois, and is attempting to prolong the team’s recent resurgence. Wiese inherited a club ranked outside the top ten (No. 11) in the preseason polls for the first time since 2008, but one that is still projected to win the NSIC North Division for a sixth consecutive year.
“We did have quite a bit of staff turnover, but our expectations as a football program continue to be (being) a nationally prominent football team,” Wiese said. “Our expectation is to be a playoff-contending football team every year. Anything short of that is going to be a disappointment.”
That matter is complicated by the departure of four-year starting quarterback Chase Vogler, who graduated last year as UMD’s all-time winningest signal caller.
After a battle for the job that began in spring camp, Wiese declared freshman Drew Bauer the team’s starter in late August. Bauer, a dual-threat quarterback out of Eagan High School, narrowly edged out Brent Jorgensen and Eric Kline, the latter also expected to see work in Saturday’s opener against Sioux Falls. Although the quarterback situation remains a fluid one, Bauer’s performance in camp was strong enough to offset his inexperience.
“He did a really good job making sure that our offense can progress, that he can work the ball down the field, that he (can be) consistent as a quarterback,” Wiese said. “Offensively, that’s our main focus right now—making sure we have somebody behind center that can be consistent.
“Whenever you start a young guy at quarterback—and we’ve talked to our team about this—it’s important that the rest of our team rallies around (the quarterback),” Wiese said. “This year we’re young at the quarterback position, but we have a lot of depth and a lot of experience in other spots.”
One of the areas UMD figures to draw from its depth and experience is in the backfield, where Austin Sikorski and Logan Lauters return for another year in Wiese’s multi-back system. The tandem rushed for 22 touchdowns and nearly 1,700 yards in 2012, helping the Bulldog ground game finish seventh in the country and first in the NSIC.
On defense, nine starters return for a second year under coordinator John Steger, whose unit allowed 23.4 points per game in 2012 and 57 in a triple-overtime playoff loss to Missouri Western State. With the defensive line and secondary virtually intact, and freshmen Beau Bates and Ben McDonald prepared to fill in at linebacker, Wiese expects the group to show more maturity and polish in 2013.
“I think our defense has elevated their game, their confidence, their style throughout fall camp,” Wiese said. “Part of that is we have a lot of guys back, and those guys have helped lead and bring along the guys that are in backup roles or substituting roles. We are a little bit deeper on the defensive side and we’re also a year better.”
The Bulldogs break camp with a demanding first half of the schedule ahead. Four of UMD’s first five opponents finished 2012 with a winning record, including week-three adversary Minnesota State-Mankato, which went undefeated in conference play and ultimately halted the Bulldogs’ four-year reign as league champions.
“I think the NSIC continues to get stronger,” Wiese said. “Right now our focus is to beat Sioux Falls, and our guys know that.”
BY KYLE FARRIS email@example.com