Scott Underwood coached St. Cloud State football for 12 seasons and won 63% percent of his games before the school dropped the program in 2019.
Now, Underwood is back in charge of a NSIC team again. Hired by Southwest Minnesota State, he took over a program that went 2-9 last year. The Mustangs open a new season on Thursday night at Minnesota Duluth.
Underwood concedes his team is somewhat undermanned.
"It's not a big squad. Because we started in January, we didn't have a recruiting class," said Underwood. "And last year's team had 14 or 15 seniors. But the kids we have, have responded well and are a good fit."
The Mustangs finished last year with six consecutive losses. Former Gophers quarterback Cory Sauter, who had coached SMSU since 2010, stepped down following the season.
Underwood, who had an 86-51 record at St. Cloud State, took over in January. He said the Mustangs have gotten leadership from two seniors — running back Jesse Sherwood and linebacker Onte Burns.
"They have done a great job," said Underwood. "They have been fantastic with their work ethic and leadership."
Sherwood, from Minneapolis, rushed for 787 yards and six touchdowns in nine games last season, and Burns, from Plymouth, is a three-year starter and has led the NSIC in tackles the last two seasons (the 2020 season was canceled).
Zeke Robinson, the Mustangs' leading receiver last season, also returns. Robinson, a senior from Vermillion, S.D., caught 24 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns last season.
Among the candidates for the Mustangs' starting quarterback job are two redshirt freshmen, three true freshmen and a sophomore (Zac Krause, a transfer from Northwestern).
Augustana preseason favorite
Augustana, which is in 100th football season, was the favorite in the coaches' preseason poll. The Vikings, who were ranked No. 21 in the D2football.com preseason poll, were 9-2 last season and won the NSIC South title with a 5-1 record.
Bemidji State, coming off its first 10-victory season and NCAA playoff berth in program history, was picked No. 2 in the NSIC overall poll and the favorite in the NSIC North poll. Beavers coach Brent Bolte, the NSIC Coach of the Year last season, welcomes back quarterback Brandon Alt. A junior from Cottage Grove, Alt passed for 4,245 yards and an NSIC-record 46 touchdowns last season.
Minnesota Duluth was picked third overall and second in the NSIC North in the preseason poll. The Bulldogs were 9-3 last season and have averaged 10 victories per season in Curt Wiese's eight seasons.
For the first time in at least 10 years, Minnesota State Mankato was not ranked in the D2football.com top 25. The Mavericks return 45 letter winners from last season's 6-5 squad.
Brian Bergstrom takes over for Tom Sawyer at Winona State. Sawyer coached the Warriors to eight NSIC titles, six postseason appearances and a 197-89 record in 25 seasons as the Warriors coach.
At Wayne State, Logan Masters, the Wildcats' offensive coordinator last season, replaced John McMenamin, who left to become the wide receivers coach at Tulane.
NSIC PRESEASON POLL
(First-place votes in parentheses)
Augustana (5) 153
2. Bemidji State (4) 145
3. Minnesota Duluth 142
T4. MSU Mankato (3) 136
T4. Sioux Falls (2) 136
6. Winona State 109
7. Northern State 94
8. Wayne State 88
9. MSU Moorhead 72
10. Mary 71
11. Concordia (St. Paul) 41
12. Minot State 36
13. SW Minnesota State 26
14. Upper Iowa 25